The Critters Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (13th February 2019).
The Film

The mid-to-late-80's was a wellspring for fans of violent little creature features. Post "Gremlins" (1984), a handful of also-ran imitators popped up – many of which are deserved cult classics in their own right – ushering in the likes of "Ghoulies" (1984), "Troll" (1986), "Munchies" (1987, one of my personal favorites), "Hobgoblins" (1988), and "Critters" (1986). Fans of most of those aforementioned titles have had HD copies in their possession for years, but the "Critters" series (1986-1992) managed to avoid getting any hi-def love for a decade until now. I assumed Warner Bros. would’ve slapped these four on a multi-feature disc and called it a day, but Scream Factory has wrangled away the rights to deliver a box set that will fully satisfy fans’ crite cravings. Yes, even though the final two films in the series are complete crite shit the documentaries covering each make tossing those discs into your player worthwhile after all.

"Critters" takes a novel concept – alien prisoners hijacking a ship and landing on Earth – and joins together spacy sci-fi with homespun Americana as a transport of villainous crites escape their captors, steal a ship, and eventually crash land in Grover’s Bend, KS near the farm of the Brown family. Brad (Scott Grimes) and his dad, Jay (Billy Green Bush), head into the woods to investigate the crash, finding cattle consumed beyond recognition. Knowing the danger that comes with a crite infestation, two alien bounty hunters – Ug (Terrence Mann) and Lee – are sent to hunt the crites down. The bounty hunters have malleable faces, able to take on new personas at will. Ug selects rock superstar Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann), but Lee is unable to find a suitable avatar, instead imitating townsfolk they meet along the way.

While the bounty hunters destructively scour the town, Brad is forced into the patriarch position as both his dad and mom, Helen (Dee Wallace), are incapacitated by poisonous stingers, leaving him and his sister, April (Nadine Van der Velde), to do all the heavy lifting. The crites are multiplying like crazy and they have the farm surrounded, making it nearly impossible for Brad to get into town and warn Sheriff Harv (M. Emmet Walsh). The family’s only chance, for better or worse, lies with Charlie (Don Opper), the town drunk who yearns to do good things despite his constant paranoid stupors. He’s been waiting for the aliens to come one day, and now that they’re here Charlie sees it as his time to shine.

Similar to "Gremlins" (1984), this film finds the proper imbalance between horror and comedy, although yielding to fewer laughs than Dante’s looney tune. Think "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" (1988), a film not only similar in tone but it also shares the talented triumvirate of Edward, Stephen, and Charles Chiodo, whose FX work often overshadows any other aspect of their productions. The crites are as vicious as they are foul-mouthed and mischievous. The Brown farm resides on ample acreage, yet the film primarily is confined to the home itself, thickening the air of claustrophobia. Ug and Lee, despite their comedic combined names, are deadly serious which, depending on the situation, can be either hilarious or horrific.

The humor gets dialled up a few notches for director Mick Garris’ "Critters 2: The Main Course" (1988), my personal favorite of the bunch. It’s also one of the few horror films that qualify as an Easter title, so I tend to watch it semi-annually. Picking up a couple years after the first, Charlie is now a fully-fledged member of Ug and Lee’s (this time mostly played by Roxanne Kernohan) bounty hunting team, taking down intergalactic beasts across the cosmos. The trio gets word that crites are still alive on Earth and must be destroyed, so they make their way back to Grover’s Bend. Also heading back to town is Brad Brown, who’s coming back to visit his Nana (Herta Ware) and choke down her nutritious snack foods. Garris wisely expands Grover’s Bend, from simply a location in the first film to a lived-in town teeming with characters that have stories of their own.

After a crate full of crite eggs is sold to a local burnout for a “case of Meister Brau” (“Hey, this isn’t Meister Brau!”), they wind up in the hands of Nana and her schoolchildren, who paint them a kaleidoscope of colors before they’re set out in the church garden. Later, they hatch and eat the Easter bunny. Soon after, the entire town is under siege from dozens of crites and guess who is gonna get his shit together in time to save the day once more?

I heard a Mick Garris quote recently, that I’m paraphrasing here, where he confessed to setting his films in “an America that never existed”. The town square. Main St. That relatable roster of small-town folks. Quaint living. 50's suburban television fantasies brought to life. Grover’s Bend is all of these things and more, and Garris’ affinity for fake news America brings with it a warmth and charm that often make his pictures feel comfortable, familiar. I love these characters, too. M. Emmet Walsh declined to return as Harv, but in his stead Barry Corbin took over and – if you can keep a secret – I prefer Corbin in the role. He’s so damn good, and he gets one of the film’s best moments. The ubiquitous New Line lucky charm Lin Shaye pops up as a gossipy newswoman. Eddie Dezeen appears as a restaurant manager (“At the Huuun-gry Heifer…”). I don’t really have many problems with this movie, aside from a certain character surviving an obvious death, and it’s one of my favorite 80's sequels…

… which is why "Critters 3" (1991) is even more of a disappointment. This movie flat-out sucks from start to finish. A family is moving across state lines and they wind up getting a flat near Grover’s Bend. Annie (Aimee Brooks) and her little brother, Johnny (Christian & Joseph Cousins), go exploring around the nearby woods and meet Josh (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is half cool kid, half douchenozzle. His step-dad is a dick. Anyway, Charlie is living out in the woods or something and the kids stumble across him, so he rambles on about the crites, as a town drunk might do, and before the family can hit the road a random crite stashes some eggs under their car. The eggs are taken to an apartment building, where the crites hatch and wreak havoc on the tenants, all of whom are forgettable caricatures.

You can’t really blame the producers for how much this film sucks (psst: yes, you can) but basically the reason it sucks is because after "Critters 2" (sadly) made no money this film – and its sequel – were greenlighted to the tune of $2.5 million. To put that figure in perspective, the budget for the previous film was $3.5mm. With no money the script became a “bottle film”, essentially set in one place and not even coming close to living up to the poster which featured the crites ripping into a large city. This film fails to capture any of the fun, horror, family, or sci-fi elements that made the first two films cult classics. You think it’s funny to watch because Leo is in this? Yea, that novelty wears off after about three minutes, tops. Also, a crite farts, just so you know where the bar was set.

At least "Critters 4" (1992) has competent actors like Brad Dourif, Eric DaRe, Anders Hove, and a ripped-as-a-beast Angela Bassett (seriously, check out those guns). Picking up directly where the last film left off – because they were shot back-to-back – this entry finds Charlie being recovered from a collection pod after it was sent to get the last two crite eggs in existence. Both the eggs and Charlie were frozen… until the year 2045. He wakes up, they wake up, and there’s… not much else going on. The crites are barely in this movie. It’s mainly interpersonal drama with the ship’s crew, followed by more drama once Charlie is thawed out, and then finally some folks are killed before a groan-inducing ending. It’s terrible.

The Films:
"Critters" – B+
"Critters 2" – B+
"Critters 3" – D
"Critters 4" – D+

Video

The first two films were given new 2K scans from “original film elements”, and both of the resulting 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps pictures look fantastic. Obviously both are making their HD debut on disc and the improvements over the old DVDs are immediately apparent. Colors are much more finely tuned and bright. Black levels are solid. Film grain remains moderately heavy but never looking like a swarm of noise. Definition and fine detail are generally very good, with daylight scenes and close-ups presenting the clearest picture possible. There is little to no dirt or debris or print damage to be seen.

Of the latter two films I’ve only ever seen "Critters 3" and that was on VHS 25 years ago. Both of the 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps transfers look OK, I suppose. Grain is variable, often running on the heavy/noisy side. Color saturation is average. Definition takes a nosedive from the previous films. Black levels are hazy. There is a shot of the sky that looks AWFUL; maybe the worst image I’ve seen on a Blu-ray this year. Neither of these was given a restoration and it shows but, to be fair to Scream Factory, neither deserves it either.

Audio

All of the films feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, though the first film also gets a 5.1 surround sound track. That multi-channel option sounds excellent, with plenty of rear speaker play and effective use of panning effects. Throughout this series all dialogue is understandable and clean, though levels sound a bit low on the fourth film. "Critters 2" has the best mix of the sequels, no surprise. The third and fourth films sound as cheap as they were to make. Subtitles are available in English on all films.

Extras

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY - "Critters"

There are two audio commentary tracks, the first with producer Barry Opper and star Don Opper.

The second audio commentary features critter designers Charles Chiodo, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo.

"They Bite: The Making of Critters" (1080p) documentary runs for 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 5 seconds - Other than missing Scott Grimes participation, this documentary has everything you could ever want or need to know about how this film was created, produced, released, etc.

"For Brian: A Tribute to Screenwriter Domonic Muir" (1080p) featurette runs for 21 minutes and 57 seconds - This is a tribute to the late writer who died from cancer in 2010.

"Behind-the-Scenes Footage" (SD) featurette runs for 11 minutes and 52 seconds - Featuring lots of camcorder footage of the crites being put into action.

An alternate ending (1080p) is included, running for 4 minutes and 23 seconds, the only difference being the farm doesn’t magically rebuild.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Four TV spots (SD) runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 49 seconds, containing 70 images.


DISC TWO: BLU-RAY - "Critters 2: The Main Course"

There are once again two audio commentary tracks – the first one with director Mick Garris; the second with critter designers Charles Chiodo, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo.

"The Main Course: The Making of Critters 2" (1080p) documentary runs for 1 hour and 3 minutes - Just as with the first film this is everything and then some, featuring cast & crew discussing all aspects of the production in this lengthy doc.

A reel of TV cut additional scenes (SD) is available, running for 13 minutes and 9 seconds, fleshing out many of the town’s characters.

"Behind the Scenes Footage" (SD) featurette runs for 23 minutes and 49 seconds - This is more of a funny featurette than anything, with the critters at one point taking over the broadcast and eating the host. It’s dumb and goofy and totally fun.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 40 seconds.

A TV spot (SD) runs for 32 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 5 seconds, containing 37 images.

DISC THREE: BLU-RAY - "Critters 3"

An audio commentary featuring producer Barry Opper and star Don Opper is included.

"You Are What They Eat: The Making of Critters 3" (1080p) featurette runs for 26 minutes and 27 seconds - Learn how this once-promising series fell sharply off the deep end in this candid piece that continues off from the previous two.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 39 seconds.

A video promo (SD) runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 16 seconds, containing 27 images.

DISC FOUR: BLU-RAY - "Critters 4"

An audio commentary features producer/director Rupert Harvey.

"Space Madness: The Making of Critters 4" (1080p) featurette runs for 22 minutes and 39 seconds - This is arguably better than the film itself as both Oppers and a few others discuss this final failure of a film.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 5 seconds, containing 38 images.

Packaging

All four of the films come in a standard Blu-ray keep case, with each having reversible cover art, housed within a sturdy chipboard slip-case.

Overall

This set does such a great job on the first two films it’s worth it to own for those alone, so look at the lesser, latter sequels as a sorta-bonus. The lengthy, chopped-up documentary that covers the entire series is easily the set highlight and should make even those who hate the third and fourth entries want to pop those discs in the continue the behind-the-scenes saga.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B Extras: A- Overall: B

 


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