“Night of the Creeps”
Stars: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins
Writer: Fred Dekker
Dir: Fred Dekker
Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? The year was 1986. It was an OK year for horror films, if the “Friday the 13th” franchise hitting its ridiculous stage and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise really hitting its “jokey Freddy” stage tickled your fancy.
But, I peg 1986 as a death-knell for the end of decent zombie flicks (until the recent resurgence).
But not for lack of trying, that is for certain.
The early ’80s saw a few attempts, and some great successes, at continuing the genre (“The Return of the Living Dead” being the superb example), but Romero’s vastly underrated and critically-panned box office attempt with “Day of the Dead” in ’85 may have sent the zombie nation into hibernation. If the master had failed, was it all over?
Hell no; we had yet to be thrilled.
Despite his involvement with the horrid “Halloween 3,” Tom Atkins deserves your admiration. He has been involved with a plethora of horror fare (and other Hollywood landmarks such as “Lethal Weapon”) that will go down as classic. And he is, genuinely, thankful to have even a smidgeon of a fan base. After you read this review, or decide to view this film, say thank you to Tom. He is the real star and he earned it.
“Night of the Creeps” made me a “fanAtkins.”
Go ahead. Giggle. Point and stare. When your tears of laughter have subsided, rent — better yet, buy — “Night of the Creeps.”
This is not your standard zombie fare.
It is so much better.
The story begins in 1959 on the campus of Corman University (horror fans, stay tuned. This is the first of many references to genre greats). The “big dance” is coming up and the “hottest girl on campus” has found a new beau to take her to “lover’s lane” for some heavy petting. Unlucky for them, an axe-wielding maniac has just escaped from the insane asylum some 4 miles away. Young beat cop Ray CAMERON (later to become Det. Ray Cameron and embodied in Atkins) discovers the young lovers (the “hottest girl” was his at one time) parked at lover’s lane and warns them to go home.
Well, it wouldn’t be a horror film without the new dumb boyfriend of hot girl wanting to investigate the strange meteor that crashed nearby would it? (Did I forget to mention the stout aliens that open the film? Or that one rogue alien sent a strange silver cylinder to Earth? Oops).
Well, new hunky boyfriend investigates the meteor and swallows more than he can chew: you see, the beings from above are long and slug/leech-like in size and have incredible speed. They jump into each host via the biggest orifice: the mouth. From there, we learn they move in and take their baggage to the front desk — the brain.
And, right before the image of alien slugs forcing their ways into the most unpleasant of money shots leaves our thoughts, little miss “hottest girl on campus” meets with an axe to the head, thanks to the escaped killer aforementioned on the radio.
That is one hell of a start for a movie. What was described above happened in less than 10 minutes of the film’s opening. Space creatures? Axe murderers? College campus? Teen lust? Where the hell are the zombies?
Oh, my friends, they show up in good time.
Flash forward to 1986. Pledge row. Chris Romero (Lively) and J.C. “James Carpenter” Hooper are looking to become popular at Corman University by joining a fraternity. Cue the obvious outcast-nerd theme so popular with the ’80s “insert name here” films. The difference here is that Fred Dekker knows he has grasped one of the greatest and overbearing of ’80s clichés and exploits the hell out of it, with care and a wink …. And gigantic nards (anyone my age knows, or should know Dekker, from his more successful venture “The Monster Squad”).
Chris sees his personal vision of beauty across the way, Cindy Cronenberg (Whitlow), and focuses all of his energy on winning her heart. But, to introduce another recycled ’80s cliché, she is dating the “most awesome pretty boy jock on campus,” the “Bradster” as demonstrated by his vanity license plate. Bradster also happens to be the president of the coolest frat on campus. Naturally, Chris sees joining the frat as his only way to enter Cindy’s creaky mausoleum (sorry, had to). Bradster prompts Chris and his crippled sarcastic sidekick J.C. to prop up a corpse on a sorority’s lawn to scare the jeebus out of them. Chris and J.C. find a cryogenically frozen corpse in a (convenient) campus laboratory, awaken the corpse of the aforementioned “new dumb boyfriend” from the 1950s, and all hell, and the leech-like creeps, begins to break loose. Heads burst. Zombie boyfriends spew creeps with little notice. And heads roll.
What follows is an epic alien/zombie/splatter/slapstick-fest unlike anything I have seen since “Versus” mixed kung-fu theater with zombies and comedy. This beat “Shaun of the Dead” to the “ZomCom” by a full 12 years. And, in the same way that “Shaun” paid homage to the zombie genre, “Creeps” does it to nearly every single subgenre of horror. And Atkins is the incredibly flawed and loved policeman. Any man who answers a phone with “Thrill me!” has my vote for bad ass. Atkins exudes bad ass. If you do not feel his epicness, stop following this blog now, or ask Andrew why I am a moron.
I reviewed Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” (Dead-Alive) early on for this blog. And while I love that zombie film, I know “Creeps” influenced it a great deal, up to, and including, the lawnmower vs. zombie scene. And the flamethrower. And the entire assault on the sorority house, and Mr. Atkins taking on the Creeps head-to-head (giggle) in the sorority basement (please, check this film out and see if you laughed like I did when a vapid sorority girl asked for basement storage space).
They just do not make films like this anymore. While I can praise “Shaun of the Dead” with no regrets, I know this film made “Shaun” possible and plausible.
If you watch this film and hate it, please, tell me I am wrong.
And, should you decide to take that avenue, then you better fucking “Thrill me.”
Romero Rules Followed: Nearly all, except flesh-munching.
Gore factor: It goes to 11, even being an ’80s flick.
Zombies or Wannabees? I edge toward zombies. Alien brain-eating beings turning assholes into greater assholes appeal to me.
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: If you do not embrace this film, I will hate you. Pure and simple. And your mom works tricks on the docks. She screams like banshees.