Director: Fred Dekker Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Wally Taylor Screenplay: Fred Dekker Country: USA
These days, writer/director Fred Dekker's 1986 homage to all things B-movie - which includes but is not limited to alien infestation, zombies, slugs from space, frat hijinks, silly little aliens with big heads, busted-open craniums, Tom Atkins, etc - has quite the reputation amongst genre fans. I hesitate to call Night of the Creeps a cult film, but I guess that's exactly what it is. Back in the day, it was dismissed as just another 80's shlock-horror romp and died a quick death at the box office. With the benefit of hindsight we can see why - as Dekker himself explains, there were issues with a re-shot ending that didn't play well with test audiences, and the marketing strategy was, at best, mediocre, relying on a one-sheet that bore more than a passing resemblance to the famous poster used for House. But perhaps another reason was that Night of the Creeps was too far ahead of its time. This was a good decade before the horror genre became self-aware with Wes Craven's Scream, yet Dekker did it first, creating a playful homage to the films he loved growing up. Yet the difference between Creeps and Scream is that whilst both films are consciously aware of their heritage and play up these links on the screen, Creeps relishes its origins. You get the sense watching Scream and its sequels that they're poking fun of the genre in an insulting, almost condescending way, as if they're embarrassed to be associated with the stalker/slasher films that inspired them. Creeps relishes its shlockiness, and as a result is terrific fun.
In 1959, a young college student is infected by something alien from a crash-landed pod. He's cryogenically frozen, but thawed out almost three decades later when two college students Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall), who want to join a fraternity to impress a girl named Cynthia (Jill Whitlow), break into a scientific institution to steal a body. The student gets out, and starts infecting the town. It turns out that alien slugs enter people's bodies through their mouths before zombifying them. Chris and J.C. get help from grouchy, disillusioned detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) to try to stop the infection; only problem is that it's prom night, so there are plenty of victims around.
You'd assume from the plot that the script is completely idiotic, yet that's far from the truth. The script is extremely knowing and referential (characters and locations bear the same names of some famous genre film directors such as Romero, Landis, Raimi, Cronenberg, Cameron and Corman), and the dialogue is sharp, amusing and full of great lines, most of which are given to Atkins, who spews them with vigour. Yet it never comes off as indulgent or too nerdish. This is probably because Dekker knows precisely how to pitch the material at just the right level. He keeps things breezily rolling along with a light touch. Even when things get really silly, you simply don't mind because of the level of enjoyment that permeates from the production. It's the sort of film that you can tell people had an absolute blast in making. Combine the goofy premise with good performances - there isn't a dud in the bunch - and that unmistakable 80's vibe and you have a surefire winner. The opening scenes set in the 50's and presented in black-and-white are equally as good as anything set later in the hideous, vibrant colours of the 80's. The acting, cinematography and set design is deliberately stylised in the 50's scenes, resulting in extremely effective recreations of many cliched scenes from 50's monster movies.
Jason Lively and Steve Marshall play the friends who unwittingly unleash the alien virus on the town, and they have an enjoyable, naturalistic chemistry together - you really feel like they are best friends. There are some familiar faces who pop up, including David Paymer and Dick Miller. Tom Atkins absolutely steals the show as the growling, cynical cop. But, really, this is Dekker's show. He riffs off everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jaws (there are two direct shot references to Spielberg's classic which most film-literate folk will easily spot), Night of the Living Dead, The Blob, you name it. The gore is decent for a film on a low budget, thanks to burgeoning talent such as the now legendary Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (who appear as frat guys who turn into zombies). Even though some of the effects are a little too staged and goofy, because they are practical in-camera effects they have aged quite well and add a lot to the enjoyable spirit of Creeps. There's no nasty, mean-spirited gore effects here. They're mostly of the melted and broken-open head variety, and the slug effects (including a late stop-motion scene) aren't exactly gobsmacking, but they suit the film far better than you might think.
This director's cut of Night of the Creeps has replaced the original theatrical ending with the original ending that Dekker always intended and certainly preferred. Seeing both endings, the director's cut is most certainly the way to go - as Dekker explains, the theatrical ending was forced on him and proves to be a cheap cop-out in the spirit of A Nightmare on Elm Street and all those other "the bad guy reappears in the last second" endings that were popular at the time.
Night of the Creep's growing reputation over the years has seen elements appropriated in other films - most notably James Gunn's excellent Slither - so presumably it has now truly entered the pantheon of great if overlooked 80's gems. If you love zombies, aliens and a strong 80's vibe complete with terrible haircuts, outfits and music, you may very well have found your soulmate. Night of the Creeps is certainly no great epic, nor is it award-winning material; it is, quite simply, unabashedly affectionate about its inspirations and is tremendous fun if you're a connoisseur of B-grade cinema.
Sony Pictures has released a terrific DVD package for Night of the Creeps fans. There's plenty here for those who want a detailed look at the creation and release of the film, with plenty of participation from Fred Dekker and his cast and crew.
Night of the Creeps' picture and sound quality is generally solid; there's nothing outstanding here, but it's acceptable enough for standard-def. There's a fine level of detail and grain, particularly in the black-and-white 50's scenes, and the colour in the 80's scenes is particularly strong, with the set and art direction playing up the garish art style. The audio, which features Barry de Vorzon's appropriately kitschy synth score, sounds a treat, be it the retro-stylings of the 50's scenes or the brassier music and chunky sound effects of the 80's scenes.
The disc is crammed with features. There's an audio commentary with writer/director Fred Dekker, moderated by DVD producer Michael Felsher. Dekker provides a highly informative and entertaining commentary that's virtually non-stop. He gives details on almost all aspects of the Creeps production, and his enthusiasm for the film and for genre films in general is on clear display. The second audio commentary is a cast commentary with Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow and Tom Atkins, and as is typical of cast commentaries as opposed to director commentaries, proves to be far less informative. The cast are more prone to describing what's happening on-screen rather than providing interesting anecdotes. There are still some good stories sprinkled throughout, and it's fun to hear the cast together, but if you're looking for facts about the making of Creeps you're better off with Dekker's commentary.
The much-derided original theatrical ending is on the disc, a nice addition if only to prove that the better ending is the one we got in the director's cut. There are seven deleted scenes totalling almost eight minutes. It would have been nice to have them reinstated for the director's cut, but presumably they were cut for pacing reasons and Dekker probably felt it unnecessary to include them in his preferred cut.
Running an hour, Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps is a five-part making-of featurette covering the script, production, filming, post-production and reception of the film that's a must-see for fans, with lots of informative input from Dekker and his main cast and crew. Dekker is particularly modest about his accomplishments and clearly happy about the positive reception that Night of the Creeps has received since its debut. Clearly he's disappointed that he wasn't able to make more movies in the late 80's/early 90's - his three feature film credits are Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad and the terrible Robocop 3 - but, as he says, at least he made two films that are beloved by fans rather than a series of mediocre pictures. Tom Atkins: Man of Action is an interview with the affable man. He talks about how he got into the film business, some of the films he was involved with, including the much-disliked Halloween III which Atkins recalls fondly, and how he got involved with Night of the Creeps.
Finally there's a trivia subtitle track you can run whilst you're watching the movie that pops up some interesting facts, the original theatrical trailer and trailers for other films.
Night of the Creeps is a criminally underrated B-movie homage which has now firmly established itself as a genre watermark with its goofy blend of aliens, zombies and frat boys. For those with an 80's nostalgia and fondness for practical gore effects, it's extremely entertaining, with an unexpectedly strong script and great performances, most notably a world-weary Tom Atkins. Night of the Creeps proves that you can make a fantastic film about silly stuff like alien slugs and killer zombies and not be embarrassed about it. This isn't some nudge-nudge wink-wink pisstake, it's a straight-up love letter to B-movie filmdom that deserves a wider audience.
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Originally born unto this world as Terror Australis.net back in March 2002, Digital Retribution is a proudly Australian website devoted to all things horror, cult, and exploitation that strives to promote Australian films and filmmakers while sharing its questionable taste in ultra-violent smut-laden local and international offerings with the rest of the world.