The Critters franchise seemed to have run its course in a familiar pattern – a minor genre hit, a bigger-budgeted sequel, two back-to-back direct-to-video quickies – and become a backlist item even as the likes of Puppet Master, Child’s Play and Tremors kept popping out new films for the direct-to-DVD/cable/streaming market. Clearly, nothing from the ‘80s will ever really be allowed to die – so here’s a soft reboot for the series, shot in South Africa (like many recent umpteenthquels), with a few interesting creatives attached – it was scripted by Scott Lobdell (Happy Death Day) and directed by Bobby Miller (The Master Cleanse) and manages to get one of the surviving cast of the 1986 film back in harness along with younger hopefuls.
Those furry, toothy, rolling Krites – mutant splices of Tribbles and the Deadly Spawn, though also obviously inspired by the malicious, burbling Gremlins – are back on Earth, and the new wrinkle is that a white-haired, long-lashed female Krite queen might be disposed to side with humanity against the males of her species. The film is interspersed with minor characters getting chomped on – weirdly, some death scenes are ultra-gory but others might have been shot for a TV-PG movie in the ‘80s – but we mostly follow Drea (Tashiana Washington), a sushi delivery girl who has personal reasons to aspire to attending a local college that keept turning her down, as she tries to protect her brother (Jaeden Noel) and two younger kids – Trissy (Ava Preston) and Jake (Jack Fulton) – she is babysitting from the monsters which have turned up in her small town.
Though well-played, there’s a mite too much business about Drea’s educational aspirations – when we’re all really here for alien furball massacres, which are trotted out via oldschool gloopy physical effects (there’s an 80s pastiche electronic score too and even the titles have a VHS look). Calls might have gone out to Critters alumni Leonardo di Caprio (Critters 3) and Angela Bassett (Critters 4), but the icon who graces the film with her presence is Dee Wallace – not reprising her role from Critters but playing a version of herself (‘Aunt Dee’), evoking several of her key career moments as she turns up with a big gun to save the Earth. Wallace has made every film she’s appeared in better, and her brief showing here is a highlight – though younger cast members project enthusiastically. It’s not a complete makeover or reboot, but it is one of those product pictures which get greenlit in batches – presumably along with the latest South African Lake Placid and Leprechaun movies. With Critters back, can Ghoulies be far behind?