Critters gets a lot of flak for being a Gremlins knock-off primarily due to the shared concept of small monsters ransacking a quiet town in what is supposed to be a dark-humor-fueled slant on a horror film. While that comparison is both obvious and accurate, it is mostly superficial. Upon deeper inspection, it becomes clear that Critters leans way more into the sci-fi genre than it does either comedy or horror.
In that regard, Critters actually feels more like a precursor to Tremors than it does a follower of Gremlins. There is a heavy (actually, too heavy in the first act) focus on the various characters from the podunk city in the middle of nowhere. The little amount of humor that hits is driven more by these human — and humanoid — characters than the monsters. And scenes are filmed from the ground level monsters’ point of view to ratchet up the tension while keeping the actual critters off of the screen.
For a movie titled Critters, there is a surprising lack of critters in the film. The movie tends to focus much more on the extraterrestrial bounty hunters that are dispatched to hunt the critters down. This may not necessarily be a bad thing though. It’s pretty clear that the practical effects used for the critters were trying to be kept off of the screen as much as possible. Whether via the aforementioned POV camera angles or showing them as rolling balls of fur, it is rare to see the critters in all of their red-eyed glory. In their place, we get a lot of the shape-shifting bounty hunters including a truly great practical effect early on where we see one of them transform.
As a kid that loved Gremlins, it was assumed that Critters was less humor and more horror. As it turns out, that was a bad assumption. Gremlins is much more comedic, far darker, and definitely more of a horror film. In fact, the only thing that really makes Critters a horror movie in any way is the look of the Critters and a bit of blood. Sadly, it forgets to be funny during most of the parts featuring critters except for a scene or two with very funny subtitled critter dialogue. Instead, it opts to leave the trace amounts of humor primarily to the bounty hunters’ fish-out-of-water interactions with the people from Anytown, USA. But in the end, it is a quick, decently fun genre mash-up. It has just been done better by films that came before it and after it.