It’s been the better part of three decades since their last feature-length visit to our planet but those kooky Krites have set their sights on Earth again in Critters Attack!. Debuting this week in the UK, this long-awaited direct sequel, penned by Scott Lobdell (Happy Death Day) and directed by Bobby Miller (The Cleanse), brings Dee Wallace back into the mix together with some of the original Critter puppets first used in Stephen Herek’s 1986 classic.
This new entry in the saga follows college student Drea who, whilst babysitting two teenagers, discovers that the alien Krites have landed in a nearby forest. The adolescents soon receive help from the mysterious Aunt Dee, who might have a history with the hungry intergalactic beasts.
To celebrate the welcome return of one of the horror genre’s most celebrated franchises, SCREAM caught up with Director Bobby Miller and iconic actress Dee Wallace to discuss pandering to such a devoted fan base and using an original Chiodo Brothers puppet as the foundation for the sequel’s creature designs. Wallace also openly chimed in about collaborating with Rob Zombie for the impending 3 From Hell movie…
SCREAM: Bobby, something tells me that your previous film The Cleanse – also a great creature feature – played a big part in you being considered to direct this long-time-coming return of the Critters?
Bobby Miller: For sure. I had been meeting with Blue Ribbon Content for the last couple of years and at the end of every meeting I’d be like, “If you guys ever do something with Critters, let me know.” And then with The Cleanse coming out last year and my work with creatures, that all definitely helped the case for me. But at the same time, it came as a surprise because I’d been meeting over there with them for a couple of years and then they just came out and said they were doing Critters. I told them I’d love to read the script, especially as Happy Death Day’s Scott Lobdell had written it. I knew him as a comic book guy. I’d read all of his X-Men stuff growing up so I was just so excited to get to work with Scott on that. And then, aside from that, I mean it was just Critters, man! They were one of the first things that scared me when I was little and I clearly have a love of little creatures and it’s really hard to say no to Critters for me.
I believe Dee [Wallace] jumped at the chance to work on this project, especially once she found out that it was going to involve mostly practical effects.
BM: In the script it just mentioned an Aunt Dee and described this woman and it soon dawned on me when I was reading it that it had been written for Dee Wallace. I asked the producers if that was the case and they said, “Well, we’d like it to be her.” As soon as they told me that I said, “Please, let’s get a coffee with her so that I can talk to her because I’m a huge fan.” For me The Howling is really high up there.
Dee Wallace: I was really adamant when they first came to me that they were going to be using puppets because you know all these fans. They’re purists and I love that about them. If you’re a fan of Critters then you’re going to want to see the real puppets and the puppetry. Also, it’s something that I feel we really expanded on in this film and working with puppets is one of Bobby’s fortes. I’d seen The Cleanse previously and I really think he’s going to be a real force in the directing world.
Bobby, once you came on board to direct, did you stick with the original script or were there a few things that you felt needed tweaking slightly to create the updated vision of Critters that you wanted to bring to life?
BM: I had a few notes, for sure. It was really about getting the tone right. We were kind of thinking that we wanted something between the tone of the first and second entries. I think Scott’s original first draft was maybe more toward the second one in terms of cartooniness, so that was something that we tried to dial back a little bit. Having said that, this is a Critters movie and it still has to be a lot of fun so we didn’t dial it back all the way. And then, having come from The Cleanse, I had all the practical concerns of making this such a special film. But yeah, it was really trying to get back to the Critters being little bastards but more animal creatures and less cartoon characters.
DW: Bobby was actually very open to everybody’s ideas and input also. The one thing I wanted to do though was to high five Bianca but they just wouldn’t let me do that (laughs). I thought it would have been really funny to have had a fist bump moment but I guess they thought that would have been taking it a little bit too far. But I love the fact that he kept the tongue-in-cheek humour there because the fans are going to be looking for that.
Dee, your character is so different to who we remember from the original film. What specific traits did you feel were most important this time round to maintain the essence of the original film and of Helen Brown/Aunt Dee?
DW: I definitely wanted to bring her caring and her defence of her family. That’s always what she was about. When I talked to Bobby about the story he said, “Well the Critters have destroyed your entire family and you have become this bounty hunter now and you are out to destroy them.” So Helen – who is now Aunt Dee – has evolved considerably from the little farmhouse wife who was forced to pick up a gun and now she’s choosing to pick up a gun and take out these horrible things before they can take out other families. It’s a great role and it fits right in with the changing culture in society. It’s the #MeToo movement, baby! It’s our time now. Women aren’t taking any of the guff anymore, right? And we don’t have to be the victims all the time now.
In terms of the tone of the film compared to previous outings, one thing you did away with were the subtitles translating the Critters.
BM: Well that came from SYFY and Blue Ribbon actually. Again, they wanted to make sure we didn’t get into Cartoonville. I know the story of the first film was that they weren’t going to do subtitles but then the director snuck in one scene with subtitles and that’s how the franchise ended up with those so I was like, “No problem. Once we get in the editing room, I’m going to sneak in some subtitles on this.” (laughs) But honestly, once we were playing it, Mike Mendez, who edited this, and the rest of us soon realised that there was no need whatsoever for subtitles. There was never one moment where we even tried to sneak subtitles in because it just all worked without them.
When any director accepts to tackle a direct sequel to a franchise with such a huge fan base all kinds of concerns must invade their mind. Did you find yourself second-guessing a lot of your decisions during prep, on set and during the editing process?
BM: Oh for sure! That was the biggest part for me when deciding to take this on. I didn’t want to be “the guy who helped bring Critters back and it was bad.” And for me, one of the big sticking points was that we’d need to hire the same creature designers that we’d just worked with on The Cleanse. We needed to make sure that the puppets looked great. I think I was maybe too concerned at first of not wanting to bring them back and screw it all up. But in the end the creature crew were amazing. They even stuck some of The Chiodo Brothers original Critter puppets on the big Critter ball towards the end of the film. I had no idea that that was going to happen and I was absolutely starstruck when I found out. I mean, The Chiodo Brothers are legends to me and we had the good fortune of having an original puppet to take photos of it and look at what we wanted to do differently – but everything comes from that original design.
DW: That Critter ball scene was my last day on set so I didn’t get that information. I think that’s wonderful and I know that once fans have that piece of information, they will stop-frame and try and find the original critters stuck on that ball. I guarantee ya! That ball was amazing, wasn’t it? Oh my God. When I saw that in the middle of the night when we were shooting, my mouth just dropped and I just loved the fact that it was real and none of that was done with CGI. The fact they actually made that thing was just amazing to me.
Bobby, I believe you trusted your crew so much so that you let the creature effects team improvise on a number of occasions?
BM: That was so much fun because there is nothing more fun than to just let people go nuts with something. For example, there’s a scene were someone has to open the door to a bathroom and I told the team to design whatever the wanted and to not to tell me what was inside there. These guys have been working on effects for such a long time so to not let them be creative just seemed like a sin. It just felt anti-fun to not bring them into the process in a major way like that.
Talking of “going nuts,” this is actually the first R-rated movie in the franchise. It does get very gory at times but there were moments that felt like maybe you had wanted to go even further, or was that just my wishful thinking?
BM: No. Honestly I didn’t. I was kind of surprised by the R-rating. I thought I was making a PG-13 movie. My editor often said that there was a surprising amount of gore in this for a Critters movie but again, I was going back to the fact that so many people have said to me that Critters was one of the first movies that screwed them up as a kid. To me, that was because they had access to it so that was my goal really.
To wrap up, Dee, we can’t wait to see you in another project that you’ve been working on which is Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell. You’re playing a character that is a far cry from pretty much anything you’ve done so far. Even Sid Haig and Bill Moseley had a hard time recognising you on set at first?
DW: (laughs) You’re going to have to look pretty hard to realise it’s me but most people will recognise me for my voice. It’s definitely a part that I’ve not ever played before. Sometimes I would come home and think, “Oh Dee, you didn’t really let yourself go that far, did you?” but then you just do that kind of thing with a director like Rob. Everybody gets really safe and then everybody just gets OUT THERE! But he’s revisiting his characters from the franchise and if he calls I just go. If it’s anything I think I can do I just love working with Rob. I love him as a person and I love him as a director.
Almost all my scenes are with Sheri [Moon Zombie] in this one and we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of improv and there’s one scene that Rob brought me back for and he loves to do that. He looks at the footage and thinks, “Ooooh. I think I want to extend that moment.” That’s something that happened in Halloween also. For this 3 From Hell scene, they brought me in on a day I was supposed to have off and I had wardrobe on “NCIS” but I came over to shoot afterwards. I got all into makeup and everything and got onto set and I said, “What are we doing? I don’t even know why I’m here.” (laughs) So Rob said, “Well, you know that scene blah, blah, blah? This is a continuation of that and you come in and you see this and then you do something…..” (laughs). I said, “Rob, can you give me a LITTLE bit more than that?” He just said, “Oh Dee, just find it. And if it’s not what I want then we’ll go from there, right?” So I’m standing there, trying to fall into my channel and figure all this out and right before he says action it just all comes in. And then you always look for Rob to be smiling or laughing behind the monitor because then you know if you’ve got it or not. Once we finished the scene he just looked at me and said, “Dee, they ain’t gonna believe this one!” It’s so much fun to work that way and to feel safe and Bobby worked very much in the same way and I felt safe to go as far as I could go and then he would pull me back or tell me to go further. I’m really proud of my work with both directors and can’t wait for people to see both movies…
Critters Attack! is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.
Words: Howard Gorman