Fantasia 2019: Director Bobby Miller Talks Critters Attack!
Critters Attack!, the newest entry in the bloody, live-action, horror/sci-fi film series is now available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital. During this year’s Fantasia Fest in Montreal we got to interview the film’s director Bobby Miller right after the World Premiere, and you can check out the full interview below! Fans can also watch the fur-ocious creatures’ television debut on SYFY, scheduled to air in October.
Dee Wallace (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), who starred in the original Critters as Helen Brown, will sink her teeth into the franchise for a second time in the mysterious role of Aunt Dee. Inspired by the film series from the ’80s and ’90s, Critters follows 20-year-old Drea (Tashiana Washington), who reluctantly takes a job babysitting for a professor of a college she hopes to attend. Struggling to entertain the professor’s children Trissy (Ava Preston) and Jake (Jack Fulton), along with her own little brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel), Drea takes them on a hike, unaware that mysterious alien critters have crash-landed and started devouring every living thing they encounter.
While being tracked by the ravenous critters, Drea and the kids encounter an adorable, seemingly harmless female critter named Bianca, an exiled royal fleeing the critter race. As the critters converge on the college campus, Drea and the kids, who are now inextricably linked to Bianca, rush to head them off. Will Drea discover her inner badass, and will it be enough to stop the critter onslaught? And is the critter princess as innocent as she seems?
Critters Attack! is written by Scott Lobdell (Happy Death Day) and directed by Bobby Miller (The Cleanse). Rupert Harvey and Barry Opper from the original film franchise are on as producers. The film comes from Blue Ribbon Content in association with SYFY, and production services are provided by Blue Ice Pictures.
ComingSoon.net: How was that Fantasia premiere screening?
Bobby Miller: It was great. It went over super well. I’d never seen it with a crowd. It was the first time I’ve seen it with more than three people in the room. So I was a little nervous, but they got super into it.
CS: Three people are gonna be like, “you fucked up, Bobby.”
Miller: Yeah, everyone’s like, “You fucked up. ‘Critters’ is ruined.”
CS: How dare you destroy a franchise that hasn’t existed in 20 years.
Miller: Yeah, yeah, you son of a bitch.
CS: I had fun with it. I enjoyed it all the way through. Even though it’s R, it felt PG-13.
Miller: That’s what I wanted to do, you know? I wanted to do something that kids could discover and get into horror that way.
CS: And did you talk to Scott Lobdell about that, about the tone?
Miller: Scott was on the same page. It was already there from the script. I think we were both on the same page about the tone of it. I think, if anything, given what me and Scott like, we probably would have pushed the comedy even more, but I’m glad we restrained ourselves a little bit because if it goes too far then there’s no real stakes to the movie.
CS: Right. You had those moments of gravitas, where there is an emotional core to the thing about the girl and her dead mom and her hopes for college.
Miller: Yeah, and to me the films I always come back to are character based, too. They have something else going on. Although, let’s be fair. Let me take that back because I love “Ghoulies 2,” so forget it.
CS: “Ghoulies 2” is way better than the first one.
Miller: I agree. That’s the one I always—I’ll put that on at parties.
CS: The original “Critters” movies were part of a whole cottage industry built around ripping that “Gremlins” off. You had the “Ghoulies” and the “Critters” and “Munchies”. How familiar were you with all the different iterations of “Gremlins”?
Miller: I mean, there was that beautiful period of little monster movies, you know? So no, I was completely familiar with all of those films. Growing up, there were kids who liked Super Nintendo and Genesis. I feel like “Critters” were Genesis. If I could put them in the two camps, because they were just a little gnarlier and just little dirt bags. So yeah, I loved all those films growing up. And like I said before, it was always this idea that they were a gateway to horror for me.
CS: And I don’t know if I misheard this or not, so correct me if I’m wrong, but did you name one of the cats Herek?
Miller: Mm hmm, yeah.
CS: That was your little nod to Stephen Herek?
Miller: Yeah, yeah.
CS: That was great. Have you talked to him or Mick Garris or any of the other directors before?
Miller: No, I haven’t. I’d love to. Part of me was scared to because I didn’t want to know how hard it would be to make a “Critters” movie because you don’t have much time to make these little low budget films. So I didn’t want to know. In fact, that Blu-ray set that Scream Factory did, I was pouring over that. I had it shipped to South Africa where we shot. We have no time for trial and error, like the giant ball in the movie. We need to know what works. And the Chiodo brothers are on that Blu-ray and they’re just like, “Well, we tried this and that,” you know?
CS: Oh great. So those Blu-rays were actually your “Critters” school.
Miller: I was literally taking my iPhone and videoing it and sending it to art department, because we had no time. They were like, “We tried it, and then the ball went way over this way and way over that way.” And I was like, “We don’t have time for that. It just needs to work.” So it was very helpful.
CS: Was this a go project that you were just brought on for as a gun for hire kind of thing?
Miller: Yeah. I had no idea. I was at Fantastic Fest. I did a short after my first feature. “The Cleanse”. I was at Fantastic Fest, and I got the call to do “Critters” and it was very quick. We want to do it in South Africa in January. And I was like, oh okay.
CS: And what month was this now?
Miller: It was October 2018. It was very, very quick. So for me, the biggest thing was I don’t want to screw up “Critters,” basically. My mom thinks I’m crazy for being so worried about this, but “Critters” means something to me, so I didn’t want to screw it up. I was worried about the time crunch, but I actually brought the puppeteers and the creature designers from “Cleanse” and I knew they could at least make the puppets look good. So we’re halfway there with that.
CS: So it wasn’t so much about living up to fans on the internet who are going to be like, “#NotMyCritters” or something?
Miller: Oh I’m sure, it happens for everything, you know? You see it for every single thing. And that’s just part of it, you know? That’s what you sign up for.
CS: Yeah, that’s the problem with a movie economy that’s now built almost entirely on familiar brands is that everybody has an idea in their head of what those brands should be, and if you don’t do X, Y and Z they’re not even going to show up.
Miller: Yeah, yeah.
CS: Was there a checklist of things where you were like, “We’ve got to have the ball, it’s got to be this, it’s got to be that?”
Miller: Well, I mean, really, it was in Scott’s script. And the ball is there. It’s just hard to pinpoint that kind of 80s family horror film that I don’t think they really do much anymore. And it was really tapping into that fun spirit and having it grounded in some… I say having it grounded, and then I think of some of the scenes in there. I’m like, that’s not very grounded. But you know, just kind of getting back to that feeling because I kind of missed that. I missed the idea that as a kid, you can get scared by a movie and also be laughing.
CS: I read in interviews with Joe Dante that the original “Gremlins” script was much gnarlier and Gizmo became bad. So there wasn’t that heart element. And Spielberg’s big contribution was saying Gizmo should stay cute and then everybody will like him.
Miller: Yeah, and I read that script. I actually had it. There’s an early draft. I think they kill the dog. One of the Gremlins kill the dog and I was like, “oh.” But I would argue that’s what makes “Gremlins” great. I think that combination, that Spielberg sprinkle on that film is what makes it great.
CS: And you have that element in your movie, too, with Bianca.
Miller: Yes. That’s Scott. So that’s the thing where you’re just talking about. We’ll see how people react.
CS: So that’s the big controversial element?
Miller: That’s going to be super controversial. I can’t see how anyone would take offense to it.
CS: Yeah, well, and there’s also this element of the Shudder “Critter” series. How in god’s name does this franchise stay dormant for this long, and then all of a sudden there’s a space race to do “Critters”?
Miller: Right, right. Quick. We need to make “Critters” things. I have no idea. I have no idea how it works. From what I understand, the “Critters: New Binge” was something that was done maybe a year or so ago, so it wasn’t done exactly at the same time. But I have no idea.
CS: Have you seen any of that one?
Miller: I haven’t. I just didn’t want to be influenced by anything. I saw the trailer, but what they were trying to do is obviously more cartoony and broad. But actually, Scott the writer said something that I was like, huh, I agree with this: Part of the appeal for me growing up reading comic books was this person’s writing this thing and they’re doing their take on it. I think there’s room for multiple “Critters”, and if you like one better than the other, that’s great. It’s not the end of the world.
CS: Yeah, I’m sure they had the same problem in the prehistoric era, where they’re like, “Bob the builder tells that story better than Steve the hunter.”
Miller: Right, exactly.
CS: Your big secret weapon is you have Dee Wallace back. I think someone said that she never had specifically said she didn’t want to do more “Critters” movies, she just was never invited back until yours. How excited was she to get involved again?
Miller: Well, I read the script and it said “Aunt Dee”. I asked Scott and the producers, “This is for Dee Wallace, right?” And they’re like, “Yeah, ideally.” So I was like, “Can I please have coffee with Dee Wallace because I want to convince her to be in this movie.” That was one of the first things, Dee has to be in this movie. And she was excited. I didn’t have to convince her much because she really liked the idea of playing against type. So to be this badass bounty hunter was really fun for her. She was really excited. I didn’t have to do much.
CS: And was there any discrepancy between the character she played in the first movie and the character she’s playing in this one? Is it supposed to be the same person?
Miller: For me, it’s the same person. I think there was some legal reason why we couldn’t use her name. No one else liked this idea, but I really wanted her to go on this monologue about how after the first movie, you think the family’s fine, but the Critters came back and killed everyone in her family, which I’m sure would’ve went over great with fans. So that was vetoed. But I liked the idea that she was just in waiting for the return.
CS: So after “The Cleanse,” was there a period where you were trying to get other stuff off the ground? Do you have an arsenal of other scripts that you’re trying to get going?
Miller: Yeah, I mean, “The Cleanse” was difficult for me because the movie was hard to market. It’s kind of a genre-less—it kind of has its toes in multiple things.
CS: That’s always hard.
Miller: Yeah, so I wrote a werewolf movie that I am really excited about that I thought I was going to try to get made next and then I got the call for “Critters” and I was like, I really can’t turn down “Critters”. I have such a soft spot for that franchise. I feel like there’s not a lot of werewolf movies, good werewolf movies.
CS: 100 percent agreement.
Miller: It’s time for something, and that’s what I’d love to do next.
CS: Do you want to do a satirical werewolf movie like “The Howling”? Or do you want to do one that’s like super hardcore?
Miller: I would describe this as “The Howling” meets “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
CS: I love it. I’m married. I get that.
Miller: Yeah. There’s an element of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, with a couple-based thing.
CS: A couple-based werewolf movie. I can see it in my head already. That’s great. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is so much about these two people just unleashing their ids on each other. That is also a part of the werewolf mythos, is like, it’s all the icky, dark horrible things just coming out in you.
Miller: Yeah. I’ve probably watched it every year, but the last time I watched it in context with this werewolf movie, I was like, this is a horror film. This is just so gnarly. The dialogue, ah. It’s so good.
CS: And then, in terms of making “The Cleanse” happen, how long was that journey?
Miller: It was very long.
CS: Because you wound up, A) getting some really good stars, and B) getting some really good looking effects for probably, I’m imagining not a lot of money.
Miller: You would be correct.
CS: So how did that all coalesce for you? And this is the key part, while you were still doing your day job?
Miller: Well, the funny story for that was I was doing a test film to pitch that movie while I was at Buzzfeed. I faked that I was sick one day to shoot that short. A funny story is there were network computers where you upload your videos or whatever, and people can see everything. I accidentally somehow uploaded test footage of “Cleanse” on Buzzfeed, and someone looked at it and was like, “What is this?” It was just a creature, a puppet creature, and like, “What the hell is this?” And I had to be like, “Please don’t rat me out.” Unfortunately, I still wake up really early now because of this, but I would wake up at five in the morning and write and then go to Buzzfeed because that’s the only way. I can’t write at the end of the day.
CS: You’re toasted.
Miller: Yeah. There’s no way. So I was like, “I guess I’ll wake up like a maniac.”
CS: I’ve heard Mike Flanagan talk about when he did “Oculus,”,that he was editing reality TV stuff. It was a question mark about whether his first movie was actually going to happen. But in order to make it happen, he had to eventually quit the job. So it was like, do I cut off my lifeline? And then he just said, “Okay, we have to make this thing happen.” He quit his job and it did wind up happening.
Miller: The same exact story with Buzzfeed. Literally, and it’s funny, I quit Buzzfeed, and my producer Jordan Horowitz a couple of months later called me that the movie was dead. And I was like, “What am I going to do?” And then it ended up happening. But I do think you have to take those leap of faiths. I would send him photos of what I was working on at Buzzfeed. It was like “13 Things Whatever,” something or other. And I was like, “Please, Jordan. Let’s get this movie made.”
CS: Your “Critters Attack!” editor Mike Mendez is in the same boat. He edits to keep a roof over his head, but he’s a director. And he’s a guy who knows how to make ten-cents look like a dollar onscreen.
Miller: Boy, did we get lucky with having Mike. We didn’t have much time to edit the movie. He came in and he was editing on set. He just knew. I was getting scenes as we were wrapping shooting in the car ride at night and they were great. He was just such an asset for us. It was very surreal to be out there in South Africa. Other than Mike, I didn’t bring any crew out there, so it was fun. I considered it like making a Roger Corman movie, where there’s a limited budget. There’s a crew that you work with and make the best thing you can. So that aspect was a really fun challenge. The crew was awesome across the board and really game, and especially with something like “Critters” I think a lot of them had done a lot of CGI heavy stuff. So when we were pulling out these puppets, everyone turns into little kids. Everyone was very excited to the point that there’s one shot that makes me laugh in the movie because this cameraman Guy Hodgen, he literally grabbed a piece of fuzzball fabric and waved it in front of the lens to make it look like it was a critter in the foreground. And it was that type of playfulness that was on set that just made the process… I don’t want to say easier, because the movie was hard, but the spoonful of sugar, yeah.