ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Night of the Creeps (1986) Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka!)
They came from outer space
This sci-fi/B-movie/horror parody begins aboard a spaceship, as two armed aliens chase another of their kind who has stolen a mysterious capsule. Unfortunately, they are too late to prevent the fugitive from launching it into space. It lands on Earth, in a small American town circa 1959. A young couple watch from their convertible as it blazes a trail overhead and lands in a nearby wood. When the boyfriend goes to investigate, he discovers the capsule lying there, smashed open. A small leech-like creature suddenly emerges from within and flies into his mouth. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, who is waiting alone in the car, is being watched intently by a man with a huge axe…
Fast-forward to 1986, where we meet shy University student Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his wisecracking, crutch-bound best buddy, James Carpenter Hooper, or J.C. for short (Steve Marshall). Chris is hopelessly infatuated with pretty fellow student Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). However, since he’s too socially anxious to actually strike up a conversation with her, they opt to attempt to get initiated into the popular Beta Epsilon fraternity, whose jock president Brad (Allan Kayser) is her boyfriend.
Brad decides to give them a rather awkward task in order to prove their loyalty: they must steal a cadaver and dump it on the front porch of a rival fraternity. When they break into the institution’s science lab, they find one cryogenically frozen in a glass tube. However, soon after opening it to take it with them, they run away scared because they are convinced that they saw it move.
Later that night, the same corpse walks up to the all-girl sorority house where Cynthia is staying and climbs up to her window. As it peers in, its head splits open to unleash a number of the leech-like creatures. It then collapses, lifeless, on the front porch. After this unnerving incident, the police - headed by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) - are called in to investigate. Both Brad and the police are convinced that our hapless heroes carried out this prank. It soon becomes clear, however, that the living dead are real - and rapidly multiplying in number.
Watch a trailer:
A neat homage to umpteen different genres
Night of the Creeps was the directorial debut of Fred Dekker, who also wrote the script. It’s an affectionate, gory but lightweight homage to 1950s B-movies, science fiction, zombie movies, slasher flicks, National Lampoon’s Animal House style frat house comedies, film noir and so on. Nerdish references abound, ranging from Plan 9 from Outer Space footage showing on a background television, to the surnames of the characters being based on various popular genre directors. Muscular, silver-haired actor Tom Atkins made his name via the likes of John Carpenter-directed The Fog and Escape from New York, as well as the Carpenter-produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch. There are even cameos by Dick Miller, a colourful character actor who popped up in countless Roger Corman productions as well as a number of Joe Dante’s films, and Robert Kerman, a predominantly porn actor who also appeared in some Italian cannibal flicks.
While it wasn’t a big box office success at the time, it has managed to garner a modest cult following since then. It’s not hard to see why; while it’s a fairly predictable and even corny affair, it has been assembled in such an accomplished and affectionate manner that it’s hard to dislike. The 90-minute runtime seems to fly by in practically no time at all. The effects - ranging from the space-based opening sequence to the gruesome shots involving the “creeps” bursting out of zombie heads - are handled superbly, especially given the relatively small budget of $5 million. Dekker’s approach to writing and directing displays a sharp wit and economy which is evident throughout in both the line delivery and camerawork. The finale is loaded with tension and excitement as our heroes fend off the inevitable horde of the undead.
That said, horror-comedy fusions of this ilk were so ubiquitous during the mid-1980s that it isn’t terribly surprising that Night of the Creeps initially got overlooked. When placed amongst Gremlins, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Fright Night, House, Critters and so on, any film along the same lines would have a hard time standing out from the crowd. In truth, while Night of the Creeps is a fun time, it offers little to really distinguish itself from the others I have mentioned, with one notable exception in the shape of Tom Atkins. Here, he’s such a cynical, stoic, carved-in-granite figure that he effortlessly carries the whole frothy genre blend on his broad shoulders. While the rest of the film feels oh-so-1980s (from the colourfully-attired teen characters to the new wave pop soundtrack), he seems to have wandered in from that classic Hollywood cinematic universe which was inhabited by the fedora-wearing likes of Humphrey Bogart. While the younger cast members are perfectly decent, Atkins is the true star here.
If you’re a fan of genre cinema (especially classic horror and science fiction films), then you will find Night of the Creeps to be a satisfying and fast-paced 90 minutes.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Fred Dekker
Script: Fred Dekker
Starring: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Allan Kayser, Dick Miller
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The picture looks almost perfect with fantastic, warmly nostalgic colour grading and sharp detail throughout. The soundtrack is clear and suitably rousing here.
Fred Dekker Commentary
Michael Felcher interviews the director for this entertaining commentary track. Dekker is refreshingly honest as he points out scenes which, if he had the opportunity, would go back and improve. These include a few micro-moments which I didn’t notice on first viewing, such as a newspaper headline referencing a headless corpse (the head was split open but not missing from the body) and a couple of brief shots featuring an obvious puppet dog. Most of the film was shot around the real-life Sorority and Fraternity Rows on the campus of the UCLA (which Dekker himself had graduated from), as well as at an old Woolworths building which was about to be torn down.
The zombie attack in the shed was added after a preview version was deemed to have too little action. The version of the film presented on this disc is a special “director’s cut” which was also previously shown on TV. The original theatrical release and earlier home viewing versions featured a different studio-forced ending. Dekker admits that this was his fault because he showed preview audiences an early iteration lacking the final visual effects, which meant that nobody understood what his intentions were vis-à-vis the originally-planned final scene.
Watch out for a reference to Dekker’s subsequent film - The Monster Squad - amongst the graffiti in the washroom attack sequence. It was already in the pipeline when Night of the Creeps was being filmed.
Actors Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins and Jason Lively banter their way through the film. It’s a lively enough commentary but tends to go for wisecracks related to the on-screen activity rather than anything really insightful. If you only listen to one of these commentaries, it’s best to go for the Fred Dekker version instead.
Thrill Me: The Making of Night of the Creeps
This hour-long documentary appears to be a string of archive featurettes glued together, which cover various aspects of Night of the Creeps including how Fred Dekker got the ideas of the script, cast interviews, the creating of the SFX and the film’s disappointing box office performance/subsequent cult following. While there’s a slightly irritating motif of a CGI creep slithering across the background during a few of the interviews, it’s still a solid enough extra. The best segment here is the one which discusses the special effects.
Dekker mentions that the script came from a love of sci-fi and horror B-movies since childhood. While the idea of a film combining tropes and elements from these films had been simmering in his head for some years, he only began writing the screenplay in earnest when the iconic line “thrill me” (the most memorable maxim from Detective Ray Cameron, played by Tom Atkins) came to him in a dream. To save time and money casting, most of the Beta jocks who turn into zombies near the end were played by the makeup effects artists themselves. The “creeps” moved across the ground either via motorised slot cars which were glued underneath or (during shots when they traversed grass rather than concrete) by pulling them along with strings. The FX shots of creeps bursting from zombie heads were achieved by pushing them out with a plunger.
Tom Atkins: Man of Action
Detective Ray Cameron himself makes for charming company as he talks us through his film career. One thing which he mentions (unrelated to Night of the Creeps) is that, when he went to the casting call for Creepshow, he wanted to play the titular role in the The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill segment. Unfortunately, since Stephen King had already snaffled that part, he was cast instead as the villainous father in the wraparound segment. It’s a shame, since it would have been interesting to see the laconic Atkins instead of the wildly overacting King in what remains the weakest link in George Romero’s otherwise highly entertaining anthology!
Interview with Fred Dekker
While there’s a fair amount of overlap here with the commentary and making of, the early section of this interview is interesting because Dekker discusses some of his pre-Night of the Creeps attempts to get his script ideas off the ground. He wrote several screenplays which never got the green light and even created five minutes of 16 mm footage for a proposed science fiction film called Baton (a brief snippet of which is seen here). While it never got made, some ideas from it were included in Night of the Creeps.
The seven deleted scenes here are well worth going through for some priceless dialogue and visual gags. There is some more great footage with Tom Atkins as well as an extended version of one of the 1959 scenes, featuring the boyfriend breaking the ice with his date via the line “I didn’t know Grace Kelly was a Kappa Delta!”
Original theatrical ending
It’s a mean-spirited conclusion which the director himself dislikes - and I’m inclined to agree with him.
As per usual with Eureka Entertainment releases, we also get a trailer and enclosed booklet.
There’s plenty of enjoyment to be gleaned from this zippy, unpretentious 1980s horror-comedy. The disc looks and sounds great too.