Only ’80s kids will remember Critters, the low-budget 1986 creature feature that never quite lived up to its very similar predecessor Gremlins. The original story that inspired Critters, however, is one of the weirdest and most interesting real-life accounts of a potential alien encounter – one that has never quite been confirmed or denied.
Critters tells the story of a family menaced by a group of small, goblin-like creatures from outer space, besieging the Kansas farmhouse in search of food. It sounds a little too far-fetched to be based on a true story (despite how many horror movies claim that tag), but in this case, the film’s inspiration is actually backed by contemporary news reports and a documented police investigation.
It’s generally called the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, a story of two families in a farmhouse between Kelly and Hopkinsville in Kentucky who spent the night of August 21, 1955 fighting off a group of goblin-like invaders who repeatedly attacked the house.
A local newspaper report of the incident reports that one of the residents “told of how something resembling a space ship or flying saucer had landed at the back of their house near Kelly and 12 or 15 men, who appeared to be about four feet tall, had got out of the ship and come up to the house and done battle with the occupants.” One of the men stated that they had been “fighting them for nearly four hours”. Eventually the embattled occupants, including a number of children, saw a break and ran for the two cars, piling in and heading straight to the Hopkinsville police station.
A number of officers followed them back to the house, concerned of a firefight between local citizens. Upon arriving at the house, the police officers (and a number of other curious parties who had then tagged along) found no trace of the little men, but did find numerous bullet holes around the house. The Deputy Sheriff later told the newspaper that the families had fired around four boxes of .22 pistol shells.
Neighbours later told police that the family had just packed up and left after the creatures returned that night sometime around 3:30 in the morning, though no further information was given on that point. Many of the officers involved seemed to believe that something extra-terrestrial had indeed visited Kentucky that night.
While there was no evidence of little alien men having been at the farmhouse, there was also no evidence that the families were perpetrating a hoax. Many people think of Kelly-Hopkinsville as the best evidence we have for extra-terrestrial life, due to the length of the encounter and the number of people involved – with five adults and seven children having been present.
Skeptics, however, have pointed to natural events as the cause of the incident, saying that the UFO was likely a meteor, while the aliens themselves were probably just an aggressive pair of Great Horned Owls. Personally I would be surprised if owls would persist in attacking the occupants of a farmhouse for four hours while being shot at – however a neighbour’s testimony had indicated that only around four shots were audible that night.
Psychologists Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld have suggested that the witnesses had been intoxicated on the night of the event, though this is contradicted by the testimony of police in the contemporary report of the event, who didn’t believe any of those involved were inebriated.
We’ll never really know what happened the night of August 21 in 1955, but the event has inspired more than just Critters – Spielberg developed the concept for a film based on the event called Night Skies, which was never produced. It did, however, split off into two distinct concepts, later becoming Poltergeist and E.T.
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