Blu-ray Review: The CRITTERS Collection

Scream Factory Shines a Loving Light on this Fascinating Film Series

In the wake of Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s cheeky 1984 monster kid romp GREMLINS, all sorts of savvy producers plotted their own little mean beastie flick, from Charles Band’s GHOULIES to Roger Corman’s MUNCHIE to Stephen Herek’s CRITTERS, And while many of the others have merits (and GHOULIES spun off into an amusing franchise of its own), only CRITTERS seemed to really hit with both critics and audiences, becoming a minor hit and launching three more films that actually carried over narrative arcs and characters. Collected here on this sturdy Blu-ray set from Scream Factory you’ll find all four of the official CRITTERS epics and while some are better than others, all of them serve as lively showcases for their central baddies, the quill-shooting, toothy furballs known galactically as “The Krites”.

Herek’s original 1986 flick is a major dose of country bumpkin fun, as the critters invade the small farming community of Grover’s Bend (a nod to WAR OF THE WORLD’s Grover’s Mill) and set forth to eat everything and everyone they can. Only scrappy kid Brad Brown (Scott Grimes) and his charming, slow-witted pal Charlie (Don Opper) are wise to what’s happening, that is until it’s too late and the lethal tumbleweeds overtake their house. First they eat poor old Billy Zane and then force the house’s matriarch (a somewhat wasted Dee Wallace) to wield a shotgun and protect her brood. Meanwhile, a pair of alien bounty hunters (one played by Terrence Mann, the other – who cannot settle on a human face – occasionally played by Opper) have come to do what they do best: kill Krites.

CRITTERS is endless fun and has a nice, evocative down-home look. Previous releases of the film made the film seem kind of dark and washed out, but Scream Factory’s beautiful HD transfer (a 2K scan from the negative) zaps this thing to life, visually and aurally. The film is funny, sweet and sometimes gruesome, with imaginative special effects from The Chiodo Brothers (KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE) and charming performances across the board. A solid slice of 80’s pre-teen terror that has aged beautifully.

Mick Garris’ 1988 sequel CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE, is less charming and more of a cartoon, with amped up carnage and a pace that slows down to a crawl in the film’s midsection. But it’s still a colorful and nasty little flick, with a welcome return from both Grimes and Opper and plenty of bloody (and funny) Krites action. Mann also comes back as the scowling Ug and his sidekick Lee once more can’t focus on a human visage, at one tacky instance locking on a cast-off issue of PLAYBOY and becoming centerfold girl Roxanne Kernohan (who fearlessly bares her ample bazooms). The climax of the film is a doozy, as the Krites become a kind of super-critter from Hell, and the Chiodo’s really go to town with the FX. All in all, CRITTERS 2 is chirpy, goofy kid sister to Herek’s original and you’ll be warbling that damned “Hungry Heifer” theme for days afterwords.

Future Hollywood superstar (and damned fine actor) Leonardo DiCaprio makes his screen debut in CRITTERS 3, a film that feels like Cronenberg’s SHIVERS crossed with a Full Moon flick. This time, the toothy monsters roll into a skeezy LA apartment building and proceed to eat everyone. Leave it to Leo to save the day and DiCaprio does indeed make for a solid young hero here, making you overlook the fact that the movie was shot for very little dough (back-to-back with CRITTERS 4). The claustrophobic setting is economical and director Kristine Peterson keeps a tight grip on the action, letting the Chiodo’s do their thing and giving the Krites ample screen-time. A fun. lively low-budget action horror film.

The final four now CRITTERS film, CRITTERS 4, might be the least of the lot but you can’t blame the filmmakers for not trying. Director Rupert Harvey picks up the action where the last picture left off, moving Charlie and Ug back into outer space, where the CRITTERS saga began. This time though, the tone is more serious, with Charlie being frozen for 50 years and then thawed when a new mutated strain of super Krites spread throughout the galaxy, with the intent on eliminating everything. TWIN PEAKS’ heavy Eric DaRe shows up, as does a young Angela Bassett (who no doubt wants to scrub CRITTERS 4 from her resume) and an always welcome Brad Dourif. This much maligned sequel is not nearly as bad as you’ve heard and again, Scream Factory’s new transfer makes it look infinitely better than it has looked on any other released (and far more opulent than its meager budget would suggest). The big problem with the picture is that it’s just not that much fun, aiming to be a more ALIENS-esque space action flick, without the cheeky mirth and eccentricities of its predecessors. Still, it’s well-made and the fact that it’s NOT like the other CRITTERS films, adds an air of distinction. Maybe not the best way to close out this diverting, amusing series, but still a nifty oddball entry made with skill and an eye to “evolve” the CRITTERS mythos.

Scream Factory load every release with a wealth of special features (most of them larded onto the more revered first two films, as expected), including commentaries, alternate scenes, full-blown making-of docs, stills, trailers and more. For those of you that like these sorts of “wizard behind the curtain” bells and whistles, dig in. For those of us who are just happy to have beautiful transfers of this weird and often fascinating fantasy film series, The CRITTERS Collection is a must-buy.