June 01, 1992 12:00 PM

Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Charles Dutton

That rarest of creatures, a movie sequel that shows as much originality as its progenitor, this horror bloodfeast is grimly atmospheric, energetic and emotionally involving.

The third film in the series picks up Weaver, still a contract soldier working for an intergalactic chemical company, as she is floating through space in an escape pod following her battle with the mother of all monsters in Aliens. The most inspired part of Vincent Ward’s story has Weaver’s pod crash-land on a planet that houses a ramshackle penal colony.

It’s soon clear that Weaver was carrying some fiendish stowaways, who indicate they have the same vicious pastimes as the deadly ETs she faced in the first two films, as well as the same taste for human tartare.

Director David Fincher shows an obsession with close-ups of mangled heads, and he lets the creature be seen too much. It is most effectively terrifying when it is skulking around the air ducts, emerging only for the periodic snack. When it is clearly visible, it looks like a giant drooling cross between a lobster and a praying mantis.

First-time director Fincher keeps the light turned down annoyingly low, adding to the eerie mood but also making it tough to see what’s going on and disarming the actors who, unable to use facial expression, have only their voices with which to communicate. Weaver is nonetheless strikingly strong, not only demonstrating her commanding presence but also managing to look gorgeous even caked with dirt and turned nearly bald (to frustrate the prison’s head-louse population). The supporting cast is on the unexceptional side, though, except for Dance (White Mischief), a mysterious prison doctor. Dutton, TV’s Roc, does add a vivid, robust performance as a rapist-murderer who becomes Weaver’s ally. (R)

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