Coming back after a full twenty-seven years away, Critters Attack! is the latest entry into the tiny terror Critters franchise. Though these intergalactic menaces were first introduced amid the wave of pint-sized pests of the mid 1980s, along with Gremlins and Ghoulies, horror diehards have always had a certain affection for the grossness of these particular monsters. Critters Attack! not only features some inventive practical effects, but it brings in director Bobby Miller, who is no stranger to the odder side of cinema after helming festival darling The Cleanse in 2016. We sat down with Miller, along with stars Tashiana Washington and Jaeden Noel, to discuss the film.
Did you grow up watching these types of movies?
Miller: I grew up with Critters and Gremlins and Ghoulies, so I was well-versed. What I liked about them as a kid is that they were gateway horror films. I keep meeting people who tell me that Critters was the first movie that screwed them up as a kid. I think that is honorable.
Those were all marketed to kids, even though they were terrifying.
Miller: Yes! You look at the original poster, and that is a cartoon-y, friendly critter on it.
The Muppets were around, so parents thought puppets were safe.
Miler: There is a lovely beauty to that.
The tone of Critters is playful, but it stays away from campy or satirical. Were you aiming to be consistent with that or add new elements?
Miller: I didn’t want to make it campy. Tashiana and I would talk, and we wanted the emotional stuff to be emotional. My favorite movies are where the characters are playing it really straight. But, it is Critters so it has to be playful. Personally I don’t want to see a serious Critters movie. There is something inherently funny about them. I felt like we got as close to camp as possible without getting to camp.
Washington: You are making it too technical.
Miller: That sounds like me.
Washington: We were in South Africa, and we sat by a lake, and we had a conversation. It was about Drea’s backstory and her relationship with her uncle. With her character development, the Critters just fit in well.
Did you have a similar conversation with Jaeden?
Noel: Me and Bobby talked a lot, actually. For me, it was a different experience. I’m not as close to Tashiana’s age, and I’m not as close to the younger kids’ age either. I could still have an adult conversation with Bobby, but then go talk to the kids. It was two different worlds.
How did the work you did on The Cleanse prepare you for Critters Attack!?
Miller: On a practical level, I changed the shooting style for Critters so that we could be looser, and we could catch stuff on the fly a little more. We would do free takes, and Tashiana would do some improv. I also wanted to make a, for lack of a better word, crowd-pleasing movie. Something I could screw up my niece and nephews with. Whereas Cleanse, there is a bit of melancholy. It is an allegory for depression, so it is not what you would put on all the time. Critters is playful.
Is that playfulness what attracted you to working on Critters?
Miller: For sure.
Was there ever a version of the film that used CGI instead of practical creature effects?
Miller. No, and that is across the board. No one wanted CGI. That would have been a deal-breaker.
Noel: Pretty much all of the stuff I have done has been Sci-fi and CGI. It was better to have practical effects, because it is such an iconic movie. To go back to the style it was then, when they didn’t have CGI. Using the practical effects gave it that '80s feel. Also, it was more fun on set for us. We weren’t pausing to be told what would be inserted later, we were actually seeing what was there.
Washington: This is my first time working on a horror film. I had never worked with CGI on previous projects. It is definitely great having something to look at and react with, including the puppet and the three men on the floor controlling it. I was grateful to have the experience to film it old fashioned, and in a more authentic way.
Why do you prefer to direct with puppets instead of CGI?
Miller: There is a sense of awe with practical effects. Audiences are so used to CGI and there is no wonder and awe to it anymore. There is just something magical about puppets.
There was enough blood and gore in Critters Attacks! to get an R-rating.
Miller: I thought it was fine, but Tashi has a story.
Washington: Some of the crew members came to me after one scene. They told me they had to walk away from the set because they were having convulsions and were nauseated to see everything. It looked so real. They wouldn’t have said that if it was CGI. When I saw it last night, I couldn’t believe Bobby did that. It is so nasty.
Was last night the first time you saw the film? How did you think the audience reacted?
Washington: I was so nervous. I couldn’t breathe until they began to laugh and cheer.
Miller: I told these guys that the Fantasia crowds are so great. It was good times.
What was your favorite horror movie growing up?
Miller: This may be the completely wrong answer, but it was Gremlins. Gremlins was the first little critter movie I saw. I then went back and saw Critters and Ghoulies. That, and if you consider Beetlejuice horror. Gateway horror films for kids were my thing.
Noel: I’m a lot younger, so I didn’t get to grow up with these iconic movies. Scream scared the you-know-what out of me. I saw it as a little kid, and I should not have watched that as a little kid. I was so scared.
Washington: Mine was Nightmare on Elm Street. I am still afraid of Freddy. I had nightmares because of that film. Freddy Krueger ruined me as a child and I didn’t want to see any more horror films.
Bobby, did you give your cast homework to prepare?
Miller: We didn’t have time for homework; we had to get going.
Washington: I had seen Critters prior to shooting this. I watched it again before we shot this.
Miller: I had shipped from Amazon UK the Blu-ray set of the Critters movies, and I was sending behind the scenes footage to our creature department. We didn’t have time for trial and error. When the Chiodo Brothers said “we did this and it worked” I decided to do just that.
How tight was the schedule?
Miller: I got the call about the movie at Fantastic Fest, in October. We were shooting in January. We finished post in March. Mike Mendez edited the film, and he was a lifesaver. It is in his DNA to know how to cut these movies.