• The Critters Collection (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 27th, 2018.
    Director: Stephen Herek/Mick Garris/Kristine Peterson/Rupert Harvey
    Cast: Dee Wallace, M. Emmett Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Zane, Lin Shaye, Terrence Mann, Don Keith Opper, John Calvin, Aimee Brooks, Angela Bassett, Brad Dourif, Eric DaRe, Martine Beswick, Leonardo DiCaprio
    Year: 1986/1988/1991/1992
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    Critters Collection – Movie Review:

    In the eighties, after Gremlins proved a massive success, there was bit of a cottage industry wherein weird little monsters were all the rage. There were, of course, the Ghoulies films but so too were there New Line’s Critters pictures. Shout! Factory, in a rather surprising move, has collected the four films and not only deemed them worthy of a Blu-ray releases but special edition releases no less!

    Critters:

    The first film opens with a bit of a prologue where we learn that members of a tiny but vicious race of aliens known as ‘Crites’ escaped from an outer space prison planet. Where did they land? On the Brown family farm! The Brown’s seem like a pretty average family – father Jay (Billy Green Bush) works hard and mother Helen (Dee Wallace) looks after the kids. Son Brad (Scott Grimes) likes to cause trouble with his slingshot, much to the dismay of his teenaged sister April (Nadine Van der Velde), who is more interested in making out with her boyfriend Steve (Billy Zane) in the barn than anything else. Wonky farmhand Charlie (Don Keith Opper) is also around to cause trouble.

    Of course, once the Critters make themselves known, all Hell breaks loose. Brad gets attacked, Steve winds up dead and a pair of shape-shifting interstellar bounty hunters who can’t drive worth a damn (one of whom is Terrence Mann, who would actually star in all four films in the series) show up to bring them back.

    This first film is plenty entertaining. Yeah, fine, it’s rated PG-13 and not particularly gory but it doesn’t need to be. This was clearly geared more towards a younger audience than to horror-hungry adults, playing up the story’s sci-fi angle even more strongly than it does its horror aspects. The creature effects, courtesy of the Chiodo Brothers (the same guys responsible for Killer Klowns From Outer Space) is pretty solid here, the goofy little monsters move well and once they sink their teeth into something, manage to attack with an appropriate amount of ferocity. Director Stephen Herek, who would go on to direct some pretty big pictures like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks and… Mr. Holland's Opus, manages to pace the film well and keep things fun and engaging throughout.

    The cast are decent here as well. Scott Grimes is likeably goofy in his part and it’s fun to see Billy Zane show up here. Dee Wallace and Billy Green Bush are both enjoyable as the parents, and we get some quirky supporting work from Lin Shaye, M. Emmet Walsh and Terrence Mann.

    Critters 2 – The Main Course:

    One of those rare sequels that is better than the original, this second picture, directed by none other than Mick Garris, takes place – you guessed it – in that same small American town where the eggs that were left at the end of the first film are being used as Easter Eggs in a local kids’ Easter Egg hunt. Of course, they hatch and there’s a new herd of toothy monsters soon running about making short work of the town’s livestock and even a few unlucky humans foolish enough to get in their way. Only Brad Brown (Grimes again, no sporting a mullet and an earring) and those bounty hunters led by Ug (Mann reprising his role) can save the planet this time… if they’re lucky. Oh, and once again Charlie (Opper reprising his role) is around to ‘help.’

    Also rated PG-13 like the first film, this second entry has some surprising nudity when one of Ug’s shapeshifting alien bounty hunter pals zones in on a Playboy magazine centerfold and turns into a naked lady complete with a staple in her stomach. She puts some clothes on after that but yeah, for a minute or so she’s running around topless, which came as a bit of a surprise. This picture is also a tad gorier than the first one, there’s even a scene early on where the Critters eat an animal that’s actually a bit disturbing. Of course, it never takes things too far but it does take things farther than the original film.

    Mick Garris’ direction is fine. Not super flashy but effective, balancing horror, sci-fi and a reasonable amount of effective humor in pretty equal doses. Again, the effects work is solid and the creature effects from the Chiodo’s steals the show. Seeing M. Emmett Walsh, Lin Shaye and Scott Gimble return is fun, but Mann gets more screen time here and the movie is better for it. The movie also features small roles for Eddie Deezen and Barry Corbin as well as Lindsay Parker from Shocker and Liane Curtis from Sixteen Candles, not to mention Garris’ wife Cynthia (who has appeared in many of her husband’s projects over the years).

    Critters 3:

    The penultimate film in the series is probably more famous for featuring a young Leonardo DiCaprio than anything else, but if it isn’t as good as the first two movies it’s still an enjoyable time killer. This picture was shot back to back with the forth and final film, and both went straight to video where the first two films got proper theatrical releases. The law of diminishing returns clearly applies here.

    Regardless, the movie is alright. The story this time once again catches up with Charlie (Opper again). He has arrived in town, hoping to finish his ongoing quest to rid the world of the Critters. When he runs across a family whose truck as suffered a flat – Clifford (John Calvin), his wife Annie (Aimee Brooks) and their son Johnny (Joseph Cousins) – he learns of their story and how they came to learn about the presence of some dangerous aliens wreaking havoc in the area. What they don’t realize, once their truck gets back on the road, is that there’s some Crite eggs stuck underneath it. So, when they drive to a low-rent apartment complex in a tough part of Los Angeles and those eggs hatch, well, you can kind of figure out where it goes from there. As the Crite eggs hatch and the monsters run amuck, landlord Frank (Geoffrey Blake) and his stepson, Josh (DiCaprio), get involved. Oh, and of course, Ug (Mann again) comes back for another round…

    The novelty of seeing DiCaprio in this does count for something but the fact of the matter is that this is the weakest of the three films. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments, however. Keeping the bulk of the action contained in a singular setting was probably done only to keep the film on budget but it actually works quite well in the contexts of the story. If it borrows a bit from The Towering Inferno, so be it. Director Kristine Peterson, who also directed Deadly Dreams and Body Chemistry, does a decent enough job behind the camera. The movie is paced well and occasionally suspenseful. The Chiodo’s were onboard again for this and the last film so you already know that the creature effects are up to par. Interestingly enough, this was written by David Schow of The Crow and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III fame.

    Again, not the best of the series but if you had fun with the two that came before it you’ll at least be entertained by this third chapter which, not so coincidentally, sets up….

    Critters 4:

    Last but not least, the final film in the series released in 1992 the only directorial credit of prolific producer Rupert Harvey (who helped bankroll the remake of The Blob as well as A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Pump Up The Volume!). This one does what all good late entry horror franchises do late in the game – it relocates the action to outer space!

    The film takes us a half-century into the future to Saturn Quadrant 2045 where Charlie (Opper, of course) and a pair of Crite eggs are picked up by the crew of a salvage ship led by Captain Rick Buttram (Anders Hove). Along for the ride are an engineer named Al Bert (Brad Dourif), pilot Fran (Angela Bassett) and crewmembers Bernie (Eric DaRe of Twin Peaks!) and Ethan (Paul Whitthorne). Eventually everyone arrives at a space station where shifty ol’ Rick decides to open the container that Charlie was using to house the eggs, and soon enough there’s an outer space infestation that once again requires help from Ug (Mann).

    Some delightfully weird casting and a premise even more absurd than those exploited in the first three pictures makes this one a pretty fun watch. Harvey’s direction isn’t stylish or flashy but he gives the audience what they want, and that’s a good bit of puppet mayhem, some moderate gore and some hokey humor. Still though, it’s weird seeing Angela Bassett in this given that she had a pretty respectable career before it was made and continues to into the present day – still, everyone’s got to eat. No judgment calls here. It’s also funny to see Eric DaRe, who will always by Leo Johnson to a whole lot of us, show up in the film. Brad Dourif… well seeing him appear in this one makes sense but is that the voice of Martine Beswick as the computer in the movie? Yes, yes… it is. And Anne Ramsey shows up here too. It really is a hodgepodge of a cast.

    Of course, Charlie and Ug get a good bit of screen time here which gives Opper and Mann plenty to do. They’re fun in the parts (Mann actually gets a duel role here and yeah, those Chiodo effects are still pretty cool to see. Not the best of the series but a good few steps ahead of the third entry and a perfectly enjoyable way to finish off the four-film run.

    Critters Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory presents all four films in this set on their own 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The first two movies were given new 2k scans while the later two pictures sourced from existing masters. It’s not surprising then that the first two movies look noticeably better with stronger detail and texture and depth. In fact, they look really, really nice here. Colors are great, skin tones look nice and black levels are solid. They look quite filmic and show no noise reduction or edge enhancement problems. The third and fourth films look fine, quite nice in spots, but not quite as nice as the earlier pictures. Detail isn’t quite as strong – all in all though, there’s little to complain about here. The discs are well authored and free of compression issues and all four films look substantially better here than they did on DVD even if there are some occasional contrast issues and softness.

    Each film is presented in English, with optional subtitles in English only. The first film gets DTS-HD mixes in both 5.1 and 2.0 options while the three sequels get DTS-HD 2.0 mixes. The 5.1 mix on the original film is fun, throwing the score and some of the wonky effects work into the rear channels to create a more immersive listening experience. The 2.0 tracks more or less sound the same, which is fine – they’re clean and clear and properly balanced, free of any hiss or distortion. No issues here, the movies sound good and at times demonstrate more depth than you might expect them to.

    Critters:

    There are two audio commentary tracks on this first disc. The first track features producer Barry Opper and actor Don Opper. This is a decent track with Barry Opper talking about how and why they movie came to be made through New Line, what it was like working with the director and the genesis of the project. Don Opper covers his experiences working in front of the camera and tells some interesting stories about his co-stars and what it was like on set.The second track features Critter designers Charles Chiodo, Edward Chiodo and Stephen Chiodo. This track is a lot of fun as the brothers not only walk us through a lot of what they did on the film but also offer up some thoughts on the movie and their experiences making it. They do it with a sense of humor and enthusiasm that makes this fun to listen to.

    After that, check out he feature length documentary They Bite!: The Making Of Critters, that runs seventy-one-minutes in length. This insanely comprehensive piece includes insight from actors Dee Wallace, Don Opper, Terrence Mann and Lin Shaye, producer Barry Opper, writer Brian Muir, Critters creature designers/FX guys Charles, Edward and Stephen Chiodo, makeup artist R. Christopher Biggs, special prop supervisor Anthony Doublin, composer David Newman, second unit director Mark Helfrich, Critter voice actor Corey Burton and miniature SFX supervisor Gene Warren Jr. as well as archival interview footage with screenwriter Domonic Muir. This piece covers a lot of ground and it’s seriously interesting stuff. We learn about where the ideas for the film came from, New Line’s involvement in getting them made, the effects work, acting in the picture, the puppets, the location work and lots, lots more.

    Up next is a twenty-two-minute piece called For Brian: A Tribute To Screenwriter Domonic Muir that is a genuinely warm tribute to the deceased screenwriter of the film. It features some archival interview footage with Muir as well as thoughts on what he was like as a person and what he was like to work with from quite a few of his Critters collaborators. We learn about his life, his background, how he got into film and quite a bit more – it’s both interesting and touching.

    Finishing up the extras on the first disc is twelve-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage focused mostly on the creature/puppet effects, a four-minute alternate ending, a theatrical trailer, two-minutes’ worth of TV spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Critters 2 – The Main Course:

    The second film in the set also gets a pair of audio commentary tracks. Director Mick Garris goes first in a track moderated by Mike Felsher. It’s good stuff with Garris constantly on point, talking about how and why he came to direct this second film, reuniting some of the cast members from the original, working with the Chiodo’s on the picture, the studio’s involvement and budgetary issues. The second track features, once again, the Chiodo Brothers and again, these guys are clearly having a lot of fun. They talk us through their work on the film, as you’d guess it’s heavy on the effects aspect of the production.

    After that, dig into the sixty-three-minute documentary The Main Course: The Making Of Critters 2. This is made up of new interviews with Garris, cast members Liane Curtis, Don Opper, Terrence Mann and Lin Shaye, producer Barry Opper, the Chiodos and make-up artist R. Christopher Biggs, with a brief appearance from Dee Wallace. Like the featurette on the first movie, this one is very well done and quite interesting. There’s talk of the effects, the small-town vibe of the picture, contributions of the cast and crew, studio expectations for the sequel and more.

    Interestingly enough, there’s also thirteen-minutes of additional scenes that were shot for the TV Cut of the film as well as twenty-four-minutes of behind the scenes footage included here. The BTS footage is interesting because it’s done as a sort of news report, it isn’t just fly on the wall material. We get some interviews with the cast and crew here as well as some effects test footage and general footage shot on set during the production.

    Finishing up the extras for disc two is the original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Critters 3:

    Only one audio commentary this time and it’s worth producer Barry Opper and actor Don Opper. Like their track on the first movie they cover all the expected bases – how the director came on board, bringing back some of the characters from the earlier films, working on a reduced budget and of course, the Dicaprio factor. They also talk about Schow’s script, the effects and more.

    Shout! Factory has also supplied a twenty-six-minute documentary entitled You Are What They Eat: The Making Of Critters 3 that includes interviews with Barry Opper, screenwriter David J. Schow, cast members Don Opper and Terrence Mann, director of photography Thomas J. Callaway and, of course, the Chiodo Brothers. Amazingly, Leo doesn’t appear in this one – a shame, but not unexpected. Still, there’s lots to like here as the piece covers the film’s straight to video release, the effects, the cast and more.

    A theatrical trailer, a promo spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection finish off the extras on disc three.

    Critters 4:

    Extras on disc four include an audio commentary with producer/director Rupert Harvey once again moderated by Felsher. As Harvey had involvement in both the third and forth films he’s got a lot to say here, starting with how he got his start in the industry and his experiences working with Roger Corman. Felsher keeps him on topic and engaged as we learn about Harvey’s writing and directing as well as his producing duties across the Critters universe.

    Space Madness: The Making Of Critters 4 is a twenty-three-minute featurette about the fourth and final film that includes interviews with Barry and Don Opper, Schow, Mann, Callaway and the Chiodo’s. this one follows the same path as the earlier featurettes, offering up insight into the cast and crew, the effects, the story and quite a bit more.

    A theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection finish off the extras on the fourth and final disc in the set.

    Critters Collection – The Final Word:

    The Critters Collection offers up four enjoyable B-movies a surprisingly lavish edition. The movie all look and sound quite good here and, as is often the case, Shout! Factory has really gone all out in terms of putting together extra features for this release. All in all, quite a nice package that is easy to recommend to those who enjoy the films!

    Click on the images below for full sized Critters Collection Blu-ray screen caps!
















































































    Comments 4 Comments
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      Great, well written review.

      I disagree 2 is better than 1 (I love 2 but 1 is the better movie) and 4 is definitely the least of the series. 3 is no great shakes but it at least has some decent critter action. They're barely in 4 and that film wastes a great cast.

      I plan on rewatching them all though. Again great review
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      But, the sequel IS the better film. :D
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mark Tolch View Post
      But, the sequel IS the better film. :D
      Sorry but I don't agree. To each their own!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      This much is true.