April 27th, 2009

CRITTERS 4 (1992) *

It dawned on me that I had never seen Critters 4, so I thought I’d Netflix it so I could proudly say that I had seen every single Critters movie in human history.  Look folks, I never claimed I was the smartest man alive…

 

This one is set in space.  Kinda like Jason X; except it sucks.  The plot has Charlie (Don Opper), the slow-witted bounty hunter accidentally stowing away on board a space ship carrying a couple of Critter eggs.  53 years later, the ship gets picked up by another starship and Charlie and the eggs thaw out of their deep freeze.  Naturally, the eggs hatch and the Critters quickly start rolling around and eating the crew.

 

The first two Critters flicks are a lot of fun and while 3 was kinda lame, it at least had a young Leonardo DiCaprio in it to make fun of.  This one is just plain bad.  Its low on Critter attacks, blood, body count, and most importantly; fun.  It takes over a half an hour for the Critters’ eggs to hatch, which means you have to sit around and watch a lot of boring low budget space shit.  When the Critters finally do begin to do their thing, it’s too little too late.  While the Critter-in-the-mouth gag is pretty cool, nothing else in the flick is remotely amusing. 

 

And for whatever reason (probably budgetary), the Critters no longer use their patented porcupine quill attack.  What’s up with that?  That’s like making a Gremlins movie and not having them get wet.

 

Angela Bassett has an early role (and shows off her butt in a shower scene) as the lone female crew member.  At first, it looks like Angela’s going to be the tough talking Ripley rip-off, but she’s really nothing more than the token black character.  At least she doesn’t get killed off though.  The other cast members include Brad Dourif, the dude from all those Subspecies movies, and the voice of Martine Beswick.  

 

Co-screenwriter David J. Schow also wrote another awful sequel, Leatherface:  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3.

NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES (2006) ** ½

I've lost a lot of respect for TNT over the years.  First they canceled MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs and then they tried to make everyone think that "We Know Drama" by showing a bunch of boring detective shows over and over again.  While Nightmares and Dreamscapes, based on the works of Stephen King, isn’t great or anything, it’s a good sign that TNT were still in touch with their horror roots.  Now I normally shy away from reviewing television series because I am and have always been a “movie guy”, but since I’m a huge King fan, I couldn’t resist giving you all my two cents worth.

 

What we got here is 8 episodes (only 5 are actually from the book, Nightmares and Dreamscapes).  2 of them are borderline brilliant, 2 of them are marginally entertaining, and the rest run the gamut from middling to downright shitty.  If you’re a die hard King fan (like me), you’ve definitely seen worse adaptations.

 

BATTLEGROUND  *** ½ 

 

Battleground (based on the short story found in King's Night Shift collection) centers around a hitman (William Hurt) who murders a toy manufacturer (Bruce Spence from Road Warrior).  After completing his assignment, Hurt goes home to his luxurious apartment to find a mysterious box waiting for him.  Inside is a bunch of green army men who come to life and declare war on the perplexed assassin. 

 

This story was a lot of fun on the page and even more so here.  Hurt is excellent as the brooding methodical killer who engages in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a bunch of toys.  The scenes of him being pounded with tiny machinegun fire are hilarious and the scene in which he flushes a toy helicopter down the toilet is priceless.  Director Brian Henson (son of Jim) films all of these scenes with a skilled panache that walks the tightrope between horror and humor nicely. 

 

Unfortunately, Henson lets things run on a bit too long as Hurt's one-on-one battle with a Rambo-esque toy soldier wears out its welcome rather fast.  Even though the tale slowly runs out of steam, it's still pretty irresistible.  Hurt's badass performance alone makes it worth a look, but seeing an entire battalion of fighting green army men is pretty fucking cool too.

 

CROUCH END  *

 

A thoroughly bland American couple move to London and are invited to a small hamlet of Crouch End for dinner.  Once they arrive, they find the town to be completely empty, save for some werewolf looking motherfuckers and a pair of creepy kiddies.  When the hubby has a run-in with some black muck, he kinda goes bat shit insane, which doesn't bode well for the couple, since they presumably end up getting trapped in the town's supernatural clutches. 

 

Stephen King is at his best when he's writing about what he knows; mostly writers running around Maine and being menaced by ghosts and goblins.  This story takes place in England, far removed from King's usual haunts (no pun intended).  Consequently, it doesn't feel very Kingy (it steals brazenly from Lovecraft every chance it gets) and is more or less one big pile of HUH!?! 

 

Everything about the story feels phony; from the couple's irritating banter, to the hubby's annoying overacting once he becomes "possessed", to the stupid looking filter they put over the camera to make things look "otherworldly".  There's also a one-eyed cat monster and a shitty looking three-headed snake monster in there too for some damned reason.  Oh, and if the "twist" ending doesn't make you go, "What the fuck?", then nothing will.

 

UMNEY'S LAST CASE  ** ½

 

William H. Macy stars as a fictional 30's hardboiled detective who gets an unlikely visitor in the form of the author who created him (also Macy).  You see, Macy (the writer that is) just lost his son and he's so stricken with grief that he wants to escape to the fictional world that he created.  In order to do that though, he's got to write the detective out of the story so he can take his place.

 

This one started out with a lot of potential.  Director Rob (Reign of Fire) Bowman really delivered an authentic 30's Los Angeles feel to the early scenes and did a good job incorporating the detective into the present day setting as well.  After a solid half hour or so though, things start falling apart.  In addition to running on way too long, this episode suffers from a thoroughly weak ending.  I know that endings aren't King's strong suit, but c'mon Steve, you can do better than that.

 

What really makes Umney's Last Case worth a look is the excellent performance(s) by Macy.  As the fast-talking detective, Macy is just flat out brilliant.  He's so great that you'll wish somebody would put him in a remake of Boston Blackie or The Falcon ASAP.  As the morose writer (who bears a more than striking resemblance to King), Macy doesn't fare quite as well, but at least it's fun seeing him play off himself.  (Macy was so great in this that he was deservedly nominated for an Emmy for his roles.)

 

THE END OF THE WHOLE MESS  *** ½

 

Henry (ET) Thomas stars as a super genius who thinks he has the cure to end of all humanities’ violent tendencies.  His brother, Ron (Office Space) Livingston is skeptical about this harebrained scheme but grudgingly goes along with it.  Predictably, the “cure” creates another disastrous worldwide epidemic.

 

The End of the Whole Mess uses the old device of having the narrator struggling to tell the story of the end of the world in under an hour while facing his own imminent death.  What makes the episode (and the short story) engrossing is that it’s really less about the end of mankind and more about the two brothers.  Both Livingston and Thomas give excellent performances and truly seem like brothers; something that most actors fail to pull off.

 

This tale also benefits from having people familiar with King’s universe behind the scenes.  The screenplay was by Lawrence D. (Carrie) Cohen and it effectively updates King’s story (which was written in the 80’s) to modern times to reflect on today’s global paranoia.  Director Mikael (the Salem’s Lot remake) Salomon did a particularly fine job integrating the flashback scenes in with the narrative.  Salomon kept things interesting in a visual level as well, making this one of the best looking episodes of the lot.  Although far from perfect (even at 45 minutes, it still feels kinda padded), The End of the Whole Mess is still one of the best in the series and a real treat for King fans.

 

THE ROAD VIRUS HEADS NORTH  **

 

Tom (The Substitute) Berenger stars as a horror writer who learns that he has cancer of the ass.  On the way home from the doctor’s office, he stops at a yard sale and buys a bizarre looking painting of a dude in a car.  The closer he gets to his house, the more the painting changes, leaving a wake of dead bodies in its path.

 

The Road Virus Heads North is another case of a story that worked on the page that suffers from being stretched out to fit in an hour long time slot.  Had this tale been kept around the half-hour mark, I think it could’ve worked.  As it is, Road Virus is padded unmercifully with irritating dream sequences that get in the way of the plot and slows things down to a crawl.  It also doesn’t help that said plot is nothing more than a lukewarm rehashing of something you’d see on Night Gallery.  The complete non-ending doesn’t do it any favors either.

 

Berenger is pretty good but his overdone Bah-Stahn accent gets a little grating after awhile.  A supremely Botoxed out Marsha Mason co-stars as his aunt and Susie (Attack of the Clones) Porter has the thankless role of Berenger’s spiritual trailer park ex-wife.

 

THE FIFTH QUARTER  **

 

Die hard King fans know that The Master just doesn’t write strictly horror stories.  Sometimes he dabbles in the crime genre.  Such is the case with The Fifth Quarter.  It’s neither a Nightmare nor a Dreamscape, and as a result, it’s just kinda bland.

 

The plot revolves around Jeremy (May) Sisto getting out of The Big House.  Just after he bangs his wife; Samantha (The Punisher) Mathis, he gets a visit from his ex-cellmate who’s been shot in the gut who keeps blabbering about a treasure map.  You see, he’s got a quarter of the map and three other scumbags have the other corners.  After dying on Sisto’s living room rug, Jeremy goes after the other three dudes with the intention of A) Avenging the death of his buddy and B) finding the treasure.

 

The Fifth Quarter has all the ingredients to be a competent crime drama, yet it never really engaged me and left me feeling kinda cheated.  There are no twists and turns you’d expect from a noir thriller and the ending doesn’t contain any surprise revelations.  (Well… it does, but it’s just plain stupid.)  The episode also lacks a decided amount of grittiness needed to make a crime thriller like this one work.  Had the network censors not been present, perhaps director Rob Bowman (who also directed Umney’s Last Case earlier in the series) would’ve been able to make it all worth a damn.  I doubt it though.  The only bright spots are the well-rounded performances by the two leads, but they only help but so much.

 

AUTOPSY ROOM FOUR  **

 

Richard (John Boy Walton) Thomas goes golfing and shags a ball into the rough.  When he goes to retrieve it, he gets bitten by a snake and goes into paralysis.  The doctors assume he’s dead and ship him off to the morgue.  The attendants lay him up on the autopsy table and are THIS close to cutting into him but luckily, he gets a hard-on; letting them know he’s still alive.

 

Autopsy Room Four is more or less an updating of the old Poe standby of being buried alive.  While the short story was mildly amusing, this adaptation leaves something to be desired.  The biggest crime this segment commits is that’s it’s extremely padded out to meet the hour long time slot.  A story like this one should’ve been short and sweet, but every blessed thing about Autopsy Room Four is drawn out to the breaking point.  In lieu of suspense, the audience is treated with jokey stalling tactics and corny conveniences; and the eye-rolling happy ending doesn’t exactly do it any favors either.  Even though Thomas (who also starred in another King adaptation, It) does a good job at playing a corpse, his voiceovers are annoyingly hammy, which also helps to defuse much of the would-be tension. 

 

I will say that Greta Scacchi was looking damn fine as the main morgue attendant who almost vivisected Thomas.  Although I haven’t seen a whole lot of her lately she still looked quite foxy to despite a few more wrinkles.  (She was scrumptious in Shattered.)  Jude Beamont, who plays Thomas’ wife, was a ripe looking tomato as well.

 

YOU KNOW THEY GOT A HELL OF A BAND  ** ½

 

Part (OK, most) of the fun of this Stephen King series comes from seeing vets of previous King adaptations turning up to further their tour of duty in The Master’s universe.  Case in point for this episode is Steven Weber; star of two other King television flicks, Desperation and The Shining.  He’s pretty great in this one and his performance is easily the best thing about this installment.

 

While on a road trip with his wife, Kim (Project:  Metalbeast) Delaney, Steven gets lost and refuses to ask for directions.  Predictably, the couple winds up in the middle of nowhere.  They come across a small 50’s style town populated by dead rock stars who want the clueless couple to stay for the big “show”; one that will last “a very long time”.  

 

This episode really had a lot of potential.  I mean c’mon, we all know Elvis is still alive, right?  The fact that all the dead rock stars would abduct people and force them to listen to their greatest hits seems like the stuff of nightmares.  Seriously, you can only hear “O Pretty Woman” so many times before you start inflicting self-mutilation.  Ultimately, You Know They Got a Hell of a Band fails to live up to it’s initial premise and just sorta peters out at the end.  It’s far from the worst episode of the lot, but it’s also one-note, hokey, and doesn’t really go anywhere.  Also, a lot of the dead celebrities don’t resemble their intended incarnations (Elvis in particular); although William (Ringmaster) McNamara does a pretty mean Ricky Nelson impersonation.  While I can’t quite go on the record and call this a “good” episode, whenever you get to see Janis Joplin puke up a bunch of maggots, it definitely qualifies as a curiosity peek at best.