Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Critters — following the on-going interstellar menace of the Crites, a species of tiny, malevolent and carnivorous aliens, and of their stalwart adversary, Charlie, a well-meaning alcoholic retard. The series stretched over four films from 1986 to 1992.
The Installment: Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Body Count: 4, plus some ambiguous crowd slaughter, and one unfortunate dog.
The Story: We begin in space with face-changing bounty hunters Ug and Lee (ugly?), and everybody’s favorite alcoholic retard, Charlie (Don Keith Opper), who I guess went with them at the end of the first film (though that wasn’t really clear in Critters‘ conclusion). Ug still looks like Terrence Mann, and Lee still hasn’t figured out what kind of face it wants. The trio then receives word that Crites have been detected on Earth. We cut to Earth where a junkyard owner and a leather jacket punk discover the Crite eggs left at the Brown farm at the end of the first film. The junker takes them to sell as Easter eggs to be used as part of a church celebration in town. Meanwhile, Brad Brown (Scott Grimes), returns to town to hang out with his grandma. Seems the Brown family left in disgrace after the events of the first film, and everyone thinks the Crites are a lie. This scandal also drove Sheriff Harv (now played by Barry Corbin for some reason instead of M. Emmet Walsh) out of office. Soon the Crite eggs hatch, and once more Brad, Ug/Lee, and Charlie must save the day.
What Works: In some respects Critters 2: The Main Course is superior to the original film. In the first film I think writer/director Stephen Herek felt creatively obligated to distance Critters from Gremlins. I can sympathize, but ultimately the Crites were more interesting as concepts than they actually where as characters. Their portion of the film also felt very small. While the bounty hunters were wackily blowing the shit out of the town looking for the Crites, the beasties were stuck farting around the Brown homestead. Either emboldened by the success of the first film, or simply recognizing this flaw, screenwriters Mick Garris and David Twohy (both making their first major theatrical outting) took the creatures to their logical end. Now we get Crites as a widespread menace, wantonly attacking the entire town and engaging in all sorts of shenanigans. Yes, now Crites do seem especially like gremlins rip-offs, but the gremlins were more entertaining than the Crites from Critters. So whatever.
If the bounty hunters were the real stars of the first film (and Critters 2 does once again begin with some great even more ridiculous-looking aliens), the Crites now own the show. We get baby Crites, which are even creepier looking than the adults, and we get more inventive kills. Critters didn’t play much with the general attributes of the Crites when it came to kills. Critters 2 treats them as essentially hairy piranhas. Now we get moments like the Crites jumping en masse inside an unfortunate man’s Easter bunny suit. We also get the Crite Voltron Ball. Early in the film, during one of the better set pieces (the Gremlins-esque burger joint feeding frenzy), we learn that the Crites can bind themselves together in larger balls. This of course means that during the climax all the Crites join together into a giant super Crite ball. This whole extended sequence makes the film noteworthy, and helps gloss over a lot of its shortcomings. The Crite Voltron Ball is pure silly spectacle, and it is great.
God bless the 80’s. Only during that halcyon decade could you get an eye-full of gratuitous titties in a PG-13 movie. To think, how fast young boys’ expectations fell; less than ten years later, the world marveled that we got that very staid and brief glimpse of one of Kate Winslet’s breasts in Titanic. I’d pity the younger generations, but they have the Internet. So fuck you kids. But surely the highlight of the entire Critters franchise for most young males back in the 80’s/early 90’s, was Roxanne Kernohan’s appearance as Lee, the other bounty hunter. The iconic gag being that Lee becomes face-locked on a Playboy centerfold, transforming into the bunny, metal staple in her mid-section and all. The transformation scene is pure excessive pandering, as for some reason the transformation causes Lee’s clothes to completely rip off. Oh, movies. You’re incorrigible.
Completely unrelated to the film itself, I loved that someone – be it director Mick Garris or far more likely someone in the art department – decided to throw a Madball into some of the set dressing as a fun joke. For those of you who don’t remember/never heard of Madballs (which I’m gonna guess is most of you), they were these:
What Doesn’t Work: I said in some respects Critters 2 is superior to Critters. It is also inferior in some respects too. Critters 2 has no story, really. It also doesn’t advance the series at all. Lee (who has never had a personality or any kind of character definition) dies and now Charlie is left on Earth. That’s about it, as far as consequential advancement. The Crites didn’t return to Earth, mounting another attack. The entire film was just clean up from the events of the first film. It was an addendum.
The bigger problem though is that the Crites have to carry the entire film. The humans just don’t work. Brad removed from his family is a lousy hero, and Garris and Twohy seem to recognize that, as they’ve drown the character in a sea of other characters. And while I love horror/sci-fi films about entire towns battling an antagonist force, it doesn’t quite come off here. I suppose in the story meetings it seemed logical or even necessary to have the townsfolk disbelieve that the Crite attack from the first film ever happened, but I think the Tremors franchise demonstrated that such plot mechanics aren’t required. It amounts to nothing more than a waste of time, as the town learns the Crites are real the moment they return here anyway — not to mention that the town finally believing Brad’s story has absolutely no greater consequence on his life, considering that he doesn’t even live in the town anymore and leaves again at the end. And once more there are simply too many characters to allow for any kind of development. Everyone feels perfunctory. It would have been a weird move not to have brought the bounty hunters back, but their presence just inherently undermines Brad’s status as the hero. As is, our “hero” is basically the collective of Brad, Ug, Lee, Charlie, Sheriff Harv, and Brad’s love interest, Megan (Liane Alexandra Curtis).
Speaking of Megan. This character merely served to confuse me. I couldn’t fucking figure out how old Brad and Megan were supposed to be. She had a regular job, which made her seem like an adult. Is Brad in high school? Out of high school? Why does he have that obnoxious ear ring?! And more importantly, why is Megan dressed in a frumpy formless ankle-length dress and hideous sweater for half the film? I guess I shouldn’t complain, what with Roxanne Kernohan scantily clad presence, but I found Megan unacceptable. Maybe I’m just in Nadine van der Velde withdrawal.
A minor complaint: there is a gag moment when Lee comes across a standee of Freddy Krueger outside a movie theater and starts to transform, before Charlie runs up and cockblocks the situation. I get why New Line would dig this gag, but it left me with blue balls. Cause Robert Englund showing up in make-up as Lee for a minute or two would have been amazing.
And this isn’t even an actual critique, but I thought it was comical that the picture Brad has of himself and Charlie (which he fondly looks early in the film), is just a production still from the first film.
Best Kill: The poor bastard from the picture above who gets run over by the Crite Voltron Ball, and cartoonishly stripped of all his flesh within a second. Gold!
Best Crite Dialogue: For whatever reason this tickles me…
Best Bounty Hunter Bit: Well, obviously it is Lee turning into the centerfold.
How the Crites Are Defeated: Once more Charlie saves the day. This time by kamikazing the bounty hunter spaceship directly into the Crite Voltron Ball. There is no evidence that he was drunk at the time, but I choose to believe he was.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Yeah. This film was more of a redo of the first one than a sequel. Let’s get the fuck out of this small town.
Up Next: Critters 3