I don’t know how it happened, but I somehow made it 30 years without actually seeing a Critters movie. That isn’t to say that I was unfamiliar with the vicious little furballs, of course. To anyone who would consider themselves even a casual horror fan, the image of those wrinkly little black-haired balls of teeth is immediately recognizable.
Eager to remedy my embarrassing oversight, I finally pressed play on Critters for the first time 33 years after its release, and while this likely won’t come as a surprise to some of you, it was fucking great! Like so good. The acting and puppetry are stellar, and it’s remarkable how well the practical effects hold up for a goofy, low-budget sci-fi horror flick about furry space monsters.
Wrongly dismissed as a Gremlins knockoff, the 1986 film starring Dee Wallace and Scott Grimes spawned three sequels in the six years following its release, and then the series disappeared completely for over two decades. With the exception of Critters 2: The Main Course—the directorial debut of Masters of Horror creator, Mick Garris—the franchise’s later installments were very poorly received, with Critters 3 even holding the terrible honor of a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Ignoring Shudder’s recent and critically panned reboot miniseries Critters: A New Binge, Critters Attack!, fresh off of its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, is the long-awaited feature-length return of the Krites. (Krites? Crites? I’ve seen it both ways.)
Directed by Bobby Miller from a script by Scott Lobdell (Happy Death Day), Attack! is an almost pitch-perfect throwback to the vibe of the original film, balancing bloody attack sequences and black comedy with lovingly crafted puppetry and practical effects. It even features Dee Wallace in her first return to the franchise since 1986, albeit in a much different and smaller role this time around.
Though Lobdell’s script definitely provides enough variety to keep things interesting, the basic plot of Attack! is expectedly boilerplate. After a Krite ship lands on Earth, the critters wreak havoc on a small town until an unlikely group of heroes band together to stop them. I mean, if it ain’t broke, right?
After two rejection letters, Drea (Tashiana Washington) agrees to babysit for a member of the Board of Admissions at Leroy College—the school that she’s desperate to attend. With her younger brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel) along for the ride, she takes the kids out for a picnic in the woods where they stumble on an injured, white-haired lady Krite.
Determined to nurse the friendly little monster back to health, they toss it in a backpack and head off, unknowingly drawing the more malevolent critters right to them. As Dee Wallace’s stone-faced Krite hunter Aunt Dee starts tracking them down and blowing their little green brains out, Drea and the kids lead the growing horde of aliens to the college campus for a final showdown that even includes the reappearance of a certain iconic and enormous rolling ball of Krites.
Taking over for the incomparable Chiodo brothers, who designed and operated the puppets for the franchise’s first four entries, Attack! creature-creator Werner Pretorius did an incredible job bringing this new batch of Krites to life. Unsurprisingly, the decision to rely almost entirely on practical effects was the right call, with these tangible critters feeling every bit as real and menacing as they did in 1986.
The reason that I’ve mentioned the original Critters as much as I have in this review is because, for a film like Attack!, context is everything. While it wouldn’t be difficult to write off as a simple rehash of a 30-year-old property, Attack! is far from a soulless cash grab (looking at you, Child’s Play). Instead, it’s a careful course correction and loving revival of a franchise dangerously close to the point of no return.
Though far from groundbreaking, Critters Attack! is a playfully dark exploration of puppetry and practical effects. It’s a welcome and familiar return to form for fans of the original series, and if you remember Critters as nothing but a Gremlins knockoff wrapped in cheap shlock, I’d highly urge you to give it another watch before checking out Critters Attack!. Long live fun horror.
Critters Attack! is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on 7/23.