Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Friday At The Movies: Critters

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Video games and movies, you would think the two would go hand-in-hand, but unfortunately given that the film medium is a passive experience and the gaming medium is an active experience, the hybrid of the two usually goes horribly (and laughably) wrong.  This segment will be our weekly realm to appreciate the more “classic” medium of film.

critters_poster

The horror movie has been around almost as long as movies themselves.  Looking back in history initial footage of a railroad coming at a camera shocked and scared audiences to death and probably one of the most famous silent films of all times is horror film Nosferatu.  As film grew up the genre of horror began to move in a different direction where many times to appease the audience there would be instances of comedy or teenagers would spend the whole movie making fun of it as a defense mechanism.  What I love so much about the 80s is that everything is made fun and carefree, including horror movies, and you get these hybrid horror comedy films.  It is into this environment that we get one of my personal favorites: Critters.  Directed by the great Stephen Herek (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitters Dead) Critters tells the tale of a small rural town plagued by a race of fuzzball creatures that like to roll around everywhere and eat everything in their path.

critters_1Our protagonist is Brad Brown (Scott Grimes) and his family, including Dee Wallace of 80s horror fame as the mom, on their rural farm house.  Brad is somewhat of a troublemaker who attempts to skip school and harass his sister, who in typical high school fashion cannot wait to get alone and sexual with the boys at school.  Charlie’s best friend is the alcoholic farmhand his father hired, Charlie (Don Opper), who is good at fixing things but is generally taken as a screw-up for the whole town.  When these “critters” (which during the whole movie are referred to by the bounty hunters tracking them down as “crites”) crash land near the town it’s only a matter of time before random sightings and deaths ensue.  The bounty hunters in pursuit are human-sized and are doppelgangers – they can copy size and shape of other beings at will – that apparently try to find critters_2a match on the native planet to blend in.  This is the core to why I love this film and why I find it equally entertaining and hilarious.  One doppelganger, Ug, takes on the persona of pop rock star Johnny Steele while the other can’t find anything it likes so it randomly clones citizens in town, both living and dead, along the way.  These characters are so pivotal to the plot, in fact, that we spend half the movie watching them terrorize the town – brawling in a bowling alley, destroying a church, and nearly killing the sheriff – that you start to wonder who is the real threat.  Granted, they don’t kill anyone and just want to exterminate the critters, but I still love that our heroes run around everywhere looking like rock stars and dead bodies while harassing everyone in their path.  As you can imagine the bounty hunters end up joining with Brad, our token hero kid of the film, into a final confrontation at the Brown house where everyone is fair game to be killed and instead you find yourself laughing instead of screaming.  There are also some great lines of dialogue from the critters themselves that only we get the meaning of thanks to subtitles.

critters_3What is so endearing about Critters is that it holds on to several concrete horror tropes while also making sure to nail every comedy bit it can.  This can go horribly wrong most of the time, but it’s handled with ease and really works for the film.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have to naturally accept the convergence of comedy and horror as a barrier to entry, not to mention the fact that those who weren’t around in the 80s or can’t appreciate the era will be at a complete loss for many of the jokes.  That being said, when you look back at larger horror franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street you will notice the incorporation of more comedy and bit parts that are hit or miss whereas Critters nails it all the first time around.  One minute you’re watching a deputy get eaten to death on a roadside with bloody results and the next you’re watching a rock star getting all tough at a critters_4bowling tournament.  There are also a handful of great cameos including Billy Zane as the unfortunate boyfriend victim Steve and Lin Shaye as the snarky Sheriff station dispatcher Sally.  All of this thrown together along with classic montage sequences, explosions, and blood are why I will always have a special place in my heart for Critters even if it’s a genre film at best.  It’s also one of those examples of a PG-13 movie that’s just on the cusp of R (we saw a lot of these in the mid 80s when the rating was first introduced) so it was the most risque and violent movie my parents would let me watch.  If you are a fan of horror movies, especially with the lead into Halloween, and you’ve never gotten a chance to check it out I highly recommend Critters for a once over.

Critters can be found on occasion on Netflix, although probably not right now, and it’s definitely on various instant video collections as well as all four movies (yes, they made 3 freaking sequels) for around $10 in a single DVD release at big box retailers.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

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