The Crites are back at Fantasia 2019 with the world premiere of the fifth feature in the Critters franchise, Critters Attack!, from the writer/director of the 2016 festival hit The Cleanse (AKA The Master Cleanse), Bobby Miller. One of the strangest franchises around, Critters has had a recent renaissance with a re-release on home video from Shout! Factory of the original four-film series, and the Shudder original series, Critters: A New Binge. While the series opened to a lukewarm response, I’d be willing to bet that old school creature feature fans will be much more enthusiastic about Critters Attack!
Fresh out of high school, Drea (Tashiana Washington, Skate Kitchen) is struggling to keep her spirits up after having been rejected from her school of choice twice. She holds down a job at a local sushi joint in the meantime, helping to support her household with her uncle and her UFO-obsessed little brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel). When she gets a tip that a member of the admissions board needs a babysitter, Drea reluctantly takes the gig watching Trissy (Ava Preston) and Jake (Jack Fulton). What should be an easy gig turns into a gooey nightmare when everyone’s favorite furry, sharp-toothed little killer tumbleweeds begin their killing spree.
What follows is a gruesome, gory romp through Drea’s small town with the Crites leaving a trail of well-disgested bodies in their wake. Can the kids make it out alive? Even if they do, will it be enough to stop the invasion? Who knows! But we’ll have a ton of fun watching them try.
With the proliferation of reboots/re-imaginings/re-hashings of horror properties over the two decades, I suppose it was inevitable that we’d eventually circle back around to Critters. However, of all the reboots/belated sequels, I am definitely surprised that Critters Attack! has turned out to be one of the most entertaining of the bunch. Writer Scott Lobdel channels the spirit of the original films and brings a sense of splatstick fun to the project, with plenty of great gory sight gags to satisfy fans of low budget horror.
I may be one of the only film fans who wasn’t a huge fan of The Cleanse when I saw it on the festival circuit a few years ago, but Bobby Miller really nails the tone of this series with Critters Attack! The decision to make the Crites all practical puppets, as in the original series entries, makes all the difference. Miller and his FX team do an excellent job knowing precisely how much gore is needed to keep the film just this side of the too-gruesome-to-laugh mark. Gnawed limbs, exposed guts, and exploding Crites are all on the menu, and every single time one of those little bastards blew up, it put a huge smile on this old gorehound’s face.
Balancing the tone of a film like this can be a challenge, as one wants to make sure that there is a genuine sense of danger, but never so much that we forget to have fun. Miller and his cast are totally game for the challenge, delivering performances that accentuate the lunacy of the material without stepping over the line to camp. To that end, even the Crites get a bit of the limelight with several star players among themselves. Often in a film like this the creatures, with there are many of them, are all cast from the same mold, but the FX team delivers monsters with personality, quite an achievement for non-verbal furry bowling balls of death.
While it’d be simple – and not altogether unfair – to lump Critters Attack! in with the recent glut of low budget creature features, this film sticks out from the pack. Critters Attack! knows exactly what it is and does exactly what is expected of it, even going the extra mile to deliver several gory gags that will stick with audiences once the credits roll. I don’t know if this is the beginning of a new Critters universe, but I’m perfectly happy with the product we get here. It’s bloody, it’s silly, and it’s a gory good time.