The monsters that menace an Irish island town in Grabbers come from outer space, but the movie might be the result of a lab experiment gone awry—a Brundlefly merger of Tremors and Waking Ned Devine. But laboratory errors often yield scientific breakthroughs, and if Jon Wright’s horror-comedy isn’t quite penicillin, it might at least be vulcanized rubber.
After an oceanic prologue in which a mostly unseen creature scoops the crew off a fishing boat, Wright introduces seasoned Erin Island Garda Richard Coyle and eager new arrival Ruth Bradley prepping for their days: She adjusts her policewoman’s hat and fights seasickness on the ferry over, he chases off a hangover with the last of a bottle of whiskey. They’re an odd pair, but there’s not much time to iron out their differences once it becomes clear that this tiny, isolated community is facing infestation by creatures that at various stages resemble oversized grubs and giant bloodsucking octopi.
The audience, of course, is way ahead of them, and Wright relies on that foreknowledge to stage some of the movie’s most outrageous gags. When a man answers his cottage door late at night to find an apparently drunk but strangely silent villager dancing in the mud outside, there’s an extra kick in realizing what’s going on—namely, that the creature is using a corpse as a human fishing lure—before he does. Although Wright’s tonal focus comes and goes, there are moments when Grabbers evokes the tongue-in-cheek ruthlessness of Gremlins, especially in its willingness to kill off innocents if the joke’s good enough. (He’s aided immeasurably by Christian Henson’s fine score, which deftly switches from rustic woodwinds to discordant string creaks.)
Grabbers’ first half builds to a delirious revelation about the best way to fight the monsters—suffice it to say Coyle is uniquely disposed to do battle—but the movie’s climax is a letdown. Once the battle is joined in earnest, what began as sharp-edged parody starts to feel more like a cheap imitation, even if it’s still shot through with a few priceless zingers. The tough thing about genre hybrids is that they have to fulfill both genres, and Grabbers only nails one of them.