There is a breakout from a prison asteroid in deep space and the Krites, small furry creatures with voracious appetites, escape in a spaceship with enough fuel to take them across the galaxy. Two bounty hunters are sent after them, and they all end up headed for planet Earth, specifically Kansas, where a small town carries on with their lives oblivious to the approaching threat. In a farmhouse, the Brown family start the day much as any other, with mother Helen (Dee Wallace) preparing breakfast, father Jay (Billy Green Bush) tinkering and kids Brad (Scott Grimes) and April (Nadine Van der Velde) arguing. However, by nightfall they will be forced to band together as the Krites arrive looking for something to eat...
Written by Domonic Muir and director Stephen Herek, Critters proved that Gremlins had a lot to answer for in the small, hungry monsters stakes. Where the Joe Dante film had opted for a quasi-mystical explanation for its villains, this film takes the easy way out and has them hail from outer space, which means they're intelligent enough to fly a spacecraft but still led by their most basic instincts. The script is pretty coy about revealing its creatures for the first half hour, despite the fact that anyone who had seen any of the advertising would know immediately what they looked like, which in this case was a wolverine crossed with the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil.
They sound a bit like the Tasmanian Devil as well, and are helpfully subtitled for their limited dialogue, including a four letter outburst from one of them at a tense moment. The human story we see, meanwhile, concentrates on making the family as smalltown typical as possible, with Brad (the film's unofficial hero) setting off firecrackers and taking the blame for hitting his sister with a slingshot, and April proudly bringing her new boyfriend home to show off - this boyfriend is played by a pre-fame Billy Zane with a ponytail. All very ordinary, and if you've ever seen an American science fiction film from the fifties onwards, you'll know they're easy pickings for a casual alien to stop by for a little light mayhem.
This relentless ordinariness does the story no favours, but the bounty hunters are even worse. One takes the human form of a poodle rock singer he watches on an Earth broadcast, supposedly to make him cool but probably even then coming across as ridiculous, while the other adopts the appearance of various humans he encounters around the town. By the time they land, the Krites have started their campaign of terror around the farmhouse, chewing the wires so that the power goes out, eating a nearby cow (cattle mutilations, anyone?) and attacking Jay when he ventures down to the basement to find out what is going on.
The Critters are realised through the simple medium of puppetry, but the Muppets they ain't, even if they do resemble the drummer Animal. A puppet show is what the film grows into, with its baddies demonstrating such tricks as rolling along the ground at high speeds and firing off darts from the spines in their backs. All the while, the bounty hunters demolish certain buildings around the town for no good reason other than to pad out the running time - the film would have been even shorter without them, but the humans' resourcefulness would have been better tested. That's not to say there aren't amusing bits, there are: see the Critter who swallows a firecracker or the way a policeman being eaten is compared with Helen shoving scraps down the waste disposal. It's just that Critters displays about as much wit as blowing raspberries; but I'll admit sometimes that's all you need. Music by David Newman.