From writers and executive producers Jordan Rubin (who also directed the episodes) and Al and Jon Kaplan, the deadly hairy balls known as Crites are back in Critters: A New Binge (available to stream at Shudder), having returned to Earth to search for one of their kind who was left behind. Upon landing in Burbank, Calif., they immediately start to wreak havoc among a group of high schoolers and their families, while consuming as much flesh as they can.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, filmmaker Jordan Rubin talked about how this series evolved, why he thinks Critters is having such a resurgence right now, what he appreciates about the original film, how they approached the gore and language of the series, working with the practical puppets, his favorite moments to shoot, and whether there could be more episodes.
Be aware that some spoilers are discussed.
Collider: Thank you for talking to me about Critters. It seems like as good a day as any to talk about scary hairy balls.
JORDAN RUBIN: Yeah, it seems like the right time.
How did this opportunity come about? Was it something that you were seeking out, or did someone approach you about doing it?
RUBIN: The people at Warner Bros. Digital reached out to me. There’s a producer there named Peter Girardi, who I had worked with, years ago, when I was a writer on Crank Yankers, this Comedy Central Jimmy Kimmel prank call puppet show. And then, I had gone on to become a director, and he’d gone on to Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Bros. Digital and Blue Ribbon Content. So, he reached out because he knew that I’d directed Zombeavers and he was like, “Is this something that you might be interested in?” And I said, “Yeah, for sure.” And then, my writing partners – Jon and Al Kaplan – and I wrote a little outline pitch of what we wanted to do with the franchise, in series form, and they loved it, so we went from there.
Along with this series, Syfy is also doing a Critters film. Why do you think that there’s such a resurgence, right now?
RUBIN: I don’t know. I have this theory that there’s not a lot of mid-range budget stuff going on, or not as much as it used to be. There are these big, tent pole franchises with CG, that are $200 to $300 million movies, and then there are these very small movies. Now, there’s this space, because of all the digital outlets for the in-between genre films, to have a little bit more weight than they’ve had for a bunch of years. I also think that the nostalgia is back. Certain things have opened the doors, like Stranger Things and all of these reboots, like Evil Dead and Halloween, so I think there’s just this resurgence. I think Critters had a sleeper cell fan base that got activated once we announced this and started prep on this series. I didn’t know how big it was, and I think it’s possible that some of the marketing people might have found it surprising, how big of a following Critters has. It’s possible that’s some of the reason. When we look on some of the socials, it’s interesting to see how many groups there are. There are Facebook groups, and fans doing fan art and building their own puppets. I think maybe they just tapped into something. And everyone seems to love a reboot, right?
When did you first see the original Critters film, and what was your reaction to it?
RUBIN: To be honest, I remember seeing it when I was young, but it not making that much of an impact on me. I was such a Gremlins-head, at the time, and I felt like there wasn’t as much personality to these guys and it was a bit darker. Maybe early on, I was reacting to it being a bit of a bigger budget. I don’t know. I was such a fan of the relationships and the realistic portrayals of a human interacting with Gremlins, so Critters didn’t make that much of an impact. But then, when they reached out to me, to possibly work on this, I revisited it and fell in love with the concept of it and the fun lo-fi of it. I come from a background in comedy, so I definitely wanted to escalate it and put a bit of a twist in, and make it have more laughs.
There’s definitely some crazy shit that goes on in this show, and in only the way that it can on a Critters TV series. It also seems like you had some freedom with gore and language, but you don’t overuse it. What did you use to gauge just how far to go, and was it nice to be able to throw in a “fuck,” when you needed it?
RUBIN: I don’t know. It was just a tone. We wrote it, and then as we were shooting it, there were times when I could have gone that way, but I tried to calibrate it. There were certain things where I pulled back, here and there, in the edit. I also shot practically, so there was the amount of time that we could use certain set-ups and not go too gory. I leaned heavily into the comedy of these guys talking. There’s so much more subtitles in this than there was in the original franchise, if I remember correctly. Personifying them made it so much funnier to me, to have them be diabolical, and still do due diligence to the original franchise and pay homage to that, but also escalate it and have them personified with dilemmas, and trying to work things out with dialogue, and not just every other shot shooting and exploding things. I had a lot of fun shooting the Tom Lennon scenes. We only had him for a day, and we shot so much stuff with him. I wanted to get creative and invent more things, besides just the gore. And then, in terms of the language, it just didn’t feel like it always needed it. When they had to say it, it was funny. Gilbert Gottfried just started going on this riff about his penis, at one point, and I was like, “Okay, let’s keep going with that.” Joey [Morgan], the actor who plays Chris, couldn’t keep a straight face because he was laughing so hard. I don’t know if Joey really knew of Gilbert ‘cause he’s so young, or if he knew just how funny and how much of a legend he is. Gilbert shows up on set, and he’s just so soft-spoken and sweet, and to Joey, or anyone there, I’m sure he just looks like this little old man, sitting there and having some tea very quietly. And then, he was doing the lines that were required of him and I was like, “Wait, hold on a second, this isn’t the Gilbert that I know. Come on! Why don’t we keep going?” Then, he mentioned something about a penis, and I said, “Keep talking about that,” so he just went off on this riff, like an insane person. The cameras were shaking ‘cause the people holding them were laughing so hard.