Every horror fan has those nostalgic films that helped guide them into the genre, sometimes with ease, sometimes by trial of blood-splattery fire. Either way, we cherish those films, like good friends who helped us in some way. For me, those movies were Christine, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Critters, which is why I’m torn in saying that Critters: A New Binge, releasing on Shudder, both betrays the tone of the original franchise, yet opens the door for a new fan-base…
…If you watched the trailer and weren't into it, you were right to be suspicious. You’re going to need an open mind for Critters: A New Binge.
If you’re a huge fan of the Critters franchise like I am, you’ll have to go in knowing, these are not the crites you are looking for. Not only have we not seen a Critters film since Critters 4 in 1992, but director Jordan Rubin (Zombeavers) brings a whole new style and tone to the series that feels fresh, though will likely alienate some fans. Written by the Zombeavers writing team of Rubin, Al Kaplan and Jon Kaplan, Critters: A New Binge is an eight-episode mini-series that sees the crites land in Burbank, California, on a mission to rescue one of their own. Meanwhile, a group of teens, led by school loser Chris (Joey Morgan) find themselves caught in a battle between the crites and a trio of intergalactic bounty hunters determined to stop the hungry aliens from completing their mission at any cost.
Each of the eight episodes of Critters: A New Binge run at about 8-10 minutes, including a minute of credits. They feel like tasty bites, going down like greasy sliders in a dive-bar. That’s what Critters: A New Binge is. It’s a greasy concoction put together by a madman in a decrepit kitchen, one that will probably give you food poisoning, but is that sort of guilty pleasure snack you crave anyway, like that Chipotle burrito that you know is going to give you problems later.
It’s clear from minute one that Rubin has cooked up his own version of Critters, unlike anything we’ve seen in the franchise before, and one that is absolutely going to divide fans. Comedy has always been a part of this series, (maybe not as much in part 4), but Rubin and his team take things to another level of absurdity. For example, as we’re introduced to the crites embarking on their mission, we see that there is a “president crite”, a crite with an eye-patch, and one crite even makes a joke about not picking up a call because it might be his wife. These are nowhere near the vicious monsters we’re used to. These crites also don’t look quite as alive as they have in the other films, though they do have more personality, albeit, a cartoonish one. Paired with some 90s era CGI that would make the Syfy channel blush, and an abundance of Three Stooges-type antics amongst the crites and their leader, who just wants the others to not eat while on the mission like they were told, Rubin brings a cartoony tone that will greatly appeal to kids, though will likely alienate those looking for a traditional Critters horror story.
Make no mistake, Critters: A New Binge is not your 80s critters. Rubin takes what few elements of comedy there were in the original and amplifies them ten-fold. Literally nothing in this film is meant to be taken seriously. Which will work for some, as long as you enjoy the lowest of low-brow humor. In this all too short series, you’ll witness English speaking crites, crite on human love making (you read that right), crites making jokes about eating pussy, and other silliness that goes beyond that which I won’t spoil for you. Throughout this film, you will often ask yourself, “what the fuck is happening”, all while Rubin pokes you in the ass with a pitchfork and laughs maniacally.
But, believe it or not, these sorts of absurdist ideas are what makes Critters: A New Binge such a pleasure to watch…at times. The horror is very much lacking, replaced with antics and gore that’s funnier than it is “scary”, but by instilling so much personality into the crites, we actually get to view them a bit more as characters rather than adorable little death-monsters. You will probably care about what happens to some of these crites, and may want to take one home, as long as it promises not to eat you. I’d even argue that the crites are more enjoyable characters than the actual people themselves.
To his credit, Morgan is endearing as Chris, the loser kid who just wants to fit in. Working underneath all of the cartoonish laughs and gore is a story about self-discovery and embracing who you are, as Chris constantly struggles with who he is. Unfortunately, the struggle he’s faced with is that he loves food, which the series consistently reminds us of, and just isn’t that interesting. The rest of the cast is boiled down to basic, one note traits, such as Chris’ mom, Veronica (Kirsten Robek) which the series consistently pokes fun at as being a “whore”, or the girl Chris likes, Dana (Stephi Chin-Salvo) being nothing more than simply “that girl Chris likes”. We also see the return of the bounty hunters, though they are mostly relegated to Terminator 2 style humor, and feel less like characters of their own. Needless to say, this bunch is a long way from the loveable Charlie of the original franchise.
Fans of Critters will be surprised by Critters: A New Binge though, because not only does Rubin bring a fresh approach to the franchise, but there are plenty of new ideas that bring Critters into unexplored territory. As I mentioned, these are crites which are (poorly) trying to resist their greatest urge, which is to eat. They’re pet eating, ankle-biting assholes, but their president crite and leader is trying to keep them from being what they really are. Other than a moment in Critters 2 where the crites are misled into eating cow-meat over humans, we’ve never seen the crites attempt any sort of self-control. We’ve also never seen them have an actual relationship with a human. Critters: A New Binge touches on familial themes of abandonment, acceptance, and, in a weird way, love. We’re also introduced to a few new varieties of crites, opening up possibilities for future sequels. It’s a strange approach, and one that’s going to upset a lot of fans looking for a more traditional Critters story, but for the Family Guy type of crowds, which does include myself, Rubin brings a sharp, tongue-in-cheek humor that will have some fans rolling on the ground with all of the insanity. This is a feast of bloody laughs, as long as you’re into this sort of humor.
All of this leads to a chaotic, blood-soaked finale that sets up a whacky sequel which I am chomping at the bit to see. I want to be clear, Critters: A New Binge is of the so bad it’s good variety. You can’t watch this and take it seriously, and it must be looked at as its own thing separate from the original franchise. But put aside the poor characters, the dumb jokes, and the BBC quality visual effects, and Rubin’s film is a beyond goofy take on the franchise that dares you not to laugh, or wonder how a human could possibly fuck a crite.
I keep emphasizing this, because it’s important. If you’re expecting anything resembling the original Critters franchise, this isn’t it. Critters: A New Binge is dumb with a capital D, but if you go into this with an open mind, no, a wide-open mind, and take it as the cheap comedy it is, you may just be pleasantly surprised. Whether these crites are too comical for you or not, what I do really love about what Rubin has done is that kids are going to love this, because Rubin's film never stops having fun. But, with critter-banging and copious amounts of gore, this wasn't exactly made for kids.
Critters: A New Binge releases on Shudder on March 21rst.
By Matt Konopka