The first Critters movie was a surprise. Despite being considered a rip-off of Gremlins (which it isn’t), the movie about these furry little aliens with a huge appetite who crash land on Earth, was a hit with critics and audiences. Roger Ebert gave it three stars in a positive review and it scored over $13 million against a small $3 million budget which the director Stephen Herek said surprised him.
So, it was only a matter of time in which New Line Cinema, which was making bank with the Nightmare on Elm Street movies in the 1980s, would try to find the next big franchise. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t really to eager to see a bunch of evil hairy porcupine hand puppets terorize a Kansas town…which was exactly what they did in the first movie.
Brad Brown (Scott Grimes) has returned to the town of Grover’s Bend where his family lived during the events of the first movie. They’ve since moved to Kansas City. Brad is on Spring Break from school and decides to spend some time with his grandmother, Nana (Herta Ware), who’s a health-food nut who runs her own daycare in which she teaches nutrition, healthy diet and takes the kids on jogs through town. Nana has always been one of the most fleshed out characters in a horror movie who doesn’t do much for the second half but react.
In space, bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann) still having his Johnny Steele appearance, and Lee (played first by a stunt double and later by Roxanne Kernohan) have received word Crites have been detected on Earth. The first movie hinted at a sequel as we saw some eggs left on the Brown farm. Apparently, the incubation period for Crites takes a couple of years. Ug and Lee have taken on Charlie McFadden (Don Keith Opper), who was the town drunk who worked on the Brown farm, as one of their helpers.
Apparently, in the years since the Browns have moved, the townspeople have been trying to forget the events. They got rid of Sheriff Harv (Barry Corbin), who know lives on the outskirts of town in a camper. (Supposedly, M. Emmet Walsh who had played Harv in the first movie was problematic which is why the role was recast.) The new sheriff Corwin (David Ursun) isn’t too liked among the townspeople and kind of a grouch, initially refusing to wear the Easter Bunny costume for the kids. (Yep, you know he’s going to be a victim very soon.)
Local bad boy Wesley (Tom Hodges) has found the Crites’ eggs and sold them to a shady flea market owner who becomes the first victim. Brad catches the eye of Megan Morgan (Lianne Alexandra Curtis), who works for her father who owns the local paper, where Sal (Lin Shaye reprising her role) now works. As people prepare for upcoming Easter, the eggs hatch and begin to eat anything and anyone in their path.
And the bounty hunters arrive to do more damage than the Crites, blowing up the local burger place, Hungry Heifer. While it’s not as good as the original which had a blend of horror and black comedy, the sequel does have some good scenes. Like most sequels, it’s bigger and louder and the Crites are capable of doing more. It’s more violent and also has a scene where Kernohan has a nude scene. There’s also a hint that Ug and Lee might be more than just colleagues.
But I’d have to say the failure of the sequel is due to Mick Garris, in his directorial debut. He also co-wrote the movie with David Twohy, who would go own to pen the Oscar-winning movie The Fugitive and Riddick movies. Yet, he doesn’t think too highly of this movie since it was his first movie. In the first movie, you really cared for the Brown family and there was some humor as the Kansas people thought the bounty hunters were strange.
However, Garris, who was 36 during the movie’s production, said he wanted to make Twohy’s script darker, gorier, scarier but with more sentimental elements. Garris had cut his teeth in the 1980s writing scripts for the anthology series Amazing Stories, which was helmed by Steven Spielberg to be a lighter toned version of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. He had writing credits on eight of the show’s 45 episodes, which were directed by Robert Zemeckis and Joe Dante, who had cast Garris in his first role as an extra in The Howling. Garris even directed an episode himself.
Spielberg liked one of Garris’ story ideas for an episode so much that he turned it into the feature movie Batteries Not Included, even though it was rewritten by Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins (who directed), Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson. Garris only receives story credit. He had been considered for directing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but felt the special effects needed were too much for his experience at the time. He also was a writer on the original Hocus Pocus which has become a staple of Halloween viewing for Gen Xers and Millennials.
In my own opinion, Garris has always been one of those filmmakers who’s better more as a producer or writer than a director. His first collaboration with Stephen King was Sleepwalkers, which isn’t one of his best movies. He would also direct the adaptation of Riding the Bullet, which is a better movie but not by much. But most of his work has been on TV, directing the 1994 miniseries The Stand, which despite his dated material is probably his best work. (The opening sequence of a military base where everyone has suddenly died from the virus as their bodies are slumped over as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult plays on the soundtrack is amazing and eerie.)
In the 2000s, he was the creator and producer of the Showtime horror anthology Masters of Horror and its softer toned spinoffs Masters of Science Fiction and Fear Itself. And it seems TV is where Garris is mostly working now. Regardless, he does look back fondly on Critters 2 and the production with The Chiodo Brothers who did the special effects for the Crites. The Brothers, who Garris equates to the Three Stooges of special effects, would go on to direct the cult-classic Killers Klowns from Outer Space and recently worked on the Oscar-nominated Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Garris, as a first-time director, had to deal with a studio that wouldn’t give him more money, and trying to keep into a PG-13 rating, which included the nude scene of Kernohan. Even though set in rural Kansas, it was actually filmed in southern California during an unexpected colder climate. This meant many of the actors had to shoot many scenes dressed in spring attire in near freezing temperatures. In some scenes, you can see the actors’ breath.
You got to give Garris credit for making Ug a more three-dimensional character rather than the brutish character he was in the first movie. His relationship with Lee suggest the bounty hunters are unisex in nature and even what we would call pansexual. Giving Brad a love interest with Megan is a nice change but she doesn’t act like the dansel in distress. Curtis was hired because she could drive a stick shift and I think it’s a wise decision as she shows the small town teen girl who wants to move to the big city vibes needed.
Critters 2, I think suffers from Gremlins ripoff fatigue that was surging through the latter half of the 1980s. Incidentally, the original Critters had already been written before Gremlins was in theaters. It was intended to be a homage of the 1950s B-movies. But the Ghoulies movies along with the Roger Corman-produced Munchies all seemed to saturate the market. Munchies costarred Nadine Van der Velde, who had appeared in the first Critters, directed by Bettina Hirsch was made as a Gremlins rip-off. And Hirsch had been the editor of Gremlins as she and Dante had worked under Corman.
The Critters franchise would see two other movies go direct-to-video because Critters 2 made $3.8 million. Critters 3 would star some young child actor named Leonardo DiCaprio who wouldn’t be the only Titanic star to be in the franchise. Billy Zane appeared in the first movie. Angela Bassett before her career skyrocketed in the 1990s appeared in Critters 4, which was the obligatory “…In Space” movie. Yet the movie is about alien creatures. There’s also the 2019 Critters Attack that brought back Dee Wallace Stone who had appeared in the first movie.
Is it a good horror movie? No. Is it a silly horror movie to put on for about an hour and a half of enjoyment? Possibly depending on your tastes. Almost a decade before Scream, it was one of the first movies to have a meta-reference as A Nightmare on Elm Street movie poster catches Lee’s attention as a possible transformation. While seeing Robert Englund popping up in a cameo as Freddy Krueger would’ve been a nice touch, it’s still a nice reference.
What do you think? Please comment.