Review: Night of the Creeps

JasonReviewsNight of the Creeps – 1986 – Sony

I am in utter awe of this movie. Made on six million and a prayer (like Lee Majors), Night of the Creeps was a pinnacle of genre entertainment in its time and remains so thanks to its brilliant encapsulation of all that was beautiful from the lighthearted 1980s. This grand pastiche cleverly balances sci-fi parody with zombie thrills and is more eminently re-watchable than a Barbara Steele beaver loop (from the set of Black Sunday, shot by Bava and involving several dozen gerbils… yeah, I’m a little screwed up). I am tickled pink that Sony has finally deigned to deliver this masterpiece into the clammy hands of the multitude and that such care was taken to give (sell) the fans such a fine presentation loaded with heaps of delicious extras to gush over. Hands down, this release gets my vote for “must-own of the year.”

“Thrill me!”

An alien (Green-Peace advocate?) jettisons a cylinder full of parasitic slugs from his spacecraft and sends it hurtling towards Pleasantville, U.S.A. circa 1959. As two naughty teens are “parking” at make-out point the meteoric canister zings by overhead and lands in the nearby woods prompting the red-blooded necker, Johnny, to take a looksie. Whilst he forages in the woods for the meteor, Johnny’s gal (Pam) dutifully waits in the car and overhears a radio report of an escaped axe-wielding lunatic prowling the area, and as she squirms in bench seats, the maniac slowly approaches, axe in hand, sporting suitably rabid visage. Johnny stumbles upon the ruptured cylinder and a parasitic space slug shoots from the wreckage and wriggles down his gullet at the precise moment the axe swings toward Pam’s cute golden locks…

“Screaming like Banshees!”

Flash forward to 1986, John Hughes style, and cue schlocky kegger music as two collegiate dweebs named J.C. and Chris trudge blindly ahead on their endless quest for pussy. The inept duo spy the way-too-cute belle of the ball, Cynthia, and Chris falls hopelessly in love, scheming superficial advancement to peak her interest. Some classic hijinks ensue as Chris and J.C. decide to pledge the snooty Betas and are sent forth to requisition a cadaver as part of their hazing. Said cadaver is (of course) the cryogenically frozen body of the slug-infested Johnny, who, now thawed, traipses his naked corpse about town only to spew forth his cargo of zombie-inducing parasites which scuttle their way into the unsuspecting campus population.

“What is this, a homicide or a bad B-movie?”

Enter Ray Cameron, ex-boyfriend of the axed Pam and hard-boiled homicide detective/’80s action hero, who with crumpled trenchcoat and jaded wise-cracks rattles off a string of sublimely quotable one-liners (in one of the best genre performances of the decade, courtesy of Tom Atkins). After cathartically blowing away the reanimated corpse of his sweetheart’s killer, Ray settles down for a much needed scotch and suicide only to be roused by the mewling pleas of Chris, who informs him that the campus is being overrun by zombifying parasites. Flamethrower in hand, Ray, Chris, and Cynthia battle the gathering army of space slugs while protecting sorority sisters from bad hair, a horde of zombified Beta brothers, and Gordon the zombie-cat.

“This is classic, Spanky!”

While the script is rife with satirical homages aimed squarely at everything from ’50s era sci-fi and noir to ’80s action flicks, the talented cast plays it entirely straight-faced enabling the film to work on two distinct levels: exciting horror romp and clever sci-fi send up. Made by twenty-something first-time director Fred Dekker (in the grand ol’ days before youthful first timers had MTV and CSI as their sole frame of reference) the fact that this film and his brilliant follow up, The Monster Squad (1987), were such box-office belly flops proves that ’80s audiences were not remarkably smarter than those of today (though the filmmakers were). Having the misfortune to open the same weekend as Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Creeps found its true admirers in the home-video market and became a cult smash with deserving alacrity. Several sequences remain at the top of the class with the zombie through the floorboards bit and J.C.’s spooky audio recording standing out, but the true centerpiece is the applause worthy frat-boy bus crash carnage followed by shambling resurrection. One of the greatest moments in horror entertainment, period.

“It’s Miller time!”

Genre stalwart Tom Atkins delivers a career highlight performance in one of the juiciest role ever written for genre entertainment – Detective Ray Cameron. Every time he saunters on screen he manages a perfectly delivered and suitably world-weary quip, and Dekker’s camera absolutely adores him. Ray’s ’40s era police car and living quarters festooned with detective fiction (Hammett, Chandler, and enough pulp magazines to choke a Woolrich) along with his hard drinking sensibilities are fine touches that lend a forlorn pallor to the character, but the real juice is to be found in tacit little moments that have him stopping to smell a rose or giving Chris an encouraging wink and smile. On par with Bruce Campbells’s Ash, Atkins supplies more memorable bon mots than a drunken Mencken and a coked up Robin Williams combined and is key to this picture’s upper echelon entertainment value.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!”

Robert Kerman as a patrolman?! Gregory Nicotero as an extra?! Effects wizards David B. Miller, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman as Beta zombies?! Just plain awesome! The in-jokes don’t stop there, kiddies, with cast names nodding towards many of the revered icons in ’80s horror entertainment. Cynthia Cronenberg, Chris Romero, John Carpenter Hooper, Sergeant Raimi, Detective Cameron, Detective Landis, Mr. Miner, and officers Wallace, Teague, Dante and DePalma. Throw in Corman University and a rich cameo by Dick Miller and you have a greasy-palmed fanboy’s wet dream.

“What’s the bad news?”

What? Tom Atkins doesn’t get to screen bang a hottie half his age? What was Dekker thinking? Atkins is a God and should have at least received some brief sorority house gratification for his ineffable awesomeness, but I’m just being petty now, so I digress. Jason Lively delivers a decent performance as Chris, but the role was basically tailor made for (pre-Creatine) Anthony Michael Hall. Lively gives his best, but just doesn’t have the gangly unease or quirky charm that Hall would have enriched the role with. When Chris gets the obligatory make-out session with Cynthia at the end you feel bad for her rather than good for him, which is a bit of a let down. I guess it’s because Lively looks like a sickly blowfish with bad hair (a look which compounds manifold with age) and fanboys know that the Atkins-Beast, had he survived, had Cynthia earmarked for a mustache ride to the Pleasure Dome. Unfortunately, that scene is not included on this otherwise comprehensively complete release.

Oh, and Stryper has most definitely NEVER ruled!

“Later, dude!”

Quite simply the best film that Joe Dante never made, Night of the Creeps has finally received its just desserts in this exceptional package from Sony. Anyone who doesn’t find this to be the height of horror entertainment needs to be checked for a pulse as they are surely inhabited by parasitic slugs from outer space. Or they are just dead. Better use the flamethrower on ’em, just to be sure.

Jason’s Grade: A+


5 comments so far

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  1. Great review! I saw Night of the Creeps for the first time when I was a kid. My dad had a VHS copy recorded off of a cable channel. Being a questionable parent, he let me watch whatever I wanted from a very early age and Night of the Creeps soon became a favorite. Even upon my first viewing, even before I knew that horror was a genre, even before I understood what a zombie was, I knew that this movie was something special and it’s been a big influence on me ever since.

    • Hats off to “questionable parenting” as it enabled me (age 9) to watch The Shining all alone in our spooky rented farmhouse. I am still wetting the bed from the traumas of that night…

  2. I was really looking forward to this after getting the Monster Squad dvd.

  3. “The Wolfman has nards!!!!”

    The Monster Squad is easily one of the finest adolescent horror flicks since the 50’s, so why is Fred Dekker still not making movies? The box-office failures of his two horror pics are due to extremely poor release timing, a fault of the studio, not the director, and Dekker was on the fast-track to genre super-stardom – only to be hamstrung at the gate by moronic money-men. Just imagine what he could have done with a film like Otis or Hatchet…alas, blind profit at the expense of artistic excellence – the revealing sign of our times.

  4. You know I was a little hesitant picking up the Monster Squad dvd. Make no mistake, I was going to buy it the day it was released, but I still had this nagging feeling that when I watched it again it would reek of cheese. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it aged perfectly. I also appreciated that they pulled out a number of stops for the release as well, instead of just making it a “bare bones” disc.

    As for Dekker, I must say you hit the nail on head. He should have made many, many more films. The thought that his career was 86’d by a bunch of moneygrubbing shylocks makes my blood boil.

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