(Release Date: August 22, 1985)
Yes, yes, true believers, I'm talking about Night of the Creeps! YEAH! NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, BABY!!! When it comes to B-Movies, this one is an absolute classic! No, my friends, I'm not being sarcastic. This zombie comedy/ horror flick is funny in all the right places, has all the right in-jokes, all the right frights, all the right self-awareness and just the right amount of nudity. Okay, I guess it could stand to have a little more nudity.
But take note, every Smurf, the first time I saw the flick I didn't even know it had nudity. And I still dug it! See, twenty years ago before the FOX Network was the commercial powerhouse it is, their local affiliates had ass-loads of free time on their hands. Therefore my (then) local station KMSS TV 33 (I bow to thee still) managed to program more than their fair share of b-movies like Night of the Comet, Death Wish II and, of course, Night of the Creeps. Being a broadcast station, obviously the movies were both edited for television and commercial-interrupted which made some of their selections almost as unintelligible as Exorcist II. When one of these flicks was actually still cool, you knew it had to be worth seeing in real life.
And it is. Look, let's not make a Hamlet out of a It Came from Outer Space here! This is still a B-Movie beyond any question! However, this is the kind of B-Movie that is fully aware of what it is and has fun doing what it does best. Like some of the better films of the genre, it serves as both a send-up of and tribute to its brethren, all set against a very, very '80s teen-movie backdrop.
We're given a scene-setting opening that hints at the past of our cynical antihero Ray Cameron (well played by the bristly Tom Atkins). Much more than this, we're also given scenes of outer space and zombie-fighting Aliens. That particular little conflict leads to a "shooting star" landing on Earth filled with Monstrous Zombie-Making Worms! The damned thing almost lands on the head of Ray's ex-girlfriend Pam (Alice Cadogan) and her new date Johnny (Ken Heron). If only that were the worst of their problems. See, there's an escaped mental patient with an Axe stalking the same area Pam and Johnny are "parking" at.
So we're like four minutes into the film and we're already given the Horror, Sci-Fi and Slasher Genres... not to mention the Zombie Genre. Wow. You know there are entire movies that only give us one genre in their entire run time? Lazy-ass quitters.
Thirty years later we meet our lead dweebs in the form of geeky college roommates Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and J.C. Carpenter (Steve Marshall). I'll admit that I like that second guy's initials, man! Anyway, what should happen to Chris on this very night, but he lays his eyes on that one girl of his dreams that he would do anything for whether he ends up with her or not. In this case, I can hardly blame him because Jill Whitlow is totally hot and has a super-sexy voice. Her Cindy Cronenberg is, to be frank, way out of Chris' class and tends to date guys like "The Bradster" (Allan Kayser) of the most assholish of the asshole fraternities known as "The Betas". In spite of the fact that Chris would fit better in an area Star Trek episode re-enactment club than a fraternity, he decides that he has to join up to get Cindy's attention. His wise-cracking buddy J.C. (a wise-cracker named J.C.? GET OUT!) happens to be confined to crutches, figures this will prevent him from EVER getting laid and therefore he decides to help the pathetic (but really likeable) Chris.
The initiation that Brad and company pick out for them has to do with stealing a cadaver and delivering it to a rival fraternity. Somehow these two are as lucky as they are goofy, because instead of finding a cadaver, they manage to code their way into a cryogenic freezer where they find a cadaver all right... one that is inexorably linked to that falling star from the fifties that only Ray seems to know much about. What Young Scientist David Paymer soon learns is that this corpse is inhabited by quickly thawing alien worms that easily turn cadaver into zombie... and that's when all hell breaks loose!
On the bright side... (spoiler alert) Chris does manage to impress Cindy!
Over the next two days relationships will change, memories will be relived, jokes will be cracked like machine-gun fire and before long Zombies Walk the Earth... worse, a great deal of these are Frat Guy Zombies which is triply creepy.
But on the bright side, we do also get the happy half of Greek life in all of its lingerie-clad, feminine glory. Ah, yes, beautiful '80s Sorority chicks. Hel-lo, baby!
Quite a bit of this film feels like your standard '50s Alien Invasion flick like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with the "snatched" going one step further into zombie-hood. Then you've got the other dimension of this, which is your standard teen/ college sex romp flick. And then, of course, you've got your Zombie Thriller. Throw in the Space Aliens and you've got quite a blend there, buckos!
The fact that this works is a credit to writer/ director Fred Dekker, who made Night of the Creeps into what it is, not by taking so many of these somewhat diverse themes seriously, but by taking them as far away from "seriously" as he could while maintaining his intelligence. The thing is, this may well be the very reason that Fred Dekker never became quite as "big" as some of the other creators like him. Oh, he had the opportunities, but never quite the break.
Here's the truth about Night of the Creeps and Fred Dekker himself... This was an intentionally crafted "Stupid Movie" made by a man who was smarter than a lot of the people who would have seen his movies. In some ways, Night of the Creeps comes off as a really experienced joke-teller snickering at his own comedy while trying hard to figure out just how to dumb it down so the rest of us might laugh. And not all of it translates. For horror fans, the fact that characters are named Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Cronenberg, Landis, Cameron and Raimi is a treat that casual viewers might not get. The same is true for the homages herein (a certain synergy with Plan 9 from Outer Space springs to mind). These, my friends, are just the tips of the icebergs of specialized thought here. Therefore, it's easy to say that the very reasons that Night of the Creeps is so cool are the very reasons it wasn't a success. It's just esoteric enough for smart film and horror fans to get every joke and laugh with and just a smidgen too esoteric to maintain its accessibility to the dunce-caps they dragged to the theatre with them.
That said, there are a few things that didn't quite make it from Dekker's brain to the final product, either due to his budget constraints, producer restraints or his ultimate inability to properly communicate everything that HE got, but the masses might not. There are also the occasional acting issue and one or two moments in which the clichéd '80s-isms feel less like jokes and more like requirements. Once or twice the film's comical moments don't feel entirely intentional... but again, those are definitely the exception, not the rule.
Still, this is a good and underrated film. In truth, it's one that the right fan (such as myself) can watch over and over again without getting burned out. It's a quotable comedy with the right starts and scares to keep the laughs coming for what ever the reason.
Night of the Creeps is a film that was largely ignored for a number of years, along with a few other Dekker experiments (like The Monster Squad). However, after the cult appreciation of Slither (which borrowed plot-points WHOLESALE from Night of the Creeps) and after the re-discovery and deluxe treatment of The Monster Squad on DVD, Night of the Creeps is at last coming out on DVD in 2009 (just a few months too late for the Summer of Horror). Of course, if you're reading this long after that DVD came out, I guess you can ignore all this. And if so... I wonder if I'm dead. Hmmm... If so, keep the worms away from me.
Regardless, while it's been a long time coming, it must be cool for Fred Dekker to see that, yes, at last, there are tons of people who really GET what he was shooting for with his films and his cult following is growing larger now. For those of us who were fans from the beginning (or, at least, fans since the syndicated, edited for broadcast premiere on such stations as KMSS Fox 33 in Shreveport), I think we're all owed a big "I told you so!" And Night of the Creeps is owed Three and One Half Stars out of Five! True, a lot of people still might not get it, but now days films like this don't have to languish and wait for airings on local affiliates for fledgling networks to find the percentage of fans who will connect immediately. DVD is as cheap and easy as a drunk sorority girl in an '80s flick! Hey, if you're a fan of WorldsGreatestCritic.com and haven't seen Night of the Creeps, don't miss that DVD when it become readily available in October of 2009! This might be right up your alley. In the mean time, I urge you to watch this film streaming (legally) online at Fear.net. No, it's not the greatest movie ever made, but it's a lot of fun if you're the right kind of fan. So until those Aliens from HULU succeed in rotting our brains, my worm friends and I will follow you to the next reel!
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