Director: Stephen Herek
Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh
A Kansas farm is attacked by a hoard of hungry, flesh-eating monsters from outer-space with razor sharp teeth and a witty attitude! The family who inhabit the farm must seek the help of a local drunk and his critter-fighting bounty hunting pals before it's too late... - IMDb
While Gremlins is certainly the most famous of the "mini-monster" movies churned out of the 80s, from a horror perspective, it could be argued that Critters is actually the better film. It might seem blasphemous to assert such a thing; however, when we examine the movies closer, I think the point will be made more clear.
Firstly, Gremlins has no reservations about the fact that it is first and foremost targeted at a younger and broader audience than Critters. Gremlins, while containing many horror elements, can firstly be categorized as a family Christmas comedy prior to being anything else. It recognizes what it is and is sure to keep the horror in check at all times to ensure it doesn't ostracize its target audience to too great of an extent.
Critters, on the other hand, recognizes Gremlins' inability to completely establish itself as horror and, consequently, endeavors into filling that niche much more effectively. Critters is more violent and raucous and its monsters more malicious and vicious. Because of this, Critters offers something that Gremlins never really does. In many ways, the iconic Gremlins are more beloved than feared, often being referred to as "fun" or "cute". And, while there are certainly sadists who assert the same things about Critters, the extent to which this happens is significantly less.
But again, it does seem a bit unfair to constantly compare the two movies, even if the existence of Critters is certainly predicated on the making of Gremlins. Critters holds its own and, as is evident with its many sequels, has enough creativity to extend the story (and the creatures) into other films and mediums. Indeed, Critters really is that damn good.
I've been a fan of Critters since before adolescence. I can't exactly remember whether I saw the first one first or one of the sequels; however, I can certainly remember how captivated I was seeing these little balls of hell roaming around the countryside raising all sorts of mayhem. As a kid (and continuing into adulthood), I've always been fascinating by other worlds and the cosmos in general. As such, I found Critters especially appealing. While a lot of contemporary Monster movies seem to place less of an emphasis on Monsters deriving from space (although, now I'm wondering: what is the distinction between Monsters and Aliens?), Monsters deriving from space seem to add yet another interesting dynamic regarding origins, intents and the like. Indeed, this is another reason why I always preferred Critters to Gremlins - space derivation. At any rate, I really appreciated the skill used to create creatures as menacing as the Critters while also allowing them to engage in their sort of comedic antics and absurdities.
The creature effects and puppet work in the Critters movies have always been top notch as well, of course. But, what is most surprising about Critters is its ability to create such memorable creatures while placing exactly enough time and effort into developing the various characters and settings as well. This allows for the Kansas-based farm to truly come to life and, further, for the Critters to gradually assert their presence while the characters react accordingly. Indeed, this aspect is what truly makes the film so magical. We're introduced to the characters and their lifestyles gradually. We understand their concerns and struggles: it's a simple life, to be sure, and given the towns scope, it's clear that not a lot happens. Consequently, watching as the town is spun on its head due to the sudden presence of cosmological Critters becomes all the more fun and endearing. Watching as the characters are forced to adapt to the alien presence is a highly entertaining experience, and certainly one that is worthy of indulging in numerous times.
Even the sequels have a lot to offer. Critters II, for example, provides us with one of the few Easter-horror movies in existence. Critters 3 helped introduce us to Leonardo DiCaprio, while Critters 4 began an often emulated trend of sending movies into space. Admittedly, however, while it might be the case that the sequels do a good job of extending the series (and the creatures) into new and exciting territory, none of them manage to capture the magic quite as efficiently as the original. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) the movie, and let yourself experience the wonder and majesty of these prickly balls of love.