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?


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