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Film Title: Critters
Release Date: 1986
Runtime: 86 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 5.1 & 2.0
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray (included in “The Critters Collection“)
Blu-ray Release Date: 11/27/18
Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Scott Grimes, Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Lin Shaye, Ethan Phillips, Billy Zane
EDITOR NOTE: This is a review for the first one of the four films included in “The Critters Collection“ Blu-ray Disc box set, from Scream Factory. I am splitting these reviews up for each film, instead of making one very lengthy single review for the set.
“Critters” was a 1986 film directed by Stephen Herek that blended the genres of science fiction (Sci-Fi), horror and comedy. The film’s director, Herek, is best known for later directing such films as “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” (1991), “The Mighty Ducks” (1992), and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995). The story and screenplay were co-written by Brian Muir, although he was credited as Domonic Muir (using his middle name).
The story here focuses primarily on some menacing little aliens known as “Krites” (a.k.a. “Critters”) that have escaped from a maximum security prison in outer space. They’re being tracked by a group of bounty hunters that have been assigned to find the Krites. The species, even amongst its fellow alien species, seems to get zero respect throughout the universe, and rightfully so. Krites have a habit of eating everything or everyone in sight, and the bad news is that they’ve stolen a spaceship and are headed straight for earth. Specifically, these little bastards are headed for the small (fictional) town of Grover’s Bend, Kansas. The residents of this small little town are about to have one hell of an experience, that they do not soon forget – as this film spawned sequels, after all.
Our protagonist here is a young boy named “Brad Brown” (Scott Grimes), who lives on a small farm along with his mother “Helen” (Dee Wallace), father “Jay” (Billy Green Bush), and teenage sister “April” (Nadine Van der Velde). Brad as we first are introduced to him is trying to heat up his thermometer in hot water, taking up the bathroom from his sister, in an attempt to fake having a fever to get out of going to school. That itself should tell you something about Brad, plus the boy likes to make explosives in his spare time, and his best friend is the town drunk / village idiot “Charlie” (Don Opper). Charlie as we first are introduced to him is waking up in a the town jail after sleeping one off, and then biting the hair of the dog that bit him.
As Charlie is waking up the town’s Sheriff “Harv” (M. Emmet Walsh) is conveening with his secretary “Sally” (Lin Shaye). Sally is a bit of a sucker for the tabloids, where the mention of alien is common, yet she doesn’t know that she is about to have more disturbing things (than in the magazines she reads) invading her town and the man in charge of defending is the man she’s talking to. Not to really put it too bluntly but Harv as the town’s Sheriff isn’t really the most reassuring of leadership, and the deputy isn’t too bright either.
In regards to the town’s police force, point and case, the sheriff walks into the cell to greet our drunken town loon Charlie, where he doesn’t even have to open the cell door (as it’s already open). You’d think this was Mayberry, and this was Andy greeting Otis. There seems to also be the whole fact where Charlie insists that his teeth can pick up transmissions that he claims to be from aliens. Turns out, there aren’t any transmissions coming to him, but there are aliens on their way.
The two bounty hunters are also on their way and they lack faces, as they have to assume identities of the creatures on the planet they are on when doing their job. So, we see one of the bounty hunters put on some visor where he’s watching dual video feeds of video from earth (his destination). Along the way he sees all kinds of crazy things, but one really strikes his attention and it’s a music video by a rock star named “Johnny Steele” (Terrence Mann). It’s here when he assumes his identity and leaves the other bounty hunter having to find the right human form to take, as you’ll see them switch a few times throughout the film. Once the Critters arrive, let’s just say the rest of the town is getting its share off havoc from the little creeps, and the bounty hunters will stop at nothing to capture the Krites (Critters).
What you get here with this film is a nice blend of sci-fi and horror that really has its strongest points in the comedy sub-genre that it carries. Sure, it’s something that you might have actually found to be scary when you were a kid, but by today’s standards (for PG-13) probably won’t frighten many kids or even adults (seeing it for the first time). It does have its creepy elements, don’t get me at all wrong here. This film is horror, and represents the genre well, much like “Gremlins” (1984) that it is obviously often times compared to, but it has its obvious comedic nature all throughout. Critics really liked this when it was theatrically released back in 1986, in fact the late Siskel and Ebert gave this “Two Thumbs Up” on their “At the Movies“ TV show – that premiered that very same year.
Movie Rating: 4 (out of 5)
According to the technical specifications listed on IMDb this was shot on 35MM film. This film is presented in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This has received a new 2K scan of the original film elements.
This comes with a really nice amount of film grain preserved, and some occasional imperfections left on the film print. It’s cleaned up well here, and brings a pretty nice amount of clarity in its high definition presentation. Close-ups hold a considerable bit of detail that can be pretty impressive, at times. The color palette is vibrant with the color red really standing out early on in the film. Flesh tones appear to be represented here accurately.
The black level is solid, and some of the shadows and night scenes really benefit from that here. Plus, the “Critters” are black so it helps to have the black level somewhat emphasize the creatures and the special effects. It’s very much worth noting that the special effects hold up really well here when presented in HD. “Critters” comes with a very solid high definition presentation in the film’s debut to Blu-ray, much thanks to the new 2K scan. They’ve done a really good job here on bringing this film to us in quality like we’ve never seen it in on home video. Fans can rejoice and will enjoy this visual presentation as it will bring back memories of theatrical showings in the mid eighties.
Video Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Audio here is presented in both DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio Stereo. I’ll be reviewing the 5.1 lossless mix here primarily, at first. Things start out with the music getting delivered primarily through the front left and right channels, and a bit of rear channel presence. Dialogue is delivered very distinctly through the center channel speaker, and sounds really good. Once the music starts to intensify just a tad bit and you hear sound effects, you’ll notice a nice subtle but effective amount of bass via the subwoofer. This is just a taste of that to come, as it’s going to get a whole lot more impressive as the film progresses and we get some occasional action sequences.
There’s a nice pan of a spaceship from the front channels to the right rear channel speaker just right before the credits. When the title displays you’ll hear a very nice little use of the 5.1 soundscape. The alien sound effects actually are pretty good here in the opening bit of the film.
12 minutes in when the “Power of the Night” song by “Johnny Steele” (as music video) is playing you’ll hear pretty a good amount of bass via the subwoofer, most of the music coming from the front left and right channels and the vocals coming from the center channel. It’s a short sequence, but it sounds good and helps set the vibe of the film. The rear channels get a lot of use for even the sound of crickets, or really anything else going on in the background.
Overall, this delivers a pretty solid 5.1 lossless mix that makes nice use of the rear channels, especially when the “Critters” are sneaking around in bushes or jumping out at someone. Later in the film you get a bit of subwoofer action during some scenes that involve explosions. Keep in mind though that this came from a Mono source, and that there is an option to listen in a 2.0 lossless mix here as well. I found the 5.1 lossless mix to be a very solid audio presentation, but I really enjoyed the 2.0 lossless mix. In fact, I found that 2.0 mix to actually be more impressive – not just to my liking. That said, both of the lossless mixes found on this release will leave you pleased.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release are presented in HD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound – unless otherwise noted below. This disc contains bonus content specific to this film only, which is includes the following:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Producer Barry Opper and Star Don Opper
- NEW Audio Commentary with Critters Designers Charles Chiodo, Edward Chiodo and Stephen Chiodo
- NEW “They Bite!: The Making of Critters” (1:11:05 – HD) is a very lengthy and thoroughly done joint venture with Red Shirt Pictures. This includes interviews with Barry Opper (Producer), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenwriter of “Prison”), Shane Bitterling (Screenwriter of “Puppet Master X”), Don Opper (“Charlie”), Mark Helfrich (Second Unit Director), Dee Wallace (“Helen Brown”), Lin Shaye (“Sal”), Terrence Mann (“Ug”), Corey Burton (Voice of the “Critters”), Stephen Chiodo (“Critters” Design & Supervision), Charles Chiodo (“Critters” Design & Supervision), Edward Chiodo (“Critters” Design & Supervision), Anthony Dublin (Special Props Supervisor), R. Christopher Biggs (Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor), David Newman (Composer), and Gene Warren, Jr. (Miniature Effects Supervisor). You also get an archival  interview with the late Brian Muir (Story Creator, Co-Screenwriter) discussing coming up with the story, the script, and the film. One of the cooler parts in this featurette is hearing about the late screenwriter Muir (a.k.a. Domonic Muir) and his journey from working for Roger Corman which helped him get his script for the film (written in longhand on notebook paper) read by someone, taken serious, and adapted into a screenplay for a film. Muir even reveals that the original script was much darker (R rated) with a lot of the main characters getting killed off. We learn that the director / co-screenwriter (Stephen Herek) was the one who decided to tame down the film a bit (to a PG-13 level). There’s some obvious discussion here of the similarities to “Gremlins“ (1984), but not about the comparisons but about how that film beat it by coming out 2 years earlier than “Critters” (1986) did. There is some discussion of the three sequels here as well. You’ll get to see a lot of still photos here along the way that were taken behind-the-scenes and posters for films (such as “Android“). There are the obvious clips from the film and even some rough behind-the-scenes footage of the “Critters” characters being created, tested, and performed by the Chiodo brothers.
- NEW “For Brian: A Tribute to Screenwriter Domonic Muir” (21:57 – HD) starts out with a clip from a 2008 archival interview with Brian Muir. This featurette, made in a joint venture with Red Shirt Pictures, includes interviews with Shane Bitterling (Screenwriter of “Puppet Master X”), Thomas Callaway (Director of Photography on “Critters 3” & “Critters 4”), Barry Opper (Producer), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenwriter of “Prison”), and Mark Helfrich (Second Unit Director). There’s a lot of old photographs of Brian shown throughout the featurette. There’s some very cool information here about how Brian [Muir] almost ended up directing the film, but lost it in a coin toss to Stephen [Herek]. Stephen Herek went on to become very successful after this film, and it seems to have bothered Brian that he could have directed this film. He also regretted that he did not use his first name on the screenplay credits. There’s something very cool here that I won’t discuss to avoid dishing out any “spoilers” of sorts, but let’s just say that this featurette proves to pay great tribute to Brian and gives fans of the film some information about the guy who thought them up.
- “Behind-The-Scenes Footage” (11:52 – HD) comes from slightly rough VHS home videos that seem to have been recorded by the Chiodo brothers when doing tests performing and recording the special effects scenes for the film with the “Critters” creatures they created. These prove to be fun to watch, and pretty funny as well.
- Alternate Ending (4:23 – HD) is very unlike what we get in the theatrical cut, and was said to have actually been shown in some theaters.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:30 – HD) features the film’s tagline at the end: “They bite.”
- TV Spots (2:05 – HD) are in very, very rough VHS quality, but still prove to bring back memories for some. It’s nice to see them included to look back on.
- Still Gallery (5:49 – HD) will play as a slideshow if you let it, but you can also use the chapter skip buttons >>| and |<< to go through the still images as well. Just be aware, it will keep playing even if you skip images. So, be sure to hit pause if you find an image you’d like to look at for a bit.
Overall the bonus materials here prove to be very solid, as you get two new audio commentary tracks, two new featurettes, and older content included as well as promotional materials like the TV spots and theatrical trailer. The bonus materials total up to almost 2 hours in runtime, not including the two audio commentary tracks. It’s enough to leave the fans of the first film very pleased.
Bonus Materials Rating: 4 (out of 5)
“Critters” for a 1986 film, over three decades old now (at time of writing), still proves to be just as enjoyable as it was upon its original release. There’s a reason why this film not only got great reviews mostly from the critics, but also has developed a cult-following and spawned a franchise with a total of three sequels – included in this “The Critters Collection“ Blu-ray Disc box set release.
The video and audio presentation on this first film (“Critters“) is a bit beyond solid, and at times impressive. The new 2K scan really helps the video quality and the 2.0 lossless mix proves to really hold some life to it, ironically more than the 5.1 mix does. The amount of bonus materials you get here is very solid, as the runtime is right near two hours and that’s not including the audio commentary tracks: most of which are newly created for this release. Scream Factory has done a really good job here on just this release, and it’s one reason why you should consider getting this box set that it’s included in.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.25 (out of 5) for video quality
4.25 (out of 5) for audio quality
4 (out of 5) for bonus materials