Real life UFO encounter that inspired Critters

By RodneyHatfieldJr for Into The Mind

Critters. One of my favorite films. I have always had a soft spot for little creatures in film. When you add in comedy with enough horror to make you realize that the funny-fuzzy creatures are also deadly. Critters is, with good reason, a cult classic of the mid-eighties. It followed on the heels of Gremlins and certainly has its similarities to the little monster masterpiece, but Critters still manages to stand apart. It has a flavor all its own.


Whereas the Gremlins remained much more mysterious in origin—unless you go by the novelization, which goes obsessively into detail over their back story(which I recommend). The Critters are extraterrestrial from the first moment we’re introduced to them. The movie begins in space, watching them break out of their asteroid prison before crashing their hijacked spaceship into Grover’s Bend, Kansas, where the nightmare begins in earnest. That’s not only where we’re introduced to our main characters, but where we set up the surprising siege movie that Critters actually becomes.

For as fun and goofy as it is, Critters takes to heart the inherently unnerving concept of a family in a small, isolated farmhouse being besieged by little monsters. And that’s very interesting, not just because of how well it works tonally and stylistically for the film, but also because of the fact that it was based on an actual, famous real-life incident in which a family in a small, isolated farmhouse was apparently besieged by little monsters.


The incident is now widely known as the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, though it has also been cited over time as the Hopkinsville Goblins Case and the Kelly Green Men Case. It is one of the most well-documented incidents in the history of UFO sightings and became famous because of that. Said incident took place in 1955 in Kentucky, just between the towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville. Two families rushed into the police station claiming that they had been holding off vicious, small creatures for several hours, which they believed to have come from a UFO. Five adults and seven children apparently witnessed these events unfold over the course of the evening of August 21st. Elmer Sutton and Billy Ray Taylor seemed to take charge during the farmhouse siege, shooting at twelve to fifteen creatures that repeatedly attacked the group over the course of the evening.


It began around seven o’clock, when Billy Ray looked up while he was drawing water from the well to see what appeared to be a shooting star streak across the sky and disappear behind the tree line, somewhere behind the house. Taylor and Sutton went out to investigate, running back into the house when they saw a creature outside, kicking off an apparent invasion that would last for the next three hours. At one point, Taylor’s hair was grabbed by a huge, clawed hand. At several points, family members would leap back, startled, from the glowing eyes and twisted faces of the creatures staring in at them through the window.


Although the creatures were shot at several times, none were killed, otherwise the incident would have become much more famous. Once they had a clear shot, the two families piled into their cars and drove to the police station where they reported the entire thing. The police responded, not because they believed the claims, but because they were legitimately worried about a possible gun battle erupting between local citizens. Four police officers raced out to the scene, alongside five state troopers, three deputy sheriffs and four military police from the nearby US Army base. They searched the property, but found nothing but evidence of gunfire; bullet holes were found in the trees, the side of the house and through the screens of the doors.


They found no monsters. No evidence that it was a hoax, either. So the whole matter went into UFO history. If you are interested and do not know of the incident, there are many books and articles written about it. If you want an even more personal touch, the police statements from each family member from that night can be found on the Internet.


Ultimately, that is the connection. Taking the concept and turning it into the fuzzy eating machines we all know. Critters forged its own path and cemented its own place in the B-Movie hall of fame. It embraced its own weird mythology and while they might draw from a very strange real-life incident, the Crites are their own wholly imaginative creatures.  It has that charm, that feel of lived-in Americana, but just like the supposed events of that night in 1955, that picturesque ideal is threatened when something crashes out of the sky into the backyard. Goofy and ridiculous as it is, Critters has always been an impressively lean and mean little movie with a wry sense of humor and its real-life inspiration should, if anything, only strengthen its place as a true cult gem of the eighties.

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