Throwback Thursday: 'Night Of The Creeps' (1986)

There’s a lot of shady stuff that goes on at night.

At least, that’s if you believe everything the movies tell you. Night is where “Fright” happens, when a “Comet” will come crashing down on you, and now it’s when “the Creeps” come out. And there’s that whole issue with the “Living Dead,” of course.

“Night of the Creeps” was the feature-film debut for director , who went on to write the story for the creature-flick “House” and helm another highly-regarded horror film favorite, “The Monster Squad,” before his choice to direct “Robocop 3” in 1993 which seemingly killed his big-screen career. After taking a lengthy break, Dekker re-surfaced in the early 2000s, writing and directing multiple episodes of the television show “Star Trek: Enterprise,” but nothing he has done since the late ‘80s has even come close to holding a candle to the wonderful viewing experience that is his first film.

“NotC” is notable for not only being a willing and knowing entrant into the B-movie genre, but it’s also an earnest and light-hearted homage to the classic low-budget, campy sci-fi/horror films that came before it. The movie tells the familiar tale of “alien slugs visit Earth, infest people’s brains, and turn them into zombies,” and it does so with an odd sense of pride that the viewer can somehow actually feel permeate the film. Opening with a fun scene showing actual aliens in their spaceship, one of the little guys dumps some cargo off the ship, and that cargo finds its way to crash-land on Earth in 1959. A young man and his date see the “falling star,” and when the Dapper Dan leaves his gal-pal in the car alone so he can explore the landing site, curiosity truly does kill the cat, as not only does he become the first slug-ified victim, the lovely lady is unfortunately hacked to bits by a deranged ax murderer that had escaped the local asylum earlier that day.

See? Told you it wasn’t safe to be out at night.

The storyline cuts forward to the then-present of 1986, where two geeky guys desperate to get into a fraternity agree to visit the college medical laboratory and steal a dead body. Little do they know, the body they select from the lab’s cryogenic-stasis unit is none other than the alien-infested young man from before, and soon he thaws out and the slug-centric undead invasion is in full swing.

To paraphrase the movie’s headstrong police detective, Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins in a tour-de-force performance of riding the fine line between solving mysteries and not giving a damn about the world in general), “Thrill me…with your analysis of the film!”

The movie is incredibly entertaining from start to finish and is very high in re-watch-ability value. The cast is mostly comprised of unknown or lesser-known performers, but they all manage to do a fairly convincing job of, I believe the technical term is, “getting their acting on.” Much of the effects, including the opening with the aliens and the scenes with the zombie cats and dogs, are a little cheese-ball, but in a movie like this that presents itself right up front as a B-movie, it feels right at home. Extra credit does go to the special effects guys for making some pretty cool and gruesome-looking human zombies.

For a self-proclaimed homage to B-movies, “NotC” sure has a fair amount of originality to it. While many of the characters and situations are clear imitations or stereotypes, it’s the way these characters are fleshed out and intertwine themselves in the plot that helps put this film above many others. For example, when Chris and Cynthia (token nerd and token hot sorority girl) explain the zombie story to Detective Cameron, he recounts to them how he is also tied to the original carrier of the slug, the young man from 1959, and it’s this kind of attention to the ways that Dekker has woven the parts of the story together that give us unique content in this movie that the average B-movie just can’t deliver. Also, bonus points are given here for the imminently-quotable script, which gives us one-liners abound, far too many to list here – see the movie for yourself and get ready to start quoting!

As with the paragraph above, it’s the attention to detail in the plot that helps give the movie a far more realistic feel than many of its kitschy counterparts. We as the viewer are given direct exposure to how the story has developed across both a lot of time (from 1959 to 1986) and distance (with the scene set on the alien spaceship, which actually returns to Earth in the alternate ending of the film, available as a special feature on the DVD and Blu-Ray). Also of note is that fact that, even though the film takes place in and was shot in the ‘80s, it really doesn’t feel out-of-date when you watch it today, as many other films of the time do. Attribute this to Dekker’s solid script as well. All in all, for a movie about space slugs and zombies, not a bad score here.

In addition to being solidly written, the film looks great too. The 1959 exposition scenes are shot in black and white, with the film switching to color for the scenes in the “present.” The film is a horror-comedy that gives its audience many solid moments of each emotion. Dekker worked hard to enhance his movie based on what viewers wanted, as evidenced by the addition of the scene in the toolshed, which didn’t exist in the first cut of the film but was shot and inserted when test audiences complained about the lack of action in the movie. Finally, you can tell that Dekker is a true fan of the horror genre, and he includes many nods to his cinematic predecessors in the move: the college is called “Corman University” (as in legendary sci-fi/horror director/producer Roger Corman), and the main characters sport last names taken directly from such legends as George Romero, David Cronenberg, James Cameron, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, Steve Miner, and Sam Raimi. Neat!

For whatever reason, in many circles “Night of the Creeps” seems to fly under the radar as a horror movie, and this is a true shame because it’s a film that really does have something for everyone, and is highly entertaining to boot. I’d easily put it on a “must-see” list for any true horror fan. If you haven’t seen the movie yet – go now. You can thank me later, and you’ll be saying “Thrill me!” to your friends and family at inappropriate moments throughout the day in no time.