Do you love vintage 1950’s monster B-films? Maybe you loved Them, The Blob, or The Thing From Another World. If not, you know who loves these movies? Director Fred Dekker, the man who gave us The Monster Squad. His 1986 monster movie, Night of the Creeps, is a ‘love letter’ to the era of drive-in monster movies. Part zombie movie, part alien invasion movie, Night of the Creeps was criminally unappreciated upon its release.
In 1959, alien parasites crash land on earth, infecting an escaped ax murderer. Flash forward to 1986 where college student Chris Romero crushes on sorority girl, Cynthia Cronenberg. With the help of best friend, J.C. Hooper, Chris pledges a fraternity to impress Cynthia. But an initiation ritual goes horribly wrong when Chris and J.C. inadvertently release the cryogenically frozen ax murderer from a college science laboratory. Now alien slugs that turn their hosts into zombies are crawling across Corman University.
Night of the Creeps Pays Homage To Its Source Material
Fans of vintage 1950’s B-horror movies will find lots to appreciate in Night of the Creeps. Straight out of the gate, director Fred Dekker references classics like It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Though it mixes zombie and slasher narratives, Night of the Creeps is wrapped in ‘50’s alien invasion conventions. Aside from some minor quibbles, Dekker fuses these divergent styles quite well. Yes, some of the raunchy ’80’s sex comedy bits don’t always work well with the movie’s hokey style. But this is an 80’s horror movie, and Dekker doesn’t allow these elements to overtake the tone. In many ways, Night of the Creeps is a meticulously crafted postcard of a bygone style of moviemaking.
Astute horror fans will also revel is all the shout out’s to genre legends.
Astute horror fans will also revel in all the shout out’s to genre legends. As a filmmaker, Dekker clearly both knows and loves the horror genre. First, Dekker coins his college, Corman University, a nice reference to B-movie master Roger Corman. Nearly all the main characters are named after horror movie directors and personalities. There are references to George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, Steve Miner, John Landis, and Sam Raimi. Sidekick J.C. Hooper’s full name – James Carpenter Hooper, a nice mix of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. These little ‘Easter Egg’s are nice, small touches in a movie that effectively balances competing styles.
Dekker Mostly Balances Humor and Horror
If Night of the Creep’s nostalgic tone doesn’t turn off some horror fans, its jokey approach may not be to all tastes. While Dekker balances humor and horror better than a lot of movies. Be forewarned – Night of the Creeps leans more on its humor. Unlike The Evil Dead or Drag Me To Hell, Dekker doesn’t throw quite as much blood-spurting gore at the screen. But there’s still enough oozing slug action and splitting heads to entertain horror fans. Keep in mind that this is a lower budget movie that intentionally trades B-movie aesthetics. As such, the practical effects have a hokey feel that immediately peg them to 80’s horror.
…Dekker frequently slows things to allow his characters and their relationships to take centre stage.
Arguably, Dekker most clearly distinguishes his movie with its surprising emotional core. Contrary to expectation, Dekker frequently slows things down to allow his characters and their relationships to take centre stage. No, Night of the Creeps isn’t a sweeping drama. But for a horror-comedy infatuated with 50’s B-movies, you may be surprised to find yourself invested in the characters. Horror fans more accustomed to contemporary music video-style editing may find the movie takes too much time to get where it’s going.
Night of the Creeps Finds Character Tom Atkins in Fine Form
Detective Cameron: I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are are here.
Sorority Girl What’s the bad news?
Detective Cameron: They’re dead.
If you’re a horror movie fan, you know Tom Atkins. The veteran character actor appeared in several John Carpenter movies including The Fog, Halloween III, and Escape From New York. He’s also turned up in Maniac Cop and the My Bloody Valentine remake. Though the rest of the cast is perfectly fine, Night of the Creeps is clearly Atkins’ show. In a fun movie, Atkins is clearly having a blast with the material. He balances macho bravado with deadpan delivery, making his Detective Cameron a criminally underappreciated horror protagonist. Atkins gets the best dialogue and makes it even better. In many ways, it’s a career-defining role for the character actor. And it’s a performance that elevates what’s already a fun movie.
Night of the Creeps a Deserving Cult Classic
Upon its release, Night of the Creeps failed to make much of an impression in a crowded 80’ horror market. Yet genuinely good movies always manage to find an audience. VHS and now re-mastered Blu-ray releases have helped Fred Dekker’s nostaglic horror-comedy find new fans. Older horror fans can be forgiven for missing out on Night of the Creeps, but it’s never too late to see this cult classic out.