Critters 3 (1991)/Critters 4 (1992)

MARCH 22, 2024


I normally don't combine reviews, but they more or less combined the productions of Critters 3 and Critters 4, so I feel it's fitting. And really I just don't have a lot to say about them, so they would be very short reviews on top of it. Least this way you guys are getting something that'll last your whole trip to the bathroom or waiting for your microwave meal to finish. A review that's too short will have you wandering over to Twitter or something. Can't have that.

Anyway, as fans know, these entries went direct to video after the 2nd film flopped in theaters but did OK on VHS, enough to show New Line that there was interest in more Krite adventures just not enough to warrant a big screen release. And at this time they were doing quite well for themselves with the Ninja Turtles movies and branching out into comedies with the House Party franchise, so (in keeping with the first half of the '90s Hollywood-wide declining interest in horror) it made sense to explore the direct to video market with a known but not particularly lucrative brand. Did it work? I dunno. Apparently not since there was never a proper Critters 5.

It didn't help that the first of the two releases was pretty bad even by franchise standards (sorry folks, I know they have their fans but even the first two are just OK to my eyes). The concept seemed like a winner; taking things out of the farm/small town locales of the first two and sending a new batch of Krites into a major city. Unfortunately with the budget they had, that major city (Los Angeles or New York; the people who made the damn thing can't seem to agree on the bonus features) is represented by a handful of generic establishing shots of some kind of urban environment before setting the entire movie in a single apartment building. Not a high rise, mind you, just a three story dwelling with a handful of apartments. Demons 2 it is not.

It's also incredibly slow paced, a problem that plagued the first two movies but is even worse here. Once again the body count is ridiculously low, as the furballs only kill a mere two people out of the eight or so running around the building (not to mention the possibilities since they're supposedly in a major metropolitan area). And that'd be fine if they were spaced out, but nope, they die almost back to back around the middle of the movie, leaving the rest of it to repetitive scenes of the people scurrying around the building trying to find a way out. At one point someone tries to get out by climbing down a cable outside, and they get their foot caught in the wire and spend the rest of the movie dangling back and forth trying to reach a phone booth. Not is this a weird thing to spread out for what seems like a full half hour, but it also just reminds us that they're not in any actual major city, because someone would have walked by and helped (or robbed them).

Besides a handful of decent FX from the reliable Chiodo brothers, the only thing about the movie that anyone will or should remember is that it features a young Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film. There isn't much on display to tell us that he'll go on to be one of the most in demand actors of his generation, but he's certainly got more presence than most of his co-stars and just the sheer novelty helps keep it somewhat watchable (at least, NOW it does. Not sure about in 1992 when few knew who he was). Sadly he barely appears in the climax, adding to the movie's inability to generate any excitement.

Despite being a back to back production, Critters 4 doesn't bring Leo or anyone else along for the ride outside of Terrence Mann (Ug) and Don Keith Opper (Charlie), who appear in all four films in various capacities. Mann technically doesn't really appear in C3 at all, since his lone scene is just a post credits thing that bridges this film's events with C4, which repeats the scene anyway. As for Opper, he basically has an extended cameo in 3 (showing up for one scene at the beginning and a chunk of the end) but has more to do in 4, though after the opening he disappears again for a half hour or so. The film also doesn't even take place in the same spot, setting its events in space instead of Earth.

Of all the horror franchises that went to space it's the only one that has a natural reason to do so (being that the Krites are aliens and Ug and his pals are intergalactic bounty hunters), so it's a shame they waited until they only had a nickel and some plywood to sell the concept, but honestly it's not that bad (at least, compared to 3). It's got a solid cast: Brad Dourif, Eric DaRe from Twin Peaks, Anders "Radu" Hove, and even Angela Bassett (a year before What's Love Got To Do With It) populate the spaceship that picks up Charlie's floating pod in deep space and brings him - and the Krite eggs he's got with him - on board while out hunting for salvage.

It's also got some much needed humor, another thing in short supply in the third one. Dourif as always brings some kooky readings and mannerisms that are worth a smile, but the real godsend is the idea that the obligatory all knowing/all controlling ship computer (voiced by Martine Beswick!) only responds to reverse psychology, so they have to keep saying things like "Don't open the door to Pod B" in order to get her to do it. It's silly but damned if it didn't make me chuckle every time. I also enjoyed that instead of a nonstop countdown during the (also obligatory) self destruct sequence, she played a song that lasted the three minutes. It was like a low key Douglas Adams kind of gag that I appreciated.

Also, while the Critters don't appear as often as they usually do, they at least make it count when they do, with two gnarly deaths of main characters and a handful of brief attacks on some generic stormtrooper types who accompany Ug when he finally shows up in the last 20 minutes. There's also an F bomb and some gunshot deaths (also with some blood) making me wonder if this one actually got an R rating, but it apparently still managed a PG-13 like the much tamer earlier entries. So yeah, no giant ball of Critters or even much in the way of Gremlins-esque chaos, but at least they upped the body count to make up for it.

Both films have 20ish minute retrospectives with Opper, Mann, writer David J. Schow, the Chiodos, the DP, and some others, along with a commentary track. 3's track, with Opper and his brother Barry who produced them all is just as boring as the film, as neither man seems particularly excited about doing it (they also did tracks for the first two movies on this boxed set, so maybe it was one long session and they were worn out?). They skip part 4 but instead we get one with the director, Rupert Harvey, who also produced the first and third films (he missed out on Critters 2 because he was producing The Blob - good call!). Unfortunately, he's moderated by Michael Felsher, who (as is nearly always the case) doesn't seem to care much about doing a track for the film itself as much as he is covering the person's entire filmography. Which is probably fine if you happen to be a big fan of theirs, but if I sit down to watch a commentary on Critters 4 I don't particularly care about hearing about the MPAA's issues with the Nightmare on Elm St 5 poster. It's one thing when he's with a supporting actor who isn't in every scene anyway, but it's insane to me to have the director of a film for a commentary that doesn't even specifically mention that film for over an hour into its runtime. Somehow you learn more about its production from a 20 minute piece with some assorted cast and crew than you do with a 95 minute track spotlighting the one person who was involved in every aspect of its making.

Anyway, I don't think I'll be keeping this set, which has been sitting there unopened for over five years waiting for reappraisals on the first three and my first time viewing of the fourth (I rented 3 on VHS back in the day and remember disliking it then. I was only 12! You like everything at that age!). Except for 3, none of them are particularly bad, but they're too uneventful to warrant repeat viewings, and I can have those itches scratched with other, better movies (tiny creatures? Gremlins! The wizardry of the Chiodo brothers? Killer Klowns! Intergalactic bounty hunters coming down to earth? I Come In Peace! etc.). My boxed set shelf is overflowing and most of them (F13, Halloween, Universal Monsters) get pulled off repeatedly or at least contain movies I genuinely love. This series just never really won me over, despite my efforts, and I know it'll just sit there untouched for decades now that I've gone through it all. Though I also have the 2019 reboot Critters Attack somewhere, so I guess I"m not COMPLETELY done with the franchise.

What say you?


Immaculate (2024)

FEBRUARY 27, 2024


Before this advanced screening of Immaculate began, director Michael Mohan came out and listed some of the movies that influenced this one, such as The Devils and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, but the title that really piqued my curiosity was Barbarian. Faithful readers of the site might wonder why there is no Barbarian review here, but the simple reason is I refused to, because it was so damn good but also benefited greatly from having no idea what it was about (for those still in the dark, I will say it's not about a barbarian), so I wanted to help as many people go in as blind as I did. This one isn't quite as surprising throughout, though the comparison IS apt, because like that film I am guessing few if any will be able to guess what the final 20 minutes of Immaculate are about based on its first half.

Since the trailer's been running for a while now I think it's OK to sum up the same thing it tells you: the movie stars Sydney Sweeney as a nun named Cecilia who has recently relocated to a sort of nursing home/convent in Italy where older nuns go once they can no longer care for themselves, making sure their final days on earth are as comfortable and cheery as possible. But being that Cecilia is a young American who has just arrived at a new isolated place in Europe you know damn well that there's something creepy going on and she will just as certainly be the newest target for whatever that is. And she also finds herself pregnant, despite being a virginal nun who took a vow of chastity, but if you think about the film's title and are caught up on Jesus Christ's wiki page you should know it's not much of a mystery what might be happening there.

That's all I'll say about the film's plot; there are some twists and surprises along the way that I wouldn't dream tipping you off about (though I can't help myself fully - I need to at least get it on the record that I was in no way expecting to be reminded of a certain polarizing '90s sequel when I sat down for the film. Once you see the movie you'll probably know the one I mean if you're a proper franchise aficionado). But I can say without spoiling anything that, at least for me, the film's pivots worked like gangbusters, and while a "Nunsploitation purist" (if such a thing exists) might cry foul that it doesn't follow the usual formula, I had an absolute blast and was full on cackling for most of the final reel, as the movie just WENT FOR IT in ways that made me quite pleased.

Because, and I'm sure you've surmised as much if you dutifully read my reviews (or at least, my letterboxd), I'm getting tired of the A24-ization of horror as of late. You know, the "elevated" stuff. I'm fine with seeing some of those every now and then, and some I quite like (The Witch, Midsommar, X...), but I feel there are now too many others competing for that same piece of the pie, and simply not enough fun horror movies coming along (not to mention attracting A list talent like Sweeney, whose star is on the rise and yet, per Mohan, loved the script so much she threw her weight behind it as a producer to make sure it got made). The last couple horror movies I saw in theaters were Out of Darkness and Stopmotion, both of which I'd describe with words like "grim" and "cold."

Again, nothing wrong with that! But we need balance, and based on the trailer I figured this would follow suit. I was not expecting to cheer and applaud a well timed bit of profanity. And given my own views on catholicism (due to my fairly strict upbringing and subsequent realization that this was no way to live your life), seeing the blasphemy on display—including a crucifix used to bludgeon someone—just kept me fully entertained, smiling and laughing as opposed to getting all bummed out like I figured I would. Not that the trailer is misleading, mind you—it's just that it focuses on the first half when it comes to what it shows in context, leaving the second half a complete surprise, at least to me.

It's also pretty scary! In a jump horror kind of way to be fair, but an effective jolt isn't the easiest thing to pull off. Believe me, I've watched enough James Wan wannabes (James Wannabes?) in the past few years to know that it can get far too easy to spot them coming, as if the directors only know one way to pull them off. Here there are at least three good ones, four if you count one that's given away in the trailer (though in context it kind of works again even though you know it's coming? Impressive!), plus some solid suspense and nail-biter type scenes, like an extended bit where Sweeney attempts to escape and Mohan's camera refuses to show you how close her pursuers are.

Speaking of Sweeney, I'm not as smitten with her as many of my contemporaries (more like downright obsessed in some of y'all cases) but I enjoyed her work here. I'm always impressed when a name actress fully commits to the nonsense one might endure in a horror movie (i.e. getting covered in blood, screaming her damn head off, etc.) and wasn't sure if she had it in her, but I was happily wrong. I can't spoil the particulars of course, but there's one long take that's essentially just her face for the most part, and even if it was the first and only take she deserves our respect. If she had to do it multiple times and that was like take six or whatever? Hell, give her the Fangoria Chainsaw Award right now. Or maybe even the Spirit Award, I think it qualifies.

(I know better than to consider hoping for an Oscar nom. Not that it's on that level anyway, but if they didn't even consider Toni Collette, ain't no genre actress getting a chance ever again.)

A few people walked out (including the couple in front of me and my friend, so thanks for the improved line of sight, losers!), and given the fact that this particular screening was a Beyond Fest-hosted one (i.e. a crowd who should be fully ready for anything) I'm guessing there will be some similar reactions at large when it hits release. If I'm right, it's their loss, and they can go home and watch Consecration if they demand their nun horror be all moody and dour. For everyone who isn't too precious about these things, I hope you'll check it out; I feel that a proper crowd (which we got, outside of those few sticklers) will aid greatly in the enjoyment. It isn't high art or anything, but sometimes it's just nice to see a horror movie that does the basics right (it has some scares! It has a couple of gruesome deaths! It's not something that'll ever actually happen!), and a rare genre heroine outside of the slasher film that does applause-worthy things to survive. AND it breaks like, three of the Commandments, for good measure.

What say you?


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