Night of the Creeps (1986)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Starring: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Allan Kayser, Dick Miller
1/2 (out of 4)
What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?
- Detective Cameron
Actually, Night of the Creeps is a good B-movie; perhaps even some kind of B-movie masterpiece that is, along with Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, one of the best remakes of Plan 9 from Outer Space ever made. No surprise that in the middle of the movie, before a sorority house mother is murdered by an axe-wielding zombie that chops through the floorboards, she is watching Ed Wood’s infamous cheesefest on the television. Taking that film’s story about the dead rising from the grave through alien influence (but in this case, it’s accidental – an experiment of space slugs never meant for Earth), Fred Dekker also pulls elements from modern-era zombie films, 80s teen romance, hard-boiled detective stories, and science fiction. For finishing touches he adds body-invasion horror and switches up the Romero metaphors, making his target the conformity of the college Greek life instead of consumerism. That Dekker (who also gave us The Monster Squad) loves to wear his horror influences on his sleeve is as obvious as the names he gives his characters: Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Landis, Raimi, Cronenberg, Cameron. Night of the Creeps is infused with a fanboy’s giddiness and enthusiasm for the genre, drawing historical timelines from the old school (as seen in a black-and-white 50s sequence) to the new, and showing that they aren’t as far removed from each other as we think they are.
The beginning of Night of the Creeps is totally Star Wars, as a funny little pudgy white alien dodges laser fire and launches an experimental tube of slugs from a spaceship hatch. Naturally, it lands on Earth, where it’s the 1950s and rookie cop Ray Cameron is depressed about a breakup with his sweetheart. Trouble arrives in twos, as the poor girl is an unfortunate victim of an escaped serial killer with an axe, while her date swallows a slug and subsequently gets sent into the local university cryogenics program (didn’t all colleges have one back then?) In present day 1986, Chris (Jason Lively, from National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and J.C. (Steve Marshall) try to win the attention of cute sorority girl Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) by rushing for the Beta fraternity, run by top-of-the-line model 80s asshole Brad (Allan Kayser). Brad sends them on a mission to find a corpse to dump on a rival frat’s doorstep, which naturally leads the pair to the secret cryogenics lab on campus. Soon, the “corpsicle” is reanimated, walking around and spewing icky slugs into other people’s mouths, where they lay their eggs in the brain of the unfortunate victims. Following the trail of bodies is Detective Cameron, now grown up into B-movie maestro Tom Atkins (again, “The Man“), who has been walking around with the memory of his girlfriends murder and the guilt of taking out her killer with a 12-gauge and burying him underneath what is now the sorority house mother’s cottage. By the end of the film, will we see Cameron’s redemption, the comeuppance of the Betas, and Chris getting the girl? You bet we will, and we’ll have a lot of fun doing it.
Dekker gives his characters, Cameron especially, a supernatural self-awareness that they are inside a B picture, way before Craven did it with Scream. Atkins’ self-mocking dialogue seems to suggest his character knows the absurdity of what he is involved in, but he tackles the role enthusiastically, as does Lively and Marshall, who are very likable. (The fate of the Marshall and Atkins characters are actually very moving, a testament to their performances). The comedic aspects of the picture soon make way for a zombie/slug faceoff that sports a most impressive display of gross-out effects and makeup. There’s a sequence where an entire bus of frat boys on their way to the formal crashes, resulting in an assault on the sorority house by a group of aggressive slug-heads, defended by a geek and a flame thrower; it’s hard not to read into that a love of the little guy and a dislike for the brainless conformity (which is infectious, of course). The movie never really takes its tongue out of cheek, happy to hang out in B section (ooh, is that Corman and Dante favorite Dick Miller in a cameo?), but like all good low budget films, its inventiveness is apparent – I like, in particular, the way the alien language in the beginning is subtitled both in English and their own tongue. (There’s also a gag about how people sometimes don’t look at each other when they interact, which is how some zombies can walk around without being noticed.) I admit that part of my admiration for Night of the Creeps could be nostalgia, but I think it still stands today as a fun horror/comedy blend that I can’t foresee being duplicated anytime soon. I think it’s one of the best B films of the 1980s.
- Bill Gordon
The new DVD Release of Night of the Creeps offers the following extra features:
- Featurette: “Birth of Creeps” featuring Dekker talking about the origins of the project
- Featurette: “Cast of the Creeps” featuring Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow
- Featurette: “Creating The Creeps” featuring interviews with SFX creators David B. Miller and Robert Kurtzman
- Featurette: A special Tom Atkins centric piece called “Tom Atkins: Man of Action”
- Featurette: “Escape of the Creeps” a detailed look at the post-production.
- Deleted scenes
- Commentary with Fred Dekker
- Commentary with Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins
- The original theatrical ending
- Footage from the Cast and Crew reunion screening at the Alamo Drafthouse.
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