It’s been 33 years since Dee Wallace’s Helen Brown and her family faced an invasion of carnivorous rolling aliens in the original Critters. The film spawned three immediate sequels, none of which Wallace was invited back for—but now, the franchise has been rebooted with Critters Attack!, and the actress is back in the fold, with a more active role.
Critters Attack!, which world-premieres this Saturday, July 13 at the Fantasia International Film Festival and then comes to Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms July 23, is set in a college town beset by the hungry Krites. They’re opposed by a group of young people who receive some well-armed assistance from Wallace’s Aunt Dee, who’s been watching the skies for signs of the vicious visitors and arrives packing an imposing critter-busting weapon. “Oh my God, it was a blast!” Wallace says of returning to the Critters realm. “I had so much fun not having to play the sweet mom who doesn’t have a lot of balls [laughs], because this character, she’s like, ‘Come on! Let’s play, suckers!’
“She’s supposed to be the same character [from the first Critters], even though they call her ‘Aunt Dee’ now—how original!” Wallace continues. “All my family’s gone; they’ve killed all my family, and I’ve become this bad-ass bounty hunter.” This background isn’t covered in the film itself, and though the actress never read the first few drafts of Scott Lobdell’s script, she notes, “When I asked Bobby Miller, the director, that’s what he told me: ‘This is the backstory…’ I said, ‘Well, I’m glad I asked, because none of that happened in the original film.’ It’s just an assumption. I also think they had some kind of legal problems using the same name or the same character—I’m not sure. But anyway, I’m Aunt Dee now, and I’m one tough broad, baby!”
In addition to Wallace’s presence, fans will appreciate that the little monsters are brought to life on screen via old-fashioned puppetry and animatronics (courtesy of creature creator Werner Pretorius, encoring from Miller’s debut feature The Cleanse). “They’re so well done, and there are so many different kinds of them, which I really enjoyed,” she says, “In fact, the first thing I asked when they offered the movie to me was, ‘You’re not gonna CGI the critters, are you? ’Cause if you are, I’m not interested.’ I know the fans don’t want us to do that; they want to see the critters done the way they were in the original. It’s like if we were to redo Cujo and it was CGI, right? It wouldn’t be the same movie at all.”
She is aware that a few years back, there was talk of a technologically enhanced reboot called C.U.J.O., for “Canine Unit Joint Operations.” “Yeah, good luck with that!” she smirks. “I don’t know for sure, but I think Stephen King told them they couldn’t use the name Cujo. That’s the story I heard, though I can’t verify it. But anyway, not interested. Look, there’s no way I could do that part any better than I did it. I just gave everything I had on that shoot. There are no new colors to find, so what’s the point?”
On the other hand, Critters Attack! brings a lot more splattering red and green to the franchise; with plenty of human and Krite blood spilled, it’s the first in the series to land an R rating. It’s also the first Critters adventure to lens on locations outside the U.S., which was another part of the appeal for Wallace. “I got to go to Cape Town, South Africa; what a horrible place to have to go to shoot, right?” she laughs. “And I adored working with Bobby Miller. He works a lot with puppetry and things like that, which I’m sure is why he was hired to do this; he even builds his own stuff for his own movies. So it was a pretty effortless shoot, I have to say; I didn’t wait around a lot.
“That’s what I love about doing independent films, even though this one’s studio-driven,” she adds. “On big films, oh my God… When I was making E.T., I was on the set for three and a half weeks and I never just walked in and did a scene. I was ready to kill myself, I was so bored [laughs]! On independent films, you ask, ‘Excuse me, could I go pee? I’ll be really quick,’ because you just work so fast.”