Stephen Herek’s Critters (1986) was an out-of-left-field minor hit for New Line Cinema; its mix of tongue-in-cheek humor and sci-fi horror clicked with audiences who were still looking for something in a Gremlin-esque vein (although the filmmakers claimed their idea was first), so it was only natural that a sequel would follow. Enter Critters 2: The Main Course, the feature directorial debut of Mick Garris, one of horror’s great gatekeepers, and you know what? It’s as much fun as the first.
Audiences at the time of its late April release, however, didn’t feel the same and the film wasn’t a success, commercially or critically. Much like the Krites themselves, though, time has a way of rolling on and knocking down past perceptions to stop at the point of appreciation: Critters 2 is bigger, bolder, and strives for well-earned laughs that it gets. (It’s a bit naughty, too.)
But hey, let’s recap the events of the first one: a farmhouse, a family (led by Dee Wallace), and the prickly buggers' spaceship prison escape lead to a secluded showdown between the alien escapees and Krite bounty hunter Ug, who copies the human form of rock star Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann) and is helped by alcoholic farmhand Charlie (Don Opper). Once the countryside is destroyed by intergalactic firepower and the Krites are (supposedly) destroyed, Charlie finds his calling and joins Ug amongst the stars.
Picking up two years later, Critters 2 finds our young hero Brad Brown (a returning and grown-up Scott Grimes) coming home to visit his nana in Grover’s Bend to a less than hero’s welcome; only retired sheriff Harv (Barry Corbin, stepping in for M. Emmet Walsh) and newspaper gal Sal (Lin Shaye again) know what really happened on the Brown farm—everyone else in the town thinks he was a kid with an active imagination.
But as luck would have it, some townsfolk have taken the Krite eggs left behind from the first film, given them some sun and warmth during an Easter egg hunt, and voila: Instant Critters! This brings Charlie, Ug, and fellow traveler Lee (Roxanne Kernohan) back to Grover’s Bend to eradicate the Krites once and for all; except this time the whole town pitches in to rid their sleepy berg of the Critters.
Whereas Herek’s Critters leans towards horror/sci-fi with humorous touches, Garris’ Critters 2 tilts the scale completely towards comedy, and for good reasons: to do otherwise would only result in a rehash, and the inherent goofiness can’t be hidden, so you might as well play it up. And Garris does just that; there are sight gags galore, with the legendary Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) supersizing the Krite puppetry (quite literally, as they accumulate during the climax into one massive ball) and offing them in some unique ways—but don’t worry, they still get blowed up real good, too, as one would hope for a Critters flick.
Following the sequel template, Garris and co-screenwriter David Twohy (Pitch Black) use the edict “more is more” to great effect. No longer confined to the farm by budgetary restrictions, they delve into the town itself, which automatically opens the film up in a way the original could not. It simply feels bigger, and that’s a good thing, because the story is more or less the same, except Garris and Twohy deepen Charlie’s character even further, offering the alcoholic a shot at redemption that’s well-earned and heartwarming. Not that Brad is given short thrift, either; he starts a sweet romance with Megan (Liane Curtis), the daughter of newspaper owner Mr. Morgan (Sam Anderson), and Lin Shaye has some shining moments as the snooping reporter. While it is a shame that Walsh couldn’t (or didn’t want to) return, Corbin is really about the best man for the job; his cranky, gun-twirlin,’ cussin’ take is music to fans of great character actors.
Garris has never been afraid of the (allegedly) profane or perverse, and he starts off his feature career with a real doozy involving a church, some Krites, and a poor soul dressed as the Easter Bunny resulting in a literal clash between the secular and the spiritual that is simply hilarious. Pushing the limits of his PG-13 rating, Garris delivers Krites feasting on flesh, gnarly after-effects, and Lee taking on the form of a Playboy centerfold, staple included. There should also be a separate rating just for making Eddie Deezen a bounty hunter, because that’s just not a sight one sees every day.
Mick Garris’ films have always been character-driven; from his stellar work on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories (which got him this gig) through The Stand, up to Bag of Bones and beyond, his focus on the people who populate his tales as much as any FX trickery is why folks keep coming back. But if you’d like to see all that plus a spirited horror/sci-fi take filtered through Looney Tunes, then you really should start and end here. Critters 2 is unlike anything else in his filmography, and while it’s not always healthy to head back for seconds, it’s just as tasty.
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