Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek  

Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of Gremlins in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green-lit to be a “sister” film to Gremlins was the movie, Critters.

Released in 1986 Critters is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff.  Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.

The Bradley family along with Grover’s Bend Sheriff Harv.

Critters was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo Dicaprio (Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.

The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in E.T. plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in The Jerk and Harrison Ford’s boss in Blade Runner. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help.  Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into.  A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive.  The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. Critters includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of Insidious fame playing Sal the dispatcher.

The Bounty Hunters in “Critters.”

The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteering. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a Rio Bravo like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges inspired moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed E.T. doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.

This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks and Mr. Holland’s Opus.  I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography.  He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Brown family as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.

Krite

As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to Gremlins. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
  • Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
  • This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982]) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters [1986]
  • Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.

AUDIO CLIPS

You Miss That Bus
Morning Harv
Charlie, It’s Jeff
I’ll Stand on the Fifth Amendment
What Are You Doing Up There?
Smells Like Oil Burning
Transform
Feeding Starts
Call Harv
What The Hell Are Those Things?
We Want The Krites
Keep Your Shirt On, Asshole
They Were Wearing Funny Clothes
I’m Not Reading You
Who Did Your Bring?
Swallowed My Chewing Tobacco

Bill & Ted: Face The Music Trailer Has Arrived

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter make their long awaited return in “Bill & Ted: Face The Music!”

Finally, after decades of rumors and requests from fans, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are making their return to the big screen after a twenty-nine year hiatus.

Today, Orion Pictures released the first trailer for the third installment in the Bill & Ted movie series. Bill & Ted: Face The Music sees the Wyld Stallyns in their biggest adventure yet. Now middle aged men with children, Bill & Ted (played once again by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) are warned by a visitor from the future that they need to create a song within the next seventy-eight minutes in order to not only save Earth, but the entire universe. The film also stars Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving, Anthony Carrigan and William Sadler, who is returning as Death from the previous film Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. In addition to the return of Reeves and Winter, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are back as the writers. The film is being directed Dean Parisot, whose directorial credits include Galaxy Quest and Red 2.

In the official trailer which clocks in at one minute and thirty-three seconds, we see the duo recite their infamous quote of, “Be Excellent To Each Other” and “Party On Dude!,” which is surely needed in these troubling times. From there we see quit shot of their daughters, going through the passages of time, giving a high five to Death and of course the return of the ancient Phone Booth. The trailer ends with them encountering their buffed up future selves in a prison yard where they asked if they liked their song, to which Reeves’s Ted replies, “It’s a little on the dark side, but you know it’s cool!”

As a fan of the first two movies, I was beyond ecstatic when I heard a third movie was in the works. The trailer released today did not disappointed. While Reeves does look scruffier and has a scratchier voice, it’s great to see Alex Winter back on the big screen even though he’s had a successful career as a filmmaker, most notably in the recent documentary The Panama Papers and will be releasing a documentary on music legend Frank Zappa. Seeing Wililam Sadler return as the reaper himself should provide many awkward moments. The addition of Bill & Ted’s daughters should be interesting to the plot especially with the revelation of their children from the previous film.

Bill & Ted: Face The Music will be released in theaters nationwide on August 21st. If you missed out on the first two films or would like to revisit them, you can purchase the Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection on Blu-Ray via Shout Factory. You can check out the trailer below if you haven’t seen it yet.

August will surely be a most excellent day!

Official Trailer

Meet Wally Sparks

Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin  

Writers: Harry Basil (Story), Rodney Dangerfield (Screenplay)

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, Mark L. Taylor

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest stand up comedians the world had ever seen. He was known for his zinging one liners and monologues preaching about he gets “no respect”. His career was heightened in 1980 when he stole the spotlight in the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack which lead to starring roles in the films “Easy Money” and the critically acclaimed Back To School. Unfortunately the 90s weren’t so good to Dangerfield. He had two films that flopped and was being overshadowed by the young fresh talent that appeared on Saturday Night Live and In Living Color. One of his last starring roles was 1997’s Meet Wally Sparks.

In the film, Dangerfield plays the titular character who is the host of a sleazy daytime talk show that rivals Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael to name a few (all have cameos in the movies). His show has become so raunchy and X-Rated that he is losing sponsors and being threatened with cancellation. In addition, his show has been publicly criticized by Floyd Preston, the conservative Governor of Georgia (David Ogden Stiers) as corrupting the moral fabric of the country. Wally is given an ultimatum by his boss Larry Spencer (Burt Reynolds) to clean up his show or else he will pull the plug. Wally receives an invitation to attend Governor Preston’s fundraiser reception at the Governor’s Mansion (unbeknownst to the Governor, the invitation was sent by his rebellious pre teen son) and his producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar) comes up with an idea to persuade the Governor to appear on his show, which would instantly boost ratings and could change the format of the show.

Wally and Sandy attend the reception in search of the governor. During the party, Wally heads to the governor’s stable and gives his prized horse some alcohol. The horse breaks free from the stable and runs amok inside the Governor’s Mansion. Wally is able to tame the horse and prevent it from hurting the Governor. The presses label him a hero in the papers the next morning. Believing to have been paralyzed from the injury, Wally is staying at the Governor’s Mansion to recuperate, much to the chagrin of Governor Preston. The mansion gets trashed due to Wally’s production company setting up shop inside the mansion and Wally continues to get into shenanigans involving Mrs. Preston. In addition, Wally’s adult son Dean begins a relationship with Governor Preston’s southern bell daughter Priscilla. If that wasn’t enough for Governor Preston to deal with, he is being blackmailed by an outside entity to drop out of the Senate race otherwise, photos showing Governor Preston and an unidentified woman in steamy erotic photos would be released to the public. Wally goes on a mission to find out who is blackmailing the Governor and in return earn his trust to come onto his show and address his supporters.

Rodney Dangerfield as America’s most controversial talk show host.

This movie is based on the tabloid daytime talk shows that dominated television airwaves and a statement on the First Amendment. Throughout the 90s, you couldn’t turn on a television channel without seeing some kind of over the top show. You had the FCC and other government entities looking to block any kind of media in effort to “protect the children”. Wally Sparks represents freedom of speech and freedom of expression while Governor Preston represents the government looking to shut down entertainment that is considered obscene or vulgar. The war continues even to this day with the rise of social media.

Obviously Dangerfield is the shining star of the film. There are plenty of yucks to go around. The jokes are a lot cruder than any of his previous outings, but given the subject matter of the film, it fits in with the narrative. There’s a lot more physical comedy from Dangerfield in this film than any previous film that I can recall. Most of it comes during the reception scene. One thing that is special about Dangerfield is he is able to play lovable characters. His characters start out as self center egotists, but during the course of his movies they start to feel a heart for others. This film follows the same formula. Wally’s objective in the beginning is to have a showdown with Governor Preston on his show in an effort to save him from the unemployment line. However, during the course of the movie as he is spending time getting to know the Preston family, he is grateful for their hospitality and when Governor Preston is in a pickle with a blackmail threat, Wally feels that he needs to repay the debt shown by helping Preston out with his situation.

The other shining performance comes from David Ogden Stiers, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He portrays Floyd Preston, the Governor of Georgia and a leader of the moral majority. He finds Wally Sparks and his show repulsive and is on a crusade to get him thrown off the air. To make matters worse, Preston is powerless to kick Sparks out of the mansion when he is hurt from the incident at the mansion involving a horse. His adviser warns him that kicking him out will diminish his reputation as a moral compassionate human being. In addition, Sparks’ presence in the mansion starts to attract younger voters who are fans of the show in supporting Preston’s campaign for Senator. Preston certainly comes at a cross road and becomes consumed with his battle over Sparks that he starts to alienate himself from his family and causing them to rebel against him. Stiers is a big man and he fits the role of a governor well. He has quite a few laughable moments involving situations that he falls upon.

Burt Reynolds plays Dangerfield’s boss, Larry Spencer.

As for the rest of the cast, the performances were pretty shallow, especially Burt Reynolds. For all the talk regarding loss of sponsors and fines from the FCC, Reynolds doesn’t sound the least bit concerned. He is really out of place in the movie. Anyone could’ve portrayed the role of Larry Spencer better than he did. Luckily, he’s only in a few scenes that you could skip over if you wanted to.

One of the notable things about this movie is the number of cameos. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, there are cameos featuring Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael. In addition, other talk show personalities that have a cameo include Roseanne, Morton Downey Jr. and Tim Allen (playing his “Home Improvement” character). It’s funny to see them all berate Wally Sparks and call him a has been and the fact that he is still alive. Other cameos include Bob Saget and Stuttering John Melendez playing news reporters, Gilbert Gottfried and Julia Sweeny playing a married couple on Wally’s show and Tony Danza playing his character from Taxi.

With the laughs that this movie has, it is not without its flaws. I didn’t like the pacing of the movie. The movie starts out with Dangerfield going full force at a hundred miles an hour, but then it slows down during the middle of the film and it comes to a screeching halt. It goes from being funny to dramatic. It gets mushy with Wally’s son and Preston’s daughter developing a relationship against the will of the Governor. Another flaw is the ridiculous cartoonish scenes involving Spencer’s top assistant who detests Wally and is spying on him to see if he is actually injured or if he is faking it. He is falling out of trees and getting dragged behind a car. It’s reminiscent of a Wild E. Coyote cartoon. It really had no place in the movie. Lastly, the climax of the movie was so mindless and childish. Again it’s pretty cartoonish with the final confrontation between Wally and the people who are blackmailing the Governor.

Dangerfield showing off his dance moves.

If you’re a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, this movie is right up your alley. Those who are not fans are advised to turn away. While Meet Wally Sparks is not one of Rodney Dangerfield’s most memorable films, it will be remembered for Rodney doing what Rodney does best, which is making us laugh.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Students in Daingerfield, Texas’ schools got an early release day, because the town gave Rodney Dangerfield a parade, and a street renamed in his honor, when he came to town.
  • One of two Rodney Dangerfield films that feature a vocal performance by Michael Bolton, the other being Back to School (1986). Bolton’s song “Everybody’s Crazy” is playing on the record player during the frat dorm party.
  • Tony Danza reprises his role as Tony from the hit TV show “Taxi” in this film.
  • Gilbert Gottfried who has a small part in the film said on his podcast that he has never seen the finished release.

AUDIO CLIPS

Hard To Believe
Siskel and Ebert Review
You Lost Another Sponsor
Ratings Chart
Governor I’m Crushed
Don’t Go Soft
It’s Just A Drink
Wide As The Mississippi
Stuttering John
That’s Why We Call Him Egypt
Don’t Lift Anything Over Ten Pounds
Talk Soup
What Happened?
I Love Peacocks
I’ve Got A Straight
Great Balls of Fire
Great Grandaddy