It is fascinating to me when artists incoporate the culture of their formative years into their current work. Think about how Stephen King often sets his books in the 1950s and early 1960s, the period in which he was growing up. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas transformed their love of the serials from the 1940s into the Indiana Jones franchise. A great many of the things I loved as a kid in the 1980s and ‘90s from The Wonder Years to Stand By Me were made by artists who had a nostalgic love for things in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams and the Duffer Brothers have incorporated their love of the 1980s into their work. Where it really gets interesting is when we start consuming art that was made in the 1980s but was clearly influenced by the 1950s. We are then viewing the art that was made in decades prior to now that was paying homage to art that was made decades prior to that. It is like viewing a prism through another prism.
Night of the Creeps is a horror/comedy that was made in 1986 that pays homage to the low budget science fiction films of the 1950s. It was written and directed by Fred Dekker who helped write House, wrote and directed The Monster Squad (another horror/comedy hybrid that turns a nostalgic eye to an earlier time period), and was on his way to a nice little career making movies until he took the reigns of Robocop 3, which completely bombed and helped push the already struggling Orion studio into oblivion.
But back to the movie at hand. Night of the Creeps begins with its influences - on board an alien spaceship in 1959. We see two aliens chase after another one who throws a canister into space where it lands on Earth. Two teenagers out for a night of necking see it fall and the boy investigates, leaving the girl to get hacked to death by an axe-wielding, escaped mental patient. The dude doesn’t fare much better as the alien canister opens sending slug-like creatures into his mouth where they will lodge into his brain.
Fast forward to 1986 and we find two college dweebs, Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall), bemoaning the state of their love lives. Chris falls instantly in love with the beautiful Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) whom he sees at a sorority party. He’s too shy to talk to her but figures if he joins up with the Beta fraternity, she’ll definitely notice him. The jock frat boys tells our heroes that if they steal a corpse from the university medical center and place it on the lawn of the rival frat house, they will totally let them join the frat. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. The head frat dude, Brad (Allan Kayser), also happens to be dating Cynthia. But after he kicks the crutches out from under J.C., she ditches him. Looking for the corpse they hope will bring them closer to winning the girl, the boys bumble into a secret lab and accidentally release the slug-swallowing kid from the 1950s who has been cryogenically frozen. Terrified, the boys run but the frozen guy wanders about town zombie-like, releasing the no-longer-dormant slugs into the wild where they begin infecting more people and making more slugs.
Enter Detective Cameron (a glorious Tom Atkins), a hard-boiled cop who just happens to have a connection to the 1950s axe-murdering spree, which has left him more than a little untethered. He chomps cigarettes, gets down to business in a flash, and spats out most of the film’s best one-liners. He's introduced in a dream sequence in a scene lifted straight out of Jaws with hm sitting on a beach watching the axe-murdered girl coming out of the water, shark like.
Pretty quickly, the slugs have penetrated most of the frat boy,s turning them into mindless zombies and - surprise - no one can tell the difference. In one of the film’s best scenes, Cynthia takes Brad aside to gently break up with him never noticing he’s been zombie-fied. Lots of head exploding and slug burning ensues.
Made on a relatively robust budget of $5 million (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, for example, came out the same year and was made for $6 million), Night of the Creeps made almost none of that back. It was a monster bomb with both critics and at the box office. It has since become something of a cult classic. It is the sort of film that had it ran on late-night cable when I was a teenager I would have been obsessed with. Judging by some of the comments online, it apparently did have a good run on late-night TV but it must have been on a station I didn’t get or at a time when I was either too young or grown past such things.
It is, in a word, not good. But also kind of endearingly fun in a 1980s horror/comedy way. It looks good. The effects mostly hold up and the cinematography is way better than this type of film needs. The script is cheese-balls, especially the budding romance, but it has a silly charm, and Tom Atkins delivers his lines as only Tom Atkins can. Dekker’s direction could graciously be called workmanlike and the less said about most of the acting the better. It delivers what one expects from a 1980s horror film paying homage to the b-movie films of yesteryear. If you like that sort of thing, then this film is right up your alley. I’m happy to be adding it to my collection.
Scream Factory presents Night of the Creeps with loads of extras in a two-disk set. Disk one features the theatrical version of the film plus deleted scenes, trailers, a five-part documentary on the making of the film, and a nice retrospective on Tom Atkins’s career. Disk two features the director’s cut of the film, which includes a new alternate ending, plus a look at the film’s locations, two audio commentaries (one featuring Dekker, the other starring actors Tom Atkins, Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, and Jill Whitlow), and all new interviews with the actors and editor Michael N. Knue.
Night of the Creeps is a totally '80s horror comedy that delivers exactly what you expect from that sort of thing and not a drop more. Scream Factory has ported over the (very nice-looking) audio/visual transfer from a previous release and most of the extras too. But it has both endings and a few new interviews. If you are a fan of USA Channel's Up All Night type films full of blood, boobs, and laughs, then this release is perfect.
The Night of the Creeps (Collector's Edition) comes to Blu-ray on June 25.