Welcome to Halloween week, also known as Horror week, also known as just week in my home. If it is some other time of the year when you happen to stumble upon this blog or post, try and tie Halloween into whatever you have going on in your life as best you can in order to find these topics applicable.
First up: Critters.
In light of last week’s The Monster Squad review, I got to thinking of the movies I loved when I was younger, and the ones I hadn’t seen in a long time. Critters was near the top of that invisible list, holding space alongside Hellraiser, Poltergeist, Gremlins (yes, Gremlins counts as horror), Fright Night, Child’s Play, Pumpkinhead – you get the idea – with Critters in the end being the only one I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen.
I may have not been aware enough at that age to realize horror-comedy was a thing. There’s always some laughs or ridiculousness which puts the audience at ease – something A Nightmare on Elm Street was masterful at – but actual comedy there right alongside the scares was, to me then, rare as far as I remember. It’s possible, and very likely, I took Critters at face value, ignoring the science fiction elements, ignoring the humor, focusing instead on these rolling creatures the size of a Popple who fly spaceships, eviscerate cows, shoot poisoned quill-things, swear (a lot), push over bikes menacingly, and generally terrorize a poor family who just wanted to go to a bowling tournament.
Small side rant/thought. Jay, the dad in the film, spends a good chunk of the movie in his team’s bowling shirt. It’s a pin made to look like the ghost from Ghostbusters, complete with the logo, and the name Pinbusters fanned out beneath. I bowled when I was little. It’s the only “sport” I’ve ever found myself somewhat competent in, and growing up, there wasn’t much else to do in my town. I remember there being a Pinbusters team. I remember there also being a Gutterdusters, who I’ve found at a number of other bowling places over the years. A part of me wonders, even hopes, bowling team names are a piece of the universal condition, like morality, etched onto our DNA and imprinted in stardust, where perhaps, perhaps, when we find life millenia from now in some far arm of the galaxy, they too will have bowling teams, and they too will be the Pinbusters and the Gutterdusters.
This is my dream.
Okay back. There is a music video which seems to be the only thing playing on the television anywhere in this sad Kansas town. Not only is it a great excuse for hair metal, it actually acts as a strange plot piece. The bounty hunters sent to track down the Critters (also known as Krites) and destroy them are faceless, glowing green-skinned human shaped things, which I suppose works well for blending in with the locals, unless the locals happen to reside in a very small place where everyone seems to know everyone else, and they grow suspicious when Reverend Miller is suddenly dressed in a leather duster and holding a giant cannon/shock vac nuking the inside of a church. Johnny Steele – the musician – has his video seen by Ur – one of the bounty hunters – because of course that’s what you watch during interstellar travel, and Ur chooses to take Johnny’s face and use it as his own. The effects of the face-swap is pretty good for 80s standards, and still holds up (in fact, most of the movie does), and acts as a bit of a fun element with the other bounty hunter, who seems to have no name, constantly morphing from person to person, presumably to find the best fit. What I love as an adult is the strangeness of the film universe. There really is no premise – Krites escape from (I think) prison and the hunters are sent to chase them down – though there are nods to a more fleshed-out mythology. Maybe it’s explored in the other 3 Critters flicks, I don’t remember, but I want to say they went the way of so many other franchises and chose straight-up comedy, which leads me to believe not. Still: some cool elements I’d actually like more of. Heck, I’d even take a reboot or a new, legitimate, entry, and that’s something I never say. More sci-fi bits please.
Anyhow, coming back to it twenty-some years later was a great thing. It’s cheesy, yes, but so many of the films from that time are, which is something I love about them. They almost act as guilty pleasures without crossing over that narrow line into awful. I known I’d show it to my wife and she’d frown at me the whole time, and rightly so, but for someone predisposed to liking this sort of thing, it checks out, and manages to be both creepy and fun. Still.
You should watch it. If the above doesn’t sell you, it also features Billy Zane with a fantastic set of broccoli hair and nub ponytail, who (spoiler) gets gnawed on by a Critter for a good minute. Doubly recommended as a result.