My coverage of Shout! Factory’s box set appears at the bottom of this write-up. This piece works through the Critters franchise releases in chronological order. It is organized for you to look to those specific headings that interest you following the introduction. Please enjoy this revisit of the little-discussed franchise, which we believe will have a cult revival very soon.
Dirt kicks into the air, trailing a rolling ball of porcupine hair behind the barn. Low, raspy growling can be heard as young Brad Brown sneaks to get a closer look. Up in the loft of the barn, April Brown moves on her boyfriend, Steve Elliot, for a classic teenager make out session in the hay. Two of Steve’s fingers become Crite snacks as he tries to change a cassette tape on the “boom box.” Then, his draped shirt falls from the straw as another critter launches from the hay into him using its rows of razor-sharp teeth to make a bloody crater where his stomach used to be, a stomach freshly filled with Helen Brown’s homemade mashed potatoes. Someone in the theater audience jumps, asking “what the?!” His girlfriend looks frustrated at him, brushing off the popcorn he spilled into her lap. Then, behind them, someone screams. Soon everyone is looking around as someone else up in the front row yells again. It is not that the movie is terrifying, but it is also not long before they realize the projectionists are throwing out Koosh balls from the projection room.
These are rubber balls covered in soft, rubber spines or filaments, perfect props to emulate the spiny quills of the outlaw aliens, the Krites. I’m opting for the “Crites” spelling in this article. The year is 1986, and I’m illustrating this from an acquaintance’s story. He had been a projectionist during the theatrical release. I realize, given the availability of Koosh balls, that this would have more likely been a screening of Critters 2 in 1988 or ’89. Still, for our purposes, the audience is watching the first in what will be four Critters films, some might say cheap cash-ins on the fame of Gremlins from 1984. If they are cheap cash-ins, they are in good company with Empire Pictures’ Ghoulies, both being properties that 2018’s Halloween sequel and reboot director David Gordon Green has claimed he would like to helm. There is no way for this audience to know that in July of 2018, a company named Shout! Factory will announce these one-time VHS favorites are getting a Blu-ray release in a box set due for November 2018.
The Crites doubtless have come a long way since their first terrorism of the Brown Family farm in 1986, but they didn’t take the journey alone. While the box set will take up the titles of its collected films, it could easily be retitled Charlie: Bounty Hunter. We’ll get to more on his character, who is central to the franchise. Also, while Gremlins turned to Oriental mysteries deep within an American city Chinatown, which birthed dragon-like creatures, the Critters looked back to the stars for their horror. A blend of science fiction, horror, and camp, the Critters movies boasted an unusually strong cast of supporting talent. These are horror films you picture a drive-in theater playing first in a double feature, the one the kids would enjoy and fall asleep to before the real gore began. The property utilized alien abductee stereotypes along with the awkwardness of visiting strangers to earth to create a storyline that would, oddly enough, hold the series together over four films, two of which went straight-to-video.
But the Crites remained bound to the ’80s and ’90s sabbatical rules of horror alongside Jason, the Leprechaun, and Pinhead. While they may have begun their vacation of terror on rural territory, they were bound for the urban before journeying back to space. For those unfamiliar, the trending settings for these sequels break down like this: Crites: from the Brown Family Farmhouse to Grover’s Bend, on to Los Angeles and to Space; Jason: from Camp Crystal Lake to Manhattan, on to Hell and to Space; Leprechaun: from O’Grady’s Farmhouse, North Dakota to Los Angeles, on to “The Hood” and to Space; then, Pinhead: from the Cotton’s Home to Hell, to Los Angeles (?) and on to Space. We don’t require more than that sample to see the trends to which Critters writers adhered.
With all of this in mind, I’d like to pick up on some of these topics relating to Critters Parts 1 & 2 with 25YL writer and editor, J.C. Hotchkiss. Then, I will cover Parts 3, 4, and The New Binge as well as Shout! Factory’s latest features on the box set.
RK: Tell me about what Critters is it to you, what it was to you as a kid, and to you revisiting it?
JCH: Oh, gosh. Where do I start? Critters is that dose of nostalgia that we all look for occasionally. As a kid, it freaked me out, but I loved Scott Grimes. You could say I had a little crush on Brad. I also loved that Terrence Mann had the part of the Bounty Hunter. He was somewhat of an inspiration to me because he played the original Rum Tum Tugger on Broadway in Cats. That was the first Broadway show I had ever seen. So it really was nostalgia for me all around.
RK: That’s awesome that you got to see that early performance. I had not made the Terrence Mann from Broadway to Critters connection. It’s a great personal connection to the nostalgia. For our readers, the bounty hunters were “no-faces” who were kind of alien chameleons who needed to appropriate identities. I’m not entirely sure what my first viewing was. There was this book series that my elementary or junior high library had. I believe it was a series of juvenile recaps of the ’80s horror classics: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and I’m pretty sure Critters was in there. They were these maybe 15-25 page hardbacks, and I remember our librarian had to fight to keep those available to us. [Note: After some research, likely the ’90s Tales of Terror books by Crestwood House, an extension or second series based off the Crestwood House Monster series. Specific citation: Noonan, R. A. 1991. Critters. New York: Crestwood House.] Of course, most of us weren’t allowed to watch the actual films at that age, so we ate these up, the gross pictures, etcetera. Perhaps, I might have even seen them first in a Fangoria magazine perusing the shelves.
Anyhow, I think I saw Part 2 first. Then, I saw Part 1 and caught Parts 3 and 4 as they arrived on VHS in the rental stores. I watched all of them on VHS. I never got to see any of them in the theaters, but maybe with the resurgence of the film on Blu-ray and The New Binge around the corner, places like the Alamo Drafthouse and such will begin to screen them. These were the kind of introductory horror films I was into, the movies I would watch spending the night at my grandparents’ house when they had HBO, like Lady in White, The Pulse, The Gate, or…well, those are titles I’m remembering now. I love that you mention the bounty hunter. These movies don’t just speak to the Crites, do they? You could almost rename the series Charlie: Bounty Hunter, couldn’t you? Coming back to these films, do you still think of them as horror films or kid-friendly, science fiction?JCH: It’s funny you mention VHS. Because that’s how I first saw them. I would walk down to my local video store in my condo complex and rent movies all the time. There weren’t a lot of kids in the complex, so Tony, the owner of the video store, became my buddy and would suggest videos. I’m pretty sure that’s how I first saw Gremlins, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, all of those great Hughesian ’80s movies and a couple of really freaky horror comedies, because that is definitely where I think Critters falls, horror comedy.
RK: Absolutely, and here is a thought I had. We have started writing complimentary pieces for Shudder content, and Joe Bob Briggs‘ return has had me thinking about drive-ins and drive-in culture. You know, Critters feels like that. It has this comet-crashing-to-earth feel to it. When it arrived in 1986—a knock-off of Gremlins popularity, yes—it was the same year that Night of the Creeps came out, which I argue had one of the best drive-in movie openings in the way it encapsulated aliens, teenagers parking…it illustrated all of the tropes. And I think Critters does that as well. I want to focus on Critters Part 1 first here. What do we have? We have the aliens crashing in a rural setting, the Browns’ family farm, a local and drunk has-been whose warnings are ignored by everyone—he’s the least reliable source, a common stereotype of alien abductees—and we have small town culture up against a universal threat. It’s not a latchkey kid film, which were popular in the ’80s. Think Super 8, which more recently emulated that, or The Goonies. The parents won’t listen to the kids, so they have to take the threat on themselves. In this film, the family is working together. Does any of that stand out to you? Did it feel campy in your rewatch?
JCH: As a side note: Night of the Creeps haunted me for years. I’m pretty sure I remember Rhonda Shear introducing it on USA Up All Night and thinking I was being ‘grown-up’ watching it. Boy, was I wrong?! It completely freaked me out. I do think Critters stands out as that type of horror film, almost, say, a family-friendly horror comedy. So, I think for the time, it definitely fit the bill. It has an element of camp, but that’s what I love about it.
RK: I love that you just brought USA Up All Night to the table. That’s so good and of this period of film. I think that’s a topic we’ll definitely have to save for a future article or many articles. So, here we are. Critters is a campy, horror comedy. But it is a campy, horror comedy with some pretty impressive star power in guest appearances. We started as a Twin Peaks analysis website, and who do we see in a supporting role here? Tell us about that star and his role here.
JCH: I actually loved that Billy Zane was the Crites’ first victim, but poor Billy. All he wanted was a little piece and he became lunch. I totally forgot that he was the unfortunate Steve.
RK: I guess I had forgotten that as well. So in Twin Peaks he was our John Justice Wheeler in Season 2. I had to look back to his career to see where Critters would have landed. It’s looking like one of his first pictures just after a supporting part in Back to the Future. Then, he doesn’t really see a larger picture again until Dead Calm in 1989, so first blood in a Critters film wasn’t a bad place to start. I guess he kind of shares that with Johnny Depp as a Freddy victim. Another thing that Critters films did, at least the first two, were to reflect their times. By that, I mean we have to chat ’80s music video culture in this film, i.e. Johnny Steele.
JCH: Oh, ’80s music video culture! It was epic and the video of Johnny Steele was perfect for the time. The fact that Ug took on his appearance always makes me laugh…the bigger the hair, the more saving of the universe! LOL!
RK: I think the best way to bridge these films is to have what I’m calling a “Charlie and Ug Update.” Where are they by the film’s end?
JCH: The bounty hunters are grateful to Charlie, which is why I think they take him with them, knowing he really doesn’t have much on Earth and was brave enough to fight against the Crites.
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
RK: Right. So, we’ll mark that. Charlie leaves Earth, where he isn’t appreciated, to join the bounty hunters. And then, of course, that story is continued in Critters 2. Which film do you prefer, the first or the second? I guess just tell me your take on Critters 2, and I will spin off of that.
JCH: Well, the original will always be a classic to me, but I did enjoy two a little more. I thought the comedy was a bit stronger and the storyline, though utterly preposterous, was enjoyable. The first explored the family dynamic in a crisis and the second explores the community dynamic in a crisis. Also, for the rolling ball of Critters from the explosion. LOL!
RK: I agree 100%. As recent as May, director Mick Garris discussed the film for its 30th anniversary on his Post Mortem Podcast, that the humor was definitely turned up a notch. In that podcast, he talked about how audiences had really embraced the film as an Easter film in the way Gremlins is a Christmas story and its sequel a New Year movie. Anyhow, about that rolling ball of Critters, do we have any clue what the anatomy of these things is? And let me give you something to work with here. A 30-year anniversary, how did it age for you? Does it still feel like a cult classic?
JCH: Maybe they were joined together by the spikes on their backs? Who knows? LOL! Critters does feel like a cult classic, though. It’s one of those movies that probably did okay back in the day, but definitely has a cult following now. I remember commenting that to Scott Grimes via Twitter and got a follow back because of it!
RK: That’s great, that Grimes followed you back. We will definitely be tagging Grimes on this one. Brad Brown is to the Critters franchise what Tommy is to Friday the 13th and Nancy to A Nightmare on Elm Street. All of these franchises have these central character arcs that make up the best definitions of the series. I think that’s what Parts 1 and 2 do in this series, the Brad Brown films. So, there is a really great—okay, corny—joke in the film where the no-face bounty hunter, Lee, who is still searching for its complimentary image, begins to transform into Freddy Krueger, another ’80s reference that kind of extends upon the pop culture much like the Johnny Steele video from the previous film. And the sheriff is replaced by actor Barry Corbin, who we all know much better as Maurice from Northern Exposure fame. I feel like Part 3 kind of misses some of that tradition, but to get to Part 3, how do we end Part 2? What is our Charlie and Ug Update?
JCH: Well, Ug thinks that Charlie is dead so he assumes his look, but then Charlie survives and decides to stay and keep an eye out, so the people of Grover’s Bend make him the new sheriff. I think Ug definitely feels Charlie has the heart of a bounty hunter, and that’s why he remains looking like him. But it’s nice to see Charlie come into his own and see his self-worth when he didn’t want to come back to Earth in the first place.
Critters 3: You Are What They Eat (1991)
RK: Critters 3 is the first in the straight-to-video additions to the franchise. It is certainly the weakest of the four parts. But I would like to point out that the VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever for 2017 organizes the ratings as two and a half bones for Part 1, then two across the board for the others, moderate optimism. To save money, both films were shot simultaneously. As one set was demolished, the other was erected in its place. The most obvious and popularly-toted fact about this addition is that this was young Leonardo DiCaprio’s debut film outside of television. Still, the real protagonist is yet again a family affair. The focus is on a family, widowed father Clifford with his teenage daughter, Annie, and son, Johnny. They join a plot that seems to borrow heavily from Batteries Not Included, which had a screenplay by Mick Garris who directed Critters 2. What I mean in this is that we have low-income families eking out a living in the urban decay of early ’90s New York, though the city remains unnamed. Again, much like in Part 1, where Charlie takes on the role of the town drunk who cannot be trusted to be honest about the alien transmissions he receives through his fillings, here we take as our protagonists low-income apartment tenants who could never be believed in their story of alien invasion in the city, right? They would be motivated to say anything to stay in their homes. Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Project Blue Book spoke in real life to this thought pattern:
“This misconception…UFOs are reported by unreliable, unstable, and uneducated persons…Reports are sometimes generated by uneducated people, but ‘uneducated’ does not necessarily imply ‘unintelligent’. Air crash investigators have found, for instance, that the best witnesses are teenaged boys, untrained but also unprejudiced in reporting…Very few reports are generated by mentally unstable persons…(they have, incidentally, little or no interest in the subject). 
Given that, it’s not so strange to have children as reporters on such an invasion or the untrained investigator. In writing this, I’ve found a fun way to approach these films is to imagine the protagonists as reliable reporters on the incidents after they occurred. Back to Part 3, though. The initial threat here is by a conniving landlord who has hired a dirty maintenance employee to infest the grates with rodents. Little does he know that one of his tenant families has arrived back in town with Critters eggs in tow. The rodents would be the least of their problems.
I offer a quick essential plot point and then our Charlie and Ug Update for sake of space. At a rest stop, where Clifford is changing a flat tire, his children meet another kid, Josh (DiCaprio), who turns out to be the son of their militant landlord. Together, they chase a lost Frisbee into the woods at the edge of the park. There, they meet Charlie in his ragtag bounty hunter gear, who has been chasing down Crites that got away from Grover’s Bend. He gives Johnny a crystal that will glow green when danger is near, a Critter detector if you will. With that, our set-up is intact. The families will meet again at the apartment complex, and they will have inadvertently brought back Critters eggs with them, where Charlie will be able to trace their signal. As a quick note to our Twin Peaks fans, one of the neighbors, Mrs. Menges, is played by our Mrs. Tremond, Frances Bay. Then, as a curious note, this film includes a Mr. Briggs and Betty Briggs. The comparisons quickly end there.
Charlie and Ug Update: At the end of the film, as Charlie reaches for the final Critters eggs to destroy in the basement and the families are saved, a device on his belt enacts an emergency alarm. Out of it is a hologram telecommunication from Ug, whose hair is now slicked back with his stern countenance. He warns Charlie that he is in violation of an intergalactic policy on endangered species. Charlie doesn’t understand. Why has the mission changed? Ug explains that a pod is forthcoming and that the eggs are to be deposited there for retrieval. Just then, the roof caves in as the pod crashes behind Charlie, and the credits begin rolling with a promise, much like Back to the Future Part II, “To be continued.”
Critters 4: In Space…They Love To Hear You Scream (1992)
Starting with a replay of that last scene, Charlie crawls into the pod with the eggs. We are reminded of his clumsiness as he gets stuck in the pod in suspended animation and pulled back into space. The future he is hurled into is 2045, and with the future apparently comes talent. While the film only necessitates a small cast of nine, actors in that nine include Brad Dourif, Angela Bassett, Anders Hove of Subspecies fame, and Eric DaRe of Twin Peaks alongside Don Opper as Charlie and Terrence Mann as Ug. Part 4 returns to the darker nature of the Critters in Part 1 and goes a step darker. Like I’ve noted above, many of the sequel-bound creatures of the ’80s and ’90s were indeed bound for space, but few of them came from space. Remember, the Critters’ adventure began with their escape to earth from a space prison. Perhaps like the far-flung combination of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, we can begin to see alignment in Aliens vs. Predator vs. Critters.
In the special making-of feature for Critters on the newly-released Blu-ray by Shout! Factory, Domonic Muir admits that while he wasn’t a connoisseur or even a fan of Westerns, the bounty hunters show the genre’s influence on Critters. Some of that imagery is seen in M. Emmet Walsh’s sheriff later portrayed by Barry Corbin in Part 2, as well as in the shotgun-wielding father Jay Brown played by Billy Green Bush. I would argue here that Brad Dourif takes on that characterization in Part 4 until Charlie can ultimately advance into the role. Dourif’s Al Bert has prized antique cowboy boots and a glass-cased antique six-shooter replete with exactly six bullets. It reminds us of science fiction’s ties to pulp heroes, western adventurers among the stars, and these cowboys have a critter problem.
Charlie and Ug Update (SPOILERS):
The larger problem? It’s Ug. The slicked back hair from the end of Part 3 was no coincidence. Ug has been compromised. The rock ‘n’ roll has been exchanged for militant bureaucracy. It’s the government telling the cowboy what to do again. Upon seeing the true cruelty of Ug to his new friends, Charlie must decide if he has it in him to shoot his old friend. I leave it to you to find out if he does.
Critters: Bounty Hunter (A Fan Film, 2014)
While we are giving space to the Critters franchise, I wanted to give some space to Critters: Bounty Hunter, a six-minute fan film that sets the tone for what can be done with the franchise. It is not officially included in the Shout! Factory Collection as it is not canon, but it tells us that the Critters are not forgotten in the discarded VHS cassettes of Blockbuster inventories. Its writer and director is Jordan Downey, a one-time intern of Wes Craven according to his IMDb profile. The film portrays a “no-face” bounty hunter who has come to exterminate Crites after an Earth home invasion. His weapon, the traditional cannon gun, includes vocal analysis technology that helps him understand Earth’s culture. One Crite remains alive in the home. Of course, the ending leaves us with a laundry basket containing three more eggs left behind, until they are not, as the bounty hunter returns to blow them away, exclaiming “Kill more Crites!”
Critters: The New Binge (2019?)
It was announced on January 10, 2018, that Verizon’s go90 digital service had ordered an eight-part digital series titled Critters: A New Binge. By the end of the month, director Jordan Rubin, previously known for Zombeavers, began taking interviews. He confirmed that each episode will run around 10 minutes and be shot as a continuing feature, which would add up to an 80-minute film. As late as September 2018, we learned from a podcast interview that actor Thomas Lennon of MTV’s The State and Reno 911! fame, but who has also recently acted in a revival of The Puppet Master franchise, will be in the series. By all signs, Charlie and Ug will not be the bounty hunters in this part of the franchise. It also seems at this time that the Chiodo Brothers will be unable to work on the series, though they have stated they would be happy to work with Rubin. A release date has not been set yet. So, I wanted to get J.C. back to briefly talk about our expectations and a little about the fan film.
RK: It was a blast to watch the Critters: Bounty Hunter fan film’s take on the series. So this is your fan moment, how would you bring them back? What’s your premise?
JCH: With everyone concerned about GMO’s and factory farming, I think I would use that premise with a twist. An evil genetic scientist reanimates the Crites from a sample collected in the original (or Part 2). This evil scientist also has a bleeding heart side. He doesn’t want to see the environment continue to deteriorate, so he drops Crites in factory farms all over the United States to cleanse the area and move people towards eating a meat-free and environmentally-friendly diet. In the process, it goes awry and Crites start to take over, all over. There could be a lot of jokes and bits around being veggie (which I do about 80/20, so I can definitely make fun of myself sometimes). And totally about them taking over à la a bit of Gremlins 2.
RK: You know, what is great about that take is that you do have to somewhat keep the hunger central, right? Clearly, we all have ideas on where this could go. I admit that if I were able to take a stab, I would probably take to David Gordon Green’s helming of a darker, re-quel feature film. An amateur UFO researcher reads over the Grover’s Bend case in his personal study when he discovers a terrifying coincidence. Then, I would take those suckers right back to the rural landscape of Roswell, New Mexico. The 1947 crash left valuable technology that was stolen from the Crites race. Hence, the Critters are in the Land of Enchompment on a reconnaissance and feeding mission. Government investigators move to round up key players in the Grover’s Bend incident, when the amateur researcher helps Bradley, Megan, and Charlie escape. This also would see the bounty hunters head to the West, where more Western tropes could exist. Of course, this will never happen, but I’ve obviously thought about it too much. Do you think people will purchase a subscription to Paramount’s service for this series alone? Will it work as an incentive?
JCH: I don’t know if people will purchase a subscription based on Critters alone, but I bet there are some cult fans that will definitely purchase a subscription. Also, I don’t know about the 8-10 minute episodes, but if they were fully fleshed out (pun intended) episodes, I think they’d get more subscribers.
RK: It still seems like Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray box set coming out and being available for new viewers really is a perfect storm for A New Binge. They will both encourage the other. It also doesn’t hurt that with Shout! Factory’s release, they are now available for rental or purchase through digital streaming services. And, you know, don’t you think 25YL would be the perfect website to cover the new series? (wink)
JCH: I do think though that we would be an absolutely perfect website to cover the new series of shorts that are coming out.
RK: Well, we will be covering the History Channel’s Project Blue Book starting in January, which gives us the aliens angle. Then, our site is very interested in covering horror properties as well as series that have dedicated cult followings. To me, that’s the Critters franchise defined. First, though, let’s look at the Blu-ray releases.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray Box Set (November 27, 2018)
The Critters Collection, as released by Shout! Factory, collects Parts 1-4 and marks their first-ever American release on Blu-ray. According to Blu-ray.com, each contains at least an English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit) transfer with the first movie actually including a Master Audio of 5.1 as well. The scans on Parts 1 & 2 are 2K from the original film elements. All contain still galleries and original trailers as well as making-of documentaries. Part 1 includes its alternative ending. The documentaries contain heavy appearances from Don Opper (Charlie), Terrence Mann (Ug), producer Barry Opper, writer Brian Muir, and puppeteers, the Chiodo Brothers. For the initiate to Critters trivia and history, it was fascinating to learn the intensity that the Chiodo brothers experienced in designing, animating, and cleaning the Critters themselves. Producer Barry Opper adds that while critics were mostly kind to their first outing, his favorite review was by Joe Bob Briggs:
Outstanding slime-spewing. One breast. Two dead bodies. Four mutilated bodies. Eight dead critters. One motor vehicle chase, with two crashes. Three tumbleweed chases. Three gallons of blood. Stomach-eating. Pitchfork-chewing. Gross-out mush-face alien transformation into a Mick Jagger lookalike. Explicit cow guts, also known as bovine fu. Garbage-disposal symbolism. Finger rolls. Extra points for gratuitous toy E.T. eaten by a critter. Gratuitous Empty-V song called “Power of the Night.” Gratuitous Methodist church destruction. Shot-gun fu. Toilet fu Tumbleweed fu. Aerosol can and a lighted match fu. 
It was also a treat to finally hear some of the background on Parts 3 and 4, which were only memories to me. That they were shot simultaneously finally brought it all together for me. I could begin to understand Charlie’s roles in each. What this collection accomplishes for fans is to make the Critters franchise accessible again. The documentaries for each do a lot to show the labor of love that each film was for its creators, actors, and crew. With the release of this collection, the films are now also available for streaming and will hopefully find their way onto new audiences’ screens, building excitement for new films beyond Critters: A New Binge. Once beloved cult films and popular culture tokens from our childhoods—once thought best left in the ’80s and early ’90s—are now seeing fertile environments for revitalization. A large thanks needs to go out beyond streaming services to physical item producers like Shout! and Scream Factories as well as Severin Films for restoring the legacy of these properties, which had lost audience accessibility. We at 25YL hope that at the very least we can come to properties you love with renewed attention and serious reappraisal. As Joe Bob would say, we echo “check it out.”
 Hynek, J. Allen, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry (New York: Ballentine Books, 1974), 24-25.
 Briggs, Joe Bob. Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-in. (New York: Delacorte Press, 1990), 141-142.