Horror Bites - Balls of Fury

CRITTERS (1986)


There have always been comparisons with this to Joe Dante's Gremlins, and it's easy to see why. Both are horror comedy creature movies with a twisted sense of humour and a bunch of titular puppets on the rampage. Interestingly the makers refuted this and said it was written prior to its release, which is sometimes the case with production periods overlapping and actual release dates seeming to confirm shall we say, inspired ideas. There are some key differences; while the holiday favourite is clearly a supernatural adventure, this is purely science fiction schlock. Many of the funniest moments come courtesy of the intergalactic mercenaries sent out to stop the monsters, since their methods are often incompetent and excessive in equal measures. So let's break down all of these ingredients and see what other parts stand out.

The film is surprisingly tame and light hearted which adds to the charm. It's a perfect entry level frightener for younger views with small amounts of blood and aliens that are sort of cute and sort of menacing. There are of course moments of mild peril as well as special effects scenes that are still kind of gnarly today. The bounty hunter transformation sequence early on and their discovery of one the first victims of the creatures make for a gruesome combo. Their ability to morph into other people is always a highlight, and the choice of a imitating a corpse adds a blackly funny edge to this idea. Of course this is all undermined by the absurd nature of the scenes that follow as the hunt becomes nothing more than a series of explosive communication breakdowns and fish out of water jokes.

Outside the destruction of a church and then a bowling alley ... and then a family home, their efforts seem completely useless. Posing as a rock star and a local priest isn't the most intelligent plan for characters trying their hand in subterfuge. If you're going to blend in like this at all, keeping the metal studded space traveller garb is a really poor choice. Many of the laughs come from their efforts to get information from the locals in this guise, and their failure to understand while opening fire on anything that makes a sudden loud noise. These are the best moments, but the 'Crite' fugitives would have just escaped without the intervention of the real protagonists, the residents of said farmhouse.

The Brown family are likeable bunch. Together with their paranoid handyman Charlie, these are the characters who actually end up stopping the infestation. It's always fun to see Dee Wallace in this sort of thing, and the inclusion of both E.T. style scenes where aliens hide in plain site and later actual toys from the same Spielberg movie add to this referential tone. They of course throw in Amblin style Star Wars jokes because this is the prime era for that kind of thing. Both the everyday domestic drama and the later siege are entertaining without ever breaking the mould. Sibling rivalry, home made fireworks and secret romance are all effective inclusions. But we're here to see the furball carnage after all.

The title invaders themselves are fun, mostly because of their cruel personalities and the half hedgehog, half teeth design used. They're never particularly threatening however, despite some of the damage caused. I guess it's all the rolling about they do which betrays the limitations of the production and turns them into more of a joke than the story already made them out to be. The red eyes are neat though, and the obsession with eating is an effective motive that we can all get behind. As a product of it's time you can find many worse releases from this decade, and though it's not amongst the very best it still holds up. It's efficient at what it does, and though some of the more sickly ending moments clash with the deaths cause, this is always a watchable outing into '80s horror.

3/5