The Critters Franchise – Film

The Critters Franchise


Critters (1986)

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The small town of Grover’s Bend is overrun with tiny, furry, razor-toothed aliens who have escaped from a prison transport ship.  Following them is a pair of shapeshifting bounty hunters, hired to destroy them.  As the bounty hunters search the small town for the critters, a local farm family defends their home and their lives.

I have always enjoyed this film, from 80’s-horror-staple mom, Dee Wallace; to the hair-band hero (it just sounds so much better than “bounty hunter”), Terrance Mann; with Scott Grimes, as our clever, often mischievous young leading man; and the heart and soul of the franchise, the remarkably expressive, Don Keith Opper, as Charlie, the town drunk, conspiracy theorist, and handyman.  Although all of them have moments of heroism throughout the film, it’s not until they work together that they defeat the critter menace (tee hee, that phrase just amuses me!).  Noteworthy performances by M. Emmet Walsh, as the local sheriff, Ethan Phillips in his first feature film role, and Billy Zane, in his second.

The low budget actually seems to help the film, the practical effects and puppets stand up far better than special effects would have.  The score is quite good, and Terrance Mann’s performance as Johnny Steele singing “Power of the Night,”  which is played on the radio or video/television in various scenes, is very meta.

I gave this 4 1/4 bottles of soda.  This is a charming, and yes, cheesy, alien invasion flick that stands out with other memorable creature features of the time, and is still worth watching 3 decades later.





Critters 2 (1988)

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2 years after the events of the first film, Bradly Brown (Scott Grimes) returns to the small town of Grover’s Corner to visit his grandmother for Easter.  As it turns out, no one had believed his, or for that matter, the sheriff’s (Barry Corbin), story about furry, tooth filled aliens attacking the town.  However, the people of Grover’s Corner discover first hand that the critters are real, as eggs which were decorated for the annual Easter festivities, hatch a new batch of the vicious creatures.    When notified that eggs were left behind, bounty hunters Ug and Lee, along with their partner of the past 2 years, and newest bounty hunter, Charlie, return to Earth once again to battle the crites.

Along with some new faces, including Tom Hodges, as Wesley (or the Meister Chow guy, as my sweetie likes to call him), Cynthia Garris as Lee, or Zanti as she is credited on IMDb, and Laine Curtis as Megan, Bradly Brown’s love interest; Terrance Mann and Don Keith Opper are back, and though Scott Grimes may once again be the leading man and nominal hero of the piece, Mann and Opper are certainly the heart and soul.  Truly, the character development is all in Charlie, with the rest of the story being an entertaining backdrop.  Since the end of the first film, Charlie has been travelling through space, finding purpose as one of the bounty hunters.  The affection and respect between Ug and Charlie is evident, as Ug has retained his visage as “Johnny Steele” where Lee returned to a “nothing face.”

This film certainly emphasises more the comedy in “horror comedy”, but there are a few thrilling moments, and plenty of jump scares.  The continued use of practical effects and puppets is beneficial.  As in the first film, the musical score works, even with the cheesy “Hungry Heifer” song which will get stuck in your head.

I enjoy this film every bit as much as the first one for different reasons.  It pokes fun at itself as well as the genre while keeping some themes appropriately serious in tone.  I give this 4 1/2 bottles of Meister Brau.




Critters 3 (1991) 

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Several years after the events in the 2nd movie, Charlie has remained on Earth hunting the remaining elusive critters and preventing them from spreading too far out of Grover’s Corner.  Heading home from a vacation, a young family stops at a Rest Area to repair a flat tire where a pair of critters hitch a ride to the family’s L.A. apartment building.

Don Keith Opper returns, yet again, as Charlie and as an introduction the filmmakers fall back on using a mashup of scenes from the first two movies, which is much less effective than it could be, especially because they have scenes from the first and second films mixed together in no particular order.  Unfortunately, Charlie’s story is only a few brief minutes at the beginning of the film for this recap, then he doesn’t return until near the end.  In the meantime, the audience is treated to Leonardo DiCaprio’s first big screen performance as Josh, the stepson of a wealthy property owner in L.A.  The backdrop of Charlie’s tale is the story in which a slumlord,  a debonair but rather sinister looking fellow (imagine Vincent Price) is attempting to use underhanded means to force tenants to move out of his building, but he, like the tenants, fall victim to the vicious little fur balls.  Continuing with some “character development” in this film, it seems that the critters are changing, their poison darts or quills or whatever they are, seem to have less effect than in the previous films.  They seem to just make people loopy rather than knocking them out or paralyzing them.   Otherwise, this film has all the expected tropes and is full of gratuitous mischief by the critters that feels like filler because it doesn’t move the story along.

For me, this is the weakest of the films, and although the story, Charlie’s story, continues to evolve and remains interesting, it plays a significantly smaller part in this entry.   The rest of the story is forgettable.   I gave it 2 1/2 bottles of soda.





Critters 4 (1992)

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Picking up directly where Critters 3 ended, we see a communication from Ug telling Charlie to stop before destroying the last 2 critter eggs.  It is prohibited to completely destroy a species, even one as invasive and dangerous as the critters.  A specimen collection pod is sent to collect the eggs, and ends up collecting Charlie as well.  Flash forward through cryo sleep in space for the next 53 years, and the pod is discovered by a salvage group with an unscrupulous and greedy captain.  After agreeing to turning the pod over to Ug (who is now called Councillor Tetra of Terracor)  for triple the salvage rate, the captain decides to see just why it is of such value.  Once released from cryo sleep, Charlie and the critters continue their battle.  Charlie now must save the crew of the salvage ship and face his old friend.

Right off, this movie makes me happy, simply by the addition of such an outstanding cast.  Even in this low budget, b-grade sequel of a b-grade 80’s horror flick, the talent of these actors is unparallelled.  Brad Dourif, is the clever, father figure, Al Bert; Angela Bassett, is Fran, the pilot, perhaps the real leader of the salvage crew, much to the annoyance of the captain; Anders Hove, is Rick, the skeezy captain, Paul Whitthorne, is Ethan, a young man just working his way to get to Earth, and Eric DaRe is Bernie, apparently he’s the eye candy and muscles.  I am even happy to overlook the dated computer sound effects and graphics, instead of being cheesy and over stylized, it really works.  Don Keith Opper remains consistent in bringing that naive, and rather clumsy charm we have come to expect, even as Charlie comes to realize just how much the universe has changed.  And being the heart and soul of the franchise, as Charlie loses his heart, especially after his confrontation with Ug, the story truly reaches it’s conclusion.

After the disappointment that was the 3rd film, this installment gives the audience quite a bit of satisfaction.  I gave it 4 glasses of whisky for getting back on track, giving the audience a few good scares, some nice tension, and evoking some real emotion.




Critters: Bounty Hunter (2014)

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This short fan film is available on youTube.

I decided to include this fan film because it is quite well done and captures entirely the spirit of what is best in the Critters franchise.  It is straight forward, with great production value and it is fully evident that the filmmakers responsible for this truly loved the films.  The details were outstanding, the critters puppet, the updated “nothing face” bounty hunter, even the snippet of the SyFy channel’s Dresden files television series, starring Ug himself, Terrance Mann, playing as the bounty hunter walked through a room.

It is worth the 7 minutes or so to watch.


Overall, this franchise holds up and is still worth the time to watch.  The overarching story of Charlie and Ug remains consistent and continues to develop throughout the films, whether the story of each individual film is on target or not.  I’m glad that the filmmakers took this approach and didn’t try to make any of the films directly about these characters, the subtlety made it all the more effective.   I gave the entire franchise 4 bottles of soda.

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