2019 is apparently the year of the Critter. After almost 30 years of absence from the screen, the lovable little furballs have been granted not one, but two appearances in close succession. They’ve come in the form of a TV series earlier this year, Critters: A New Binge (read our review here), and now a direct-to-DVD feature, CRITTERS ATTACK! Both projects are completely unrelated and independent of each other, with no crossover between stories, or characters. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the series, so I can’t give a comparison, but at least that means I can judge CRITTERS ATTACK! on its own merits.
I love rubber monsters, be they big or small, and in the wake of 1984’s Gremlins, there was plenty of the latter to choose from. In the tiny terror hierarchy, Gremlins inarguably sits on a throne at the top, CRITTERS is a few steps down, and below that floats Ghoulies, then you fall off a giant cliff and find Munchies and Hobgoblins eating out of a dumpster. So, while they were never particularly great films, the four entries in the CRITTERS franchise always had a modicum of charm for the right audience.
It’s not long into CRITTERS ATTACK! before those iconic red eyes glow from the darkness and bring back the waves of nostalgia. As the creatures fall from the sky and start chewing up the locals, we meet Drea (Tashiana Washington), a sushi delivery girl who dreams of moving onto something better. While babysitting kids who are more than old enough to look after themselves, she takes them for a walk in the woods to get out of the house. While there, they discover a cute, friendly white-haired female critter that might be the key to saving their town from the invasion of the nasty little assholes.
Dee Wallace, who starred in the original CRITTERS, makes her return to the series for the first time in 35 years. It’s nice having her back, seeing as though she sat out of every sequel beyond the first. Other than Wallace, there are no more familiar faces from the past. No Scott Grimes, or Don Keith Opper, and also, a surprising absence of Leonardo DiCaprio, whose career peaked early in his feature debut, Critters 3. What’s that guy even doing these days? Surely he could have made time for some rubber puppets.
And speaking of puppets, I’m happy to report that the critters doing the attacking in CRITTERS ATTACK! are 100% legit. There’s not a sour whiff of CGI wafting through the air to spoil your weekend breakfast. Some may complain about an overreliance on simple hand-puppetry, rather than going back to the animatronics that made up the majority of creature action in the original films, but I think what’s here compares favorably to other tiny monsters from the last couple of decades. Have there even been tiny monster movies in the last couple of decades?
Would it surprise you when I say the puppets are the best part of the film? Let’s face it, the characters are only there as fodder for the creatures, and the story falls flatter than a critter crushed by a boulder. The film loses what little momentum it has long before the end. There’s no link to the original films, and Dee Wallace isn’t even the same character from the original, instead, she’s some kind of critter-killing bounty hunter, which is assumably due to some pesky rights issue. Seeing her going after the aliens with a giant gun is less interesting than it sounds on paper, especially considering we never receive much explanation about her background, or much explanation of anything else, really.
While it never escapes its low budget direct to DVD trappings, I can’t help but get a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s nice to see the critters back in action, and with some fun practical effects to boot. It has its heart in the right place at least… I mean, I can’t really accuse them of cashing in on the franchise, since it’s well-nigh forgotten in the mainstream. CRITTERS ATTACK! is made specifically for the fans, but I’m not sure how many of them will truly appreciate what it offers.
CRITTERS ATTACK! is part of the line-up at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2019.