Night Of The Creeps

Director: Fred Dekker                           
Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

Poor Tri-Star. Once a big studio, now it's just a handy trademark Sony uses to slap on Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, straight to video films, and other movies they have little confidence in. But back in its glory days, Tri-Star was the studio that came out of nowhere and had a successful run before being swallowed up. In its earlier years, they made a number of Everything was more black and white in those days small gems that I don't think the other studios back then - certainly not now - would make. Night Of The Creeps was one of these movies. It hardly made a blip when it was released, despite it being much more entertaining than a lot of the other big studio movies surrounding it at the time. The saddest thing about this movie is not that it's been neglected, but nobody (at least in the major studios) would make a movie like this today. It takes its time, has references the suits would fear that no one would see, and too complex for a marketing department. Too bad.

But what is really special about this movie is the feeling of joy. It's obvious from the first few minutes that this movie was made by people who not only love making movies, but have a great deal of affection for the horror and science fiction genres. The two friends ponder what's worse - Creeps, or being stuck in the '80s So much so, that we don't just get two prologues, but two radically different ones. We start on a spaceship, where we see an alien jettison a canister after we learn that aliens have swear words in their vocabulary. Then we cut to earth in 1959, and it's here that the movie really starts to show how much work and detail has been put into it. With its black and white photography, carefully selected songs on the soundtrack, even right down to the haircuts and lingo, this second prologue has a wonderfully nostalgic atmosphere to it, capturing the feel of the era excellently.

Not long after this second prologue has started, there's a neat nod to that decade's The Blob when Corman University student Pam and her boyfriend John see what appears to be a meteor crash into the nearby woods. Not long after John leaves the car to check to see what landed in the trees, the already creeped out Pam hears on the car radio about an ax murderer who has just escaped from the nearby asylum! ("Can we go back now?" she calls to him. "I'll even let you fondle my dress!")

Soon John discovers to his horror - and Pam discovers to her horror - that...well, I won't tell you, except that I was delighted to discover that it was clear this movie was going to cheerfully bring in everything but the I put this picture here on purpose, in order to piss off cat lovers kitchen sink. Then the movie jumps to Corman University in 1986 during pledge week, where we meet the geeky Chris (Lively) and his friend J.C. (Marshall) trying desperately to get women to talk to them, and decide that joining a major campus fraternity will make them chick magnets. Their initiation requires them to place a corpse on the steps of a rival fraternity, and their subsequent attempt to do so not only connects to those horrible events of 1959, but unleashes a wave of bizarre horror surpassing everything that happened that fateful night....

Although ostensibly a horror movie, the movie makes it clear to us right from the start that it's not taking things seriously, and neither should we. In fact, much of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny, with the kooky characters spouting off one hilarious remark after the other. Most of the funny dialogue goes to Marshall; he's very good, not only funny, but he makes J.C. a character with some depth. Though J.C.  says one corny remark after the other, Marshall manages to hint of J.C. self loathing, obviously because the disabled character must get around by crutches. Though Lively doesn't have that much golden dialogue (though has the movie's funniest one-liner when his character is confronted by some pissed frat boys), he makes Chris funny by performing as an utter geek - and a likable geek.

But it's Tom Atkins, playing the eternally grouchy detective investigating the bizarre occurrences on campus, who steals the show. After his hilarious introduction, he wanders in and out of the movie, saying Tom Atkins joins the Oliver Reed club unforgettable one-liners like, "Am I going to pay poo patrol with your nightstick?" I won't forget when, after taking shotgun in hand to save the day, he screams his battle cry of, "IT'S MILLER TIME!" Incidentally, the last name of Atkins' character is Cameron, and other characters have similar in-joke names like Cronenberg and Raimi. Dick Miller, veteran of many cheesy horror movies, has a cameo. There's extremely gratuitous nudity. There are some of the goofiest monsters (and attack sequences) ever to be found in a major studio movie, with the highlight being the climactic monster attack. Though I won't spoil it by telling you what happens, I must point out that I'm pretty sure that Dead Alive director Peter Jackson saw this movie before making his epic, because there are a few similarities in both movies' climaxes - including the creative use of a lawnmower.

This movie is very funny, but it's not called Night Of The Creeps for nothing - there are some creepy moments here and there. There are some pretty disgusting moments as well, and there is one sequence that is actually sad. Getting back to those disgusting moments for a moment, sure, your first instinct may be one of disgust, such as with the discovery of the sorority cat. But a few seconds after seeing the grossness, you realize just how You'd look strange, too, if you had an electric light stuck in the side of your head silly, just how ludicrous what you just saw was. So you can't help but laugh after being slightly nauseated. As for that sad scene - yes, it's sad, but it also gives the movie heart. Although we were having a good time before this scene, the sad news makes us really care not just for the movie, but for these characters. Other horror comedies wouldn't stop for a minute to make us think a little bit, and this is just one of the many ways Night Of The Creeps is a really exceptional movie. It's by no means perfect (there are, for one thing, clear signs some key footage was taken out during the final edit), but it's like a good friend you love despite his shortcomings.

NOTE: I've seen this movie both on video and on TV. The TV footage cuts out the swearing, nudity, and gore, but has a different (and better) ending the director intended for the movie. (Tri-Star forced him to film a more conventional ending for the theatrical/video cut.) So seek out both versions.

Also reviewed at: Cold Fusion Video

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See also: Invader, Revenge Of The Teenage Vixens..., Robotrix