Posts Tagged ‘1986’

Critters Movie Poster*** This review may contain toothy grin and dart quill spoilers ***

A group of ‘Crites’ hijack a prison ship and escape to earth where they lay siege on a farmhouse attacking the family inside.

Director/writer Stephen Herek Critters is an ambitious creature sci-fi, along with fellow writers Domonic Muir and Don Keith Opper it juggles a lot of sci-fi elements despite a predominantly rural setting. There are intergalactic face-changing bounty hunters, alien creatures, spaceships and ray cannons. Herek and company in true 80’s fashion spend little time in giving the creatures and bounty hunters a back story leaving it to the imagination. This works in its favour compared to the excessive exposition in many of today’s films. Likewise, the Critters just happen to come across the farmhouse after chowing down on a bull. Interestingly at the time of Critters’ VHS run I unjustly saw it as a rip off Gremlins, much like Munchies. Yes it cashed-in on its popularity but writers have since pointed out that it was written before Joe Dante’s classic went into production and subsequently underwent rewrites to reduce the apparent (in the ether) similarities between the two films.

The escaped alien Crites with their sharp toothy grins and tranquilizing dart quills amusingly roll around like hedgehogs on speed. Encapsulating the sound of 1986, artist Che Zuro plays in the background among some other 80s bands with David Newman’s score giving power to the action setups and menace to the Critter puppets. The encounter in the cellar where the father is attacked is quite effective, especially the preceding search and reveal by torchlight.

The Critters are amusing times, at one point they converse with subtitles, “They have weapons” says one, “So what?” replies another before getting blasted away. There’s also scenes where a Critter encounters an E.T. (1982) doll – tearing it apart, a toilet hiding Critter (a likely homage to 1985’s Ghoulies) and also a moment where one eats a cherry bomb may rouse a chuckle.

In the opening the commander of the prison hires two shape-changing bounty hunters to pursue the Crites/Critters to earth (maybe his inspired AVP Requiem’s story-line). These hunters, with Space Marine like costumes get some humorous moments mainly because of mistaken identity by the small townspeople. Tim Curry-like actor Terrence Mann takes form of the rock band front man Johnny Steele, complete with a Bon Jovi hairdo. While the other takes on faces of a few locals notably Don Opper who plays a duel role of both the bounty hunter and the towns paranoid drunk Charlie McFadden.

McFadden a friend of young Brad Brown have a Miyagi and Daniel san Karate Kid bond which is older man young boy relationship that are seemingly avoided in films these days. Brad played by Scott Grimes (who latter would voice American Dad’s Steve) is a stereotype 80s film kid experimenting with fire crackers, bickering with his sister and trying to bunk off school. Notable is Billy Green Bush’s Jay Brown as an everyday farmer and his wife played by Dee Wallace Stone). Wallace is given very little to do, the character Helen Brown is purely functional and pretty much retreads her E.T. mother role, that said she does get to fire off a few shots at those Critters. Playing Brad’s teenage sister April is fresh faced actress Nadine Van der Velde (who was 24 years old at the time) and incidentally appeared in the aforementioned copycat film Munchies. Actor Billy Zane sporting a little rats tail shows up as April’s boyfriend, destined to be Critter fodder. For sale-ability appeal Blade Runner’s acting veteran M. Emmet Walsh plays the pretty useless local Sheriff Harv.

There are a handful of stunts and although the optical effects have unsurprisingly dated the practical effects still hold up well. The impressive gooey face changing sequence is memorable and the Critters themselves are simple and effective from the rolling, to the firing quills with plenty of good old fashion blood on display after an attack. After the bounty hunters cause some mayhem in the church and a local bowling alley (the teams shirts echo a Ghostbusters logo design) they arrive at the farmhouse to capture the Critters. In the final act after the family house is invaded we have our heroes go about rescuing April from a giant kidnapping Critter. Herek gives us an obligatory end explosion, a chance for a special effect team to show off their fine miniature model skills, with moments for the editors to flex their skills. In addition, with some eggs laid in a barn there’s the inevitable unashamed set up for a sequel (which came two years later in 1988).

Critters still has a charm about it thanks to the novel creature design and acting of likable Grimes’. Produced by New Line’s Bob Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm St.) Critters is squarely aimed at its mid-teen target audience and despite some bumpy pacing Critters delivers enough laughs and playful alien set-ups to retain a lasting appeal long after the VHS was replaced by DVD and on-demand films.

Labyrinth (1986) OriginalFrustrated with babysitting on yet another weekend night, a selfish teenager summons Goblins to take her baby half brother. She is then given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue him from a Goblin King before he is lost forever.

Even though it was met with mixed reviews nearly thirty years later it still manages to charm and retain a cult following. As a boy I remember watching Jim Henson’s feature in a darkened cinema, being scared by the Goblins in Toby’s room and the Firey gang intimidating Sarah.

Under scrutiny, some of the wonderfully painted backdrops, CGI (at the time a pioneering) owl and matted Fireys’ elements have dated but overall the film holds up extremely well. There’s plenty of subtext – for example; Sarah’s mother, Linda, a stage actor and her relationship with an unnamed man portrayed by David Bowie. There’s also ‘Easter eggs’ including toys, figurines, books and games referencing the characters and set ups shown in the film.

Veteran performers Frank Oz and Dave Goelz operate various puppets in the film, along with a number of Henson’s show and film regulars. The talents of the many puppeteers, animatronics, designers and voice work to name a few are outstanding in bringing the characters to life. This coupled with the finely crafted sets, costumes, hair and makeup add up to something quiet special. That’s without mentioning the wonderful score by Trevor Jones, music by Bowie and choreography by (Star Trek Next Generation) Gates McFadden. Based on Dennis Lee and Jim Henson’s story and although a couple of writers had a hand in the screenplay, its credited to Monty Python’s Terry Jones, the finished product is magic.

It’s much more fun than Flight of the Navigator of the same year and better than The Never Ending Story (1984). Henson retains the fantasy atmosphere of The Dark Crystal but makes Labyrinth far more family friendly to great effect, balancing the pace and darker elements successfully.

Legend [edit: late great] David Bowie is perfectly cast as crystal touting, owl shape shifting Jareth, who takes Toby on Sarah’s wish and falls in love with her. Bowie has some great dialogue both humorous and serious. Like The Wizard of Oz adventure it refreshingly has a female lead, Sarah played by Jennifer Connelly, who’s acting and interactions with the puppet characters really sell the magic and believability.

Sarah aided and hindered by an array of memorable characters from a Wiseman, Door Knockers, Helping Hands and The Worm, to the (creepy Dark Crystal-like) Junk Lady and Four Guards to name a few. She’s mainly helped through the labyrinth by fairy exterminator Hoggle, Sir Didymus, Ambrosius (a.k.a Merlin Sarah’s trusty dog) and Ludo a friendly Bigfoot like creature as she goes through the different environments including a maze, bog, forest, Goblin town and Oubliette to mention but a few.

The music numbers are well placed and fitting. Bowie’s ‘Magic Dance’ with the complex puppetry is a joy and technical timing achievement and as a child what was once the boring masquerade ballrooms bit ‘As the World Falls Down’ plays, as adult is hauntingly dreamlike and wonderful executed. The catchy ‘Chilly Down’ song stands out and though not malicious, the Fireys are unintentionally dangerous, the track includes the voice of Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules.

As the film draws to a close its topped off with an edited version of ‘Undergorund’ which also played in the opening as Sarah recites the play, The Labyrinth, possibly hoping to follow in her mothers footsteps. What’s intriguing now is that you can interpret the film in different ways other than the narrative presented – that her coming of age adventure was real. As an alternative the whole adventure maybe just away for here to remember her lines, a dream or something more symbolic.

Overall, some of the elements have dated slightly but as a family piece of entertainment and fun you can’t go wrong will Labyrinth. To the ingenious talent of late Henson’s credit it has yet to be equalled or surpassed.

The Vindicator (1986)

A scientist working on a top secret experiment is killed in an explosion but the corporation that funds his experiments transforms him into a robot.

A resurrection science fiction film that despite being a B-low budget affair has a grander 80’s film quality feel thanks to some gritty, raw and rough round the edges special effects.

Richard Cox and cult favourite Pam Grier are watchable and some performances are above average. However, they are counter balanced by some very shoddy supporting actors. Edith Rey and David Preston’s dialogue is flawed, yet their story fairs better exploring some moral dilemmas.

Although it predates Robocop (1987) I remember the main draw to watch it was because of The Terminator (1984). That said, the Vindicator shares more with Frankenstein and The Wraith (1986).

Jean-Claude Lord’s Vindicator was more appealing watch in the 1980’s. It has some nice visual moments but little more. The certain charm it held in my mind since 1986 was really just warm nostalgia – as on revisiting The Vindicator it’s not as entertaining or fast paced as I remembered it.

While fun at the time, in retrospect – for comparable curiosity only.