Of all the late-in-the-day franchise resurrections that spring up all over the place lately, I don’t think anyone was expecting the alien flesh-eating furballs Critters to be one of them. Ok, yes; wilfully cheesy monster movie throwbacks usually do well in the home entertainment market – can you believe the Tremors franchise is still going strong? – but the voracious Krites hadn’t been seen since 1992’s incredibly dire Critters 4 landed harder than a malfunctioning 747. Why there was there such a push for the intergalactic Gremlins wannabes in 2019 will be a question film historian will no doubt refuse to mull over for centuries to come, but other than this made for SYFY movie, the Krites managed to nab a web series too dubbed Critters: The New Binge, which, to this day, I’m still yet to meet anyone in the flesh who’s actually seen it…
But surely there’s a small, outside chance that Critters Attack! manages to reclaim the same, fun, tongue in cheek spirit as the original, right? Or is that a notion that’s just far too much to consume..?
Drea and Phillip live with their police chief uncle, Louis in a typically sleepy town where all these kinds of crap takes places and while the younger, more excitable Phillip is buzzing by an apparent UFO sighting, Drea’s dreams of getting into a prestigious college have recently been trashed and she’s understandably feeling trapped in her life delivering food for a sushi restaurant.
However, maybe everyone should pay a little more attention to Phillip’s excitement because the Unidentified Flying Object contains a lone Krite who manages to re-populate his species that starts chewing their way through any human they come across.
In an effort to Curry favour with the dean of the university, Drea takes job babysitting her two painfully precocious kids (one’s a nerd, the other is weird) and in an act of desperation suggests they all go on a hike. However, while deep in the woods they discover a wounded cute, white furry creature they dub “Bianca” and does what everybody would do if they found an albino, razor-toothed thing in the undergrowth and stick in a backpack and take it home. Unluckily for then, Bianca is the benevolent female Queen of the Krite species who has been banished and her scent is drawing the increased numbers of Critters who proceed to treat the townsfolk like free samples at a supermarket.
On the other hand, a rare entry in the good news column is the presence of the mysterious Aunt Dee, who arrives with an arsenal of highly advanced weapons and who may have had a previous run in with the Krites before…
Can Drea, Phillip, their young charges and the Krite Queen manage to stand against an entire legion of people eating aliens as they try to turn the entire town into the kind of squishy meat that gets stuck at the back of your teeth after a steak.
So, there’s admittedly a lot wrong with Critters Attack!; the script is stunningly basic, the budget is worrying low and the acting is typical of Syfy’s usual output – and yet I couldn’t find it within myself to hate this small, malformed lump of well meaning fan service. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the originals and was blinded a little by the glare of shaggy, razor-toothed nostalgia, maybe it’s because that even despite its flaws, Critters Attack! still manages to noticably be more fun and imaginative that parts 3 and 4 combined.
Taking the cheerful, Spielbergian, goofiness of Mick Garris’ second movie, you can tell that the filmmakers genuinely seem to care about rebirthing the franchise by chucking out some callbacks for the 96 other Critters fans who would actually care (the giant Krite-ball is back!) and actually including some new wrinkles to established Critters lore. The most noticable of these is the inclusion of Bianca, a female Krite who looks like someone’s crammed Bruce the shark’s dentures into the mouth of a particularly plush cuddly toy and while she’s a fun, welcome addition, she’s actually a pretty good metaphor for Critters Attack! in general. You see, while finally introducing a female Krite is legitimately a sweet idea (surely the patriarchy is due to fall any minute now…) the movie then decides to keep her wedged, Gizmo-style, in a backpack for the majority of the run time – and that’s essentially all the movie is; a string of cool Critters-related ideas that ultimately don’t go anywhere.
If you needed any more proof of this then look no further than the hugely welcome return of Dee Wallace who is technically reprising her housewife character from the first film (the rights wouldn’t allow them to keep the name) now reborn as an ass-kicking bounty hunter, but we get absolutely no indication as to how she got there. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t this have been the film – Dee Wallace shooting Critters with a big-ass laser gun?
While these half-thought out ideas are fun and frustrating all at the same time they’re lodged in a by-the-book, kids vs. aliens movie that includes all the familiar tropes you’d expect (dead mother issues for the lead actress gets you a win in cliche bingo) that seem targeted at a much younger audience than some of the gore may suggest.
The attack scenes range from bit actors gargling fake blood while shaggy hand puppets gnaw on their love handles to “oh shit, money’s tight, just have this guy get dragged off screen”, but you can tell the powers that be are actually trying by mixing shit up as much as the strained budget will allow (Critter puppets don’t come cheap dontcha know?); take the poor schmoe blinded by shampoo in an outside shower who grabs a bewildered Krite to wipe his face with. However, the film does take huge amounts of glee in pulping the hirsute aliens in the cast as final twenty minutes sees the biting bastards reduced to gloopy remains by various means (turns out Bianca has a killer manicure), but elsewhere originality is seriously thin on the ground; loud piercing sounds suddenly make Krites explode for no other reason than it worked in Mars Attacks! (why just stop at stealing part of the title, eh?) and aside from Critters completists and curious adolescents who stumble upon it who have no idea what they’re streaming, then I have no idea who the film is actually for.
Still, Critters Attacks! actually manages to succeed in fulfilling its extraordinarily narrow remit and it’s surprisingly heartwarming to see the lethal tumbleweeds sink their teeth into unsuspecting heartlanders once again.
For the second time during this review, I strongly suspect nostalgia may have clouded my judgement a little but this fifth go round proved to me that somehow, after all these years, the Critters haven’t gotten shitter.