Greetings from the Edge!
This week on the Edge, we’ll be taking a look at something a little special and near and dear to my blackened reviewer’s heart, the 1986 horror/comedy Night of the Creeps. From the man who would go on to write and direct Monster Squad, House 2: The Second Story, and write a bunch of Tales from the Crypt episodes, as well as the upcoming The Predator ( 2018 ), Fred Dekker. So before the inevitable firestorm over The Predator ( sequel? Reboot? Whatever! ), let’s take a look at a really fun writer and director before he gets knocked back into the shadows for another decade.
Starring Tom Atkins as haunted and nihilistic detective Ray Cameron, Jason Lively as lovestruck nerd and future zombie slayer Chris, Jill Whitlow as sorority sister and definitely not damsel in distress Cynthia, Steve Marshall as cool disabled guy and world’s best roommate J.C., and Dick Miller cameoing as armory Sergeant Walt, because it’s not a real genre picture unless it has either Dick Miller, Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Campbell, or Vincent Price.
Night of the Creeps opens on the dank and foggy corridors of an alien spaceship, a squat ( and very naked! ) alien fleeing from pursuit while carrying a large sealed canister. After locking itself in, its pursuers blow a bulkhead open to get to the fugitive, but not before it’s able to launch the container out of an airlock.
Then we cut to Sorority Row at upscale Corman University in 1959 where a deranged lunatic has escaped a high security mental facility ( wow, can’t get much more trope-tastic than that! ) and just for some extra authenticity, this segment is in black and white. The canister crashes to Earth, drawing a couple from makeout point to investigate ( I sense only good things can come of this! )
Soon we have one dead sorority girl, one dead ( and brain parasite infected ) frat boy, and we jump 27 years into the future to the same university during rush week. Now thanks to a fraternity prank gone wrong, the frozen body of the infected frat boy has unleashed the alien parasites and only a suicidal cop, a lovesick college freshman, and a disaffected sorority girl can stop a horde of zombie frat rats ( in formal attire, no less ) from spreading the parasites across not only the campus but the entire world.
The effects in Night of the Creeps are, needless to say, of the practical variety, but they hold up remarkably well for a movie from the mid-eighties. We have zombies in all states of decay, creepy crawly brain slugs, flamethrowers, and more feathered hair than I am frankly comfortable with!
Night of the Creeps might be a little much for those who shy away from exploding heads and slugs worming their way into you delicious brain meats. Then again, The Walking Dead has shown that the general tolerance of the American viewing public for splattery headshots and gratuitous human on zombie violence ( Unlives matter, my friends! ) is pretty high.
Heck, even the alien ship that shows up still holds up pretty well ( sequel baiting us with a film that sadly never got made……damn it! )
If I had any complaints, it would be the weird bug eyes the fraternity bus driver makes right before he crashes. Holy shades of Total Recall, Batman! Of course, that could just be because it kinda freaks me out.
Mix one part Revenge of the Nerds, one part Lethal Weapon, and two parts Plan 9 from Outer Space, add in a judicious dash of both ’80s & ’50s cheese, and season to taste with exploding heads, flamethrowers, and alien brain slugs, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for Night of the Creeps.
Fred Dekker’s love letter to the great tropy horror classics and a hell of a fun ride in itself, Night of the Creeps not only pays tribute to the b-movie genre, but manages to encapsulate the very best it has to offer.
Sadly, Dekker (for all the fun movies he’s done) just hasn’t been a commercially successful director. I and his other fans are really hoping that his part in the upcoming Predator movie at least turns things around for him enough to start getting him some more writing work.
I almost decided to do The Monster Squad for this review, but lately that movie has seemed to have attained true cult status ( and for my money, will always be a better kids versus monsters movie than IT ) and doesn’t need my help getting some much needed recognition.
Night of the Creeps, on the other hand, because of its modest initial box office and troubled release history, has managed to fly under a lot of people’s radars. Also, the VHS cover cover that was around when I was a kid made it look more like a slasher movie than a sci-fi zombie movie. Which in the oversaturated slasher genre of the ’80s & ’90s, didn’t do it any favors.
If you like ’80s horror/comedy, Night of the Creeps belongs up there with the likes of Evil Dead 2, Fright Night, and The Lost Boys. Night of the Creeps is not a perfect movie, but its occasional roughness only adds to its charm. If you like any of the films above, I can’t recommend Night of the Creeps highly enough.
It has not only held up over time, but seemingly is more relevant to the genre culture today than when it was released in the eighties. In fact, it almost seems to be a modern film looking back in self awareness to spoof the tropes of its time with memorable characters acted by great performers not afraid to take their roles seriously and really embrace both the humor and the horror of the film.
Night of the Creeps spent decades as a hard to get video rarity, but with a recent director’s cut release on Blu-ray with the original restored ending, it’s a must see for anyone craving something a little more original in this age oversaturated by uninspired third rate zombie films.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
There are so many Easter eggs in the background of Night of the Creeps. Some of them for projects that weren’t even in the works yet when it came out. During the bathroom scene with J.C., we see “Go Monster Squad,” a reference to the 1987 film of the same name which not surprisingly was written and directed by Dekker as well.
The House Mother for the sorority also has Plan 9 from Outer Space playing on her TV when the long endured body of the axe killer breaks his way up through her floorboards.
It’s also fun to mention that Shane Black ( of Lethal Weapon fame and writer of the upcoming Doc Savage movie ) was Dekker’s roommate at the time of Night of the Creeps and that the two would stay friends for many years. Heck, they’re working on the new Predator movie together!
I’d also feel I’d done Night of the Creeps an injustice if I didn’t mention that it got in the first zombie lawn mower kill in way before Jackson’s gore fest Dead Alive ( I still can’t watch the scene with the pudding and the bursting pustule… ugggh! )
I just wanted to point out that in the opening scene on the alien spaceship that the alien trying to release the brain slugs is possessed by the parasites. You can tell by the white, glazed eyes that all the zombies have.
Oh, and since I mentioned it earlier, here’s the original VHS cover in all its unglory.
Come back next week for more sizzling cinematic sensationalism, dynamic movie mania, and filmatic fanaticism here on the Edge!