Marking the opening of Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3-D, aka the film the Weinsteins didn't want (most) critics to see, it is time to go back into the archives and look at another creature feature. While "this summer 3-D shows its teeth", back in the 80's all we knew going into Critters was that "they bite." Not in a slang kinda way either. Critters, aka the film with the three-name actors, may have been just another ripoff in the wake of Gremlins (i.e. Ghoulies, Munchies, Hobgoblins) but it was certainly the best of 'em thanks to some actual fresh oddball ideas of its own.
The Mogwais for all we knew were just rare creatures from the Orient. But the Krites were from outer space and they didn't need to feed after midnight to get their sharp teeth. They would eat anything in sight no matter what time of day it was. After escaping from an interstellar prison, these fanged Tribbles make their way to Earth towards the Brown family farm. There was Mama Brown (Dee Wallace Stone), Papa Brown (Billy Green Bush), Brother Brown (Scott Grimes, now the voice of Steve Smith on American Dad and was Will Scarlet in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood) and Sister Brown (Nadine Van Der Velde, who went on not just to co-star in Munchies but win Emmys for writing children's programming). No, they were not Amish or Mormon, just the atypical farmhouse with homemade meals that may as well be given simple family monikers. Dad is even a bowler. My kind of guy.
And if the Krites had just wrecked havoc on the family for the final hour, that still might have been good enough. Except writers Stephen Herek and Domonic Muir gave them some help. Not just local help either in the comic relief Sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh) or the local drunk handyman (Don Opper) believing he receives messages from outer space through his cavity fillings. Two interstellar bounty hunters cooler than Gerard Butler will ever be with the ability to mask their lardhead appearances with faces from Earth. In Ug's case he becomes rocker Johnny "Power of the Night" Steele, played by Terrence Mann (who, contrary to the gag I once played on a schoolmate, was not part of the band responsible for Blinded By The Light.) We would have to wait for the sequel for Ug's partner to transform into a Playboy playmate and grow breasts, but that's only part of the reason to take a gander at the sequels. Part 3 featured a very young Leonardo DiCaprio in his film debut and Critters 4 had a pre-Tina Turner Angela Bassett.
The first two Critters are the most fun though (especially as the little guys get bigger and bigger) and the original was well aware of recent '80s fantasy. Gremlins notwithstanding, one could say it borrowed its ugly aliens taking human forms from last week's Cinestalgia entry, The Last Starfighter. Papa's bowling shirt had a Ghostbusters-like logo on the back and the bounty hunters lay waste to the farmhouse, Sedgewick Hotel-style. Herek also has some fun with Grimes trying to get of school by faking a high temperature. You can't fool Dee Wallace twice there. An E.T. doll even makes an appearance during the Critters' mini-musical montage that unfortunately featured no breakdancing or Phoebe Cates.
Even at only 81 minutes, Critters was certainly a bit bloodier than Gremlins. A ponytailed Billy Zane ("the dork from New York") loses a finger and has his stomach chewed upon. Poor Billy Green Bush has more bites taken out of him than someone at a True Blood viewing party by Precious' house. Like Gremlins though, it was also a successful blend of horror and humor, a task that the generally humorless Alexandre Aja is now hoping to find with his Piranha remake. New Line wasn't afraid to show critics Critters back in the day. Siskel & Ebert even gave it "two thumbs up." What was Dimension afraid of? Piranha 3-D may turn out to be the best reviewed film of the week.