|Night of the Creeps (1986)
|Jason Lively, Jill Whitlow, Steve Marshall, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Vic Polizos, Allan Kayser and David Paymer
“Wait a minute! Is this a homicide or a bad B-movie?” – Ray Cameron
Slimy slugs from outer space find their way to Earth in 1959 and infect a human host. Fast forward to 1986 and we meet a pair of college students, Chris (Lively) and J.C. (Marshall), at the Corman University. In order for Chris to have a chance with gorgeous Cynthia (Whitlow) the pair try out for a fraternity and are told to find a corpse to lay on the doorstep of another fraternity as a prank. Chris and J.C. find a well preserved corpse (the one who got infected in 1959) and attempt to take him with them but end up running away screaming. The corpse then starts walking around before it’s head bursts open and the slimy slugs start wandering around looking for others to infect. Detective Ray Cameron (Atkins) is brought onto the scene and before long he’s up to his neck in dead bodies with burst heads. Slowly but surely a horde of killing zombies mounts and reaches frenzied heights at the night of the formal.
“Thrill me” is a line Det. Cameron says numerous times and that’s just what “Night of the Creeps” does. It’s a solid blend of unabashed homages to old B&W fright flicks and 80’s gross out gore that’s very sharply written and directed by Dekker. He certainly wears his influences on his sleeve with numerous name references to horror film directors and seems to have taken a few cues from John Hughes when creating his younger characters but he also finds a solid dramatic core with them and in particular with Det. Cameron that gives added depth to the proceedings.
Dekker has such a good feel for atmosphere and the feature is remarkably assured in tone and pace for a first time director who was only 27 at the time of it’s making. The prologue is filmed in B&W and sets the mood well for something otherworldly with a cannister arriving to Earth from a spaceship but there’s also some old fashioned suspense with an escaped lunatic who does some heavy damage. The clever script actually ties the two happenings together so there’s an emotional pay-off later on. Then we’re into the colorful mid 80’s and a healthy dose of “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) scenario in a campus where the main protagonists are introduced. The stereotypical characters, right down to the obnoxious frat boys who love tormenting the weaker ones, are energetically performed by a more than capable cast and the humor works very well.
“Night of the Creeps” is mostly comically driven, at least in the beginning, but once the threat becomes apparent there’s some grisly gore on display and a few well realized suspense set-pieces. It’s never really scary but it is well paced and has enough enjoyable lulls that add tremendously to the characters and it’s a gamble that more than pays off due to the terrific lead performers. Lively is very appealing as the awkward and shy Chris who gradually gains confidence and battles the creeps like a champ. Ditto with Marshall who’s very good as the sidekick and delivers some very funny lines (and some emotional ones too) with conviction and panache. But this really is Tom Atkins’s show all the way. The veteran performer had played a number of big and small parts in several good horror films but his Det. Ray Cameron is the best role he ever got. Dekker sure supplied him with good lines but Atkins’s delivery and committed performance, in what’s actually a fairly well written role, make sure the character is a complete success. Cameron is far from a caricature but he’s an emotionally beaten and lonely person who gets a shot of sorts at redemption and that gives him enough strength to continue. His cranky persona and endless supply of one-liners are certainly funny to watch but do not feel awkwardly placed as Atkins looks so natural in the part.
As the slasher-film phase eased out and more comically driven horror films populated the screens in the mid to late eighties a number of movies in the same vein as “Night of the Creeps” came out. This one however has aged well and remains fresh and continues to build upon it’s cult following.
“Thrill me” – it certainly manages to do that.