Halloween Scene: Critters 2 (1988)

Most of my experience with the Critters franchise comes from seeing the boxes of the four films at the video store as a kid and thinking they looked pretty damn creepy. All fur, red eyes and teeth, how could they not be? Well, the films I’ve seen so far — the first one a few years back and now the sequel — do a pretty good job of making the Krites seem not so creepy.

The Critters movies are odd. They’re obviously Gremlins rip-offs, but instead of just borrowing the basic premise and getting on with it, these mini monsters are aliens who are hunted down by intergalactic, shape shifting bounty hunters. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it is and as I said when I reviewed the first film, the sci-fi stuff is actually pretty well done. What keeps these movies from being great and unique is the goofy tone that undercuts the horror and doesn’t seem to achieve the right balance. It works in something like Shaun of the Dead where you go from jokey moments to full on gore, but the structure and direction isn’t here. I’m guessing, though, that it wasn’t intended to be a great film or rival the amazing Gremlins in story, so they just kind of went with it.

The story revolves around the kid from the first one returning to his home town of Grover’s Bend a few years after the events of the first one. He gets there just in time for a batch of Krite eggs to start hatching. The bounty hunters from the first one also return to destroy the eggs — which the townspeople have painted for Easter — and shenanigans ensue.

At the end of the day, the results aren’t bad, they just don’t match up with the story I created in my head after seeing the box. That said, there are still some pretty solid gore scenes and a good deal of the little buggers get smashed, blown up, set on fire and stepped on, so that’s fun. I should also note, while the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, the creature effects actually do look pretty great. This isn’t just little people in funny robes like Troll 2, but actual puppets doing all kinds of things.

And that’s really the key to this movie, fun. It doesn’t take itself so serious and it comes across. Critters isn’t what I would call required watching for a horror fan by any means, but they’re with checking out with some friends and some beers (man, a lot of my reviews end like that, don’t they?).

Halloween Scene: Insidious (2010)

I think I’ve seen too many movies. I say that with absolutely no intent of cutting back, though I will probably not be watching horror flicks for a while after a very packed October filled with them. I got Insidious in the mail from Netflix at the tail end of the month or possibly November 1st and wasn’t sure if I was going to watch or just send it back to view another time. But, my daughter wound up taking a surprisingly long nap today, so I took advantage and watched the movie that scarred some friends of mine and made my wife scared and angry every time the trailer played.

Honestly, it didn’t do that much for me. Like with the first two Paranormal Activity movies, I think watching this one during the day while doing other things takes a lot of the power away from the scares. I think it might have also caused me not to see some of the spooky, lingering images, but I caught enough to get the gist. The explanation of the plot contains elements of the story that get explained throughout the movie, so if you want to go in blind, stop reading.

There’s a couple with three kids, two young boys and a baby. One day one of the boys–Dalton–goes to sleep and won’t wake up. He’s in some kind of coma and the doctors don’t know what’s up. Then the mom, played by Rose Byrne from Bridesmaids, starts seeing ghosts. You think they’re just going to stay in the house like every other haunted house movie in the world, but they don’t, which earned it huge points in my book. Once in the second house, though, they discover that the hauntings have not stopped. They get a medium to come over who explains (and this is where the heavier SPOILERS begin) that Dalton actually has the ability to project himself into the astral plane, but he’s gotten lost. With an open body just sitting there all these bad spirits are wanting to get back in, which has drawn them not to the house that the family lives in, but to the boy. The medium and her team perform a few seances with wacky looking gear and then we get to the ending which I will talk about in the following spoiler filled paragraph.

As noted, SPOILERS ARE ALL UP IN THIS PARAGRAPH. So, towards the last third of the movie, the medium lady reveals to the dad that he was an astral projector too as a boy, which was super obvious when the old lady told him about 15-20 minutes earlier that he had changed a lot since she had last seen him or something. He had troubles, so she somehow wiped his memory. Anyway, this means that the dad can go into the astral plane and get his son back, but that will not only risk encountering other ghosts or demons or whatever they are and also leaving his body open for inhabitation by said baddies. I half thought they were going to just show him closing his eyes and then coming back with the kid, but they actually get into it. I mean, it’s not some crazy, hellish world, but it does look pretty neat. Most of the ghosts even wound up being pretty creepy, though that red-faced thing you saw in the previews just looked kind of silly to me, especially when they did that quick cut of him behind the dad before all this other business. There’s one that’s just a big dude with a messed up face and long black hair who looks a hell of a lot more threatening. Then there’s the two Shining-esque twins (though they’re older and more creepy-smiley). Also, the very, very end was such a “no shit” moment that it didn’t even come as a surprise.

STILL IN SPOILER TERRITORY. Which brings be to the real end. I’m getting sick of these kinds of endings. At the end of the flick, the dad has been taken over by the ghostmonsterdemon that haunted him as a child and killed the medium. The wife discovers this and freaks out only to have him/her/ghost come up behind her. Then cut to black. Bleh. I like movies like The Thing where the ambiguous/unknown ending really feels earned and creepy, but doesn’t leave you feeling cheated. In this case, I felt cheated. There’s still people in the house. A lot of them actually. What happens to them? I don’t expect everything to be wrapped up in a nice bow, but this really felt like an ending in the middle of a chapter instead of a good place to end.

Okay, no more spoilers. At the end of the day, the haunted house conceit just really doesn’t scare me. You spend the entire movie waiting for something to pop out. It either does or doesn’t. If you’re not watching as a captive audience member and are doing other things, you’re even more disconnected. That second part is on me as a viewer, but it’s still a factor. The aspect of the movie that did get to me, though, was the child/parent stuff. Not only have I been creeped out by our baby monitors (crying is bad enough, but piped through an electronic gizmo makes it otherworldly and cringe-worthy), but I get now wanting to defend your children and the fear that would come from trying to do so against an unknown, unseen enemy. But, the problem was that I understood that in my brain, I didn’t feel it in my gut. At the end of the day, the movie didn’t really make me feel anything but tense during the seance scene. That part was genius. I even liked the astral plane stuff, more so than the first half of the movie I think, but at the end of the day, I’ve seen too many of these movies, was familiar with the scares and wasn’t drawn in.

Halloween Scene: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) & 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

This might sound strange coming from a horror fan, but I’ve only seen the Freddy movies I’ve seen once, which makes it my least-watched franchise. Halloween’s probably the highest with Texas Chainsaw, Friday the 13th and Final Destination definitely ranking higher than it on my repeated viewing lists. When I turned 16 and could rent movies from Family Vidoe, I immediately started going through all the franchises I could, but never went back to Nightmare for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean I never wanted to go back though, so I asked for the two 4 Film Favorite packs that include all the Nightmare movies including Freddy Vs. Jason which I have seen plenty of times and already owned. On Friday, I had myself a little double feature and watched the first two Freddy films.

I think the original Nightmare still holds up pretty well. I can’t say it ever actually scared me, but I can imagine someone first getting into horror movies could still appreciate the classic scenes like the glove-in-the-tub, room-spin and geyser-of-blood deaths. Plus, in this first entry there’s a lot going for the franchise. The concept is incredibly cool: a killer who can only get you in your dreams. Hell, the entire idea of building a movie and then a series of movies around the craziness of dreams sounds fascinating, especially after seeing some really cool dream sequences, like the ones in The Sopranos. And, of course, Freddy himself is very creepy and potentially terrifying.

The problem is that the series doesn’t really hold up to all of those potentials from what I can remember. Perhaps the remake will pick up on some of these and run with them in new and interesting directions, but all the trailers are showing me is that they will be doing all of the exact same gags, but this time with computers.

If memory serves, a lot of fans don’t go in for the first sequel which came out a year after the original. This time, instead of the kids only contending with Freddy in their dreams, they’ve got to worry about Freddy actually taking over a dude’s body and killing them that way. It’s an interesting concept that gets ignored for the rest of the series from what I recall, but it seems like a logical next step for the narrative.

The film also has some pretty good effects itself, like when Freddy bursts out of the dude’s chest and brushes him off like Jay-Z does dirt off his shoulder. I will say that the film isn’t particularly memorable. I was working on some freelance while I had it on and I remember the main kid having to contend with a weirdly strict father who demands he empties the boxes in their room (they recently moved into the house on Elm Street from the original) and then dating a blond girl who becomes the final girl for lack of a better word. The main guy makes friends with a guy who seems mostly like an enemy who doesn’t go to the big party at the end of the movie. Oh, and the parents of the girl throwing the party go inside the house to have sex. As soon as they do the kids are like “Let’s really party!” and start blasting the music. Guys, they just went inside, it’s not like they hopped a flight to Crystal Lake.

Anyway, the film ends in the party scene where Freddy is free to run around and go after plenty of teenagers, but doesn’t really do anything but stumble around. Maybe he was enjoying a pool party of his own before crossing into the real world? Like I said, I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember enjoying the movie, or at least not being put off by it.

Actually, here’s something I’ve never thought of: what does Freddy do between terrorizing children? If he’s got all this power, he’s probably got a pretty rad set up in dream world. Ooh, I wonder if Morpheus from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman created him. Okay, I’m getting off track. I dug these two movies enough. I’m glad I’ve got them around along with my Friday the 13th box set and collection of Halloweens 1-5, but still prefer those other franchises so far. One thing I do remember liking about the series, aside from the next installment, is that I appreciated how they continued to build on Freddy’s origin, even if it got crazier and crazier as it went on. I don’t necessarily need an origin story for this psychopath, but I like that they tried to build on the character after a fashion. Oh, plus the covers to these movies are CRAZY.

Halloween Scene: Critters (1986)

Gah, damn you Ruins for taking up so many of the last few hours of today, you almost made me miss my self-imposed schedule of posting about something horror every day (the Star Wars Death Troopers thing doesn’t count). Okay, so as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I scored three Critters VHS tapes at a flea market. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Critters, even as a kid, but I remember being amazed by the box art of the tape at the video store. Anyway, the box art is much cooler than the movie. I guess it’s aimed at a younger audience and I’m not young anymore, so it didn’t really keep my attention.

See, the plot of the movie is that these aliens called Krites escape a space prison (maybe it’s the same one from Star Slammer. They land on Earth and then these shapeshifting bounty hunters follow to take them back. It takes a little while to get going and then it’s not all that thrilling, like I said, aimed at kids and featuring a proto-Forrest Gump who swears he knew the aliens were coming. I hear he’s the star of the next few movies. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was good enough for me to at least want to watch the next three movies in the series, though I can’t promise I’ll still be saying that after another movie or two.

One thing I did want to mention is that I was surprised at how good the movie looks. They don’t cheap-out on the space prison or the space ship. I mean, they’re not mind-blowing, but they’re pretty good. Then the actual Krites look cool. I mean, they’re Tribbles with mouths, but they’re still pretty scary Tribbles with mouths. The gore was light, which again is understandable because this is like a kid’s movie. Gremlins super-light basically. I think I would ad Critters 1 and 2 movie posters to my man cave in a heartbeat. Also, this was definitely not my mystery Mini Monster movie. Damn, gotta keep looking.

Whew, made it!