Night of the Creeps Review
Night of the Creeps (1986) became comic book fanboyFred Dekker’s first stab at directing, proving to be an affectionate pastiche of all the weird and wonderful creature features that he adored whilst growing up. There’s an opening scene that sees a pair of alien creatures scurry around their craft, chasing another before it hurriedly launches a mysterious capsule deep into space. Sporting a permanent grimace, they look like rubbery rejects from a bad Charles Band B-movie, setting the tongue-in-cheek tone for what to expect.
The film cuts to Los Angeles in 1959 – a sequence presented in stark black-and-white, as a pair of young college lovers witness a bright light and an object crash landing in the distance. Being an inquisitive type, he heads off to investigate and, in the process, gets infected by something quite unpleasant. Meanwhile his date is left in peril as an axe wielding maniac lurks in the vicinity – which has more relevance later in the story. As openers go, this is nothing short of eventful.
Flashing forward to the present, or 1986 in this case, it’s Pledge Week for the fraternity crowd as the narrative seemingly veers into John Hughes territory. We’re introduced to uber-nerd Chris (Jason Lively) and his wisecracking best buddy J.C. (Steve Marshall). Awkward Chris continually admires popular sorority girl Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) from afar, recognising his chances of a hot date are less than slim - he’s just not "in" with the cool crowd. Besides, as they observe, she’s already seeing that bozo “with one continuous eyebrow”. If Chris thinks college life sucks, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
If he’s ever going to be accepted by the guys at Beta house, Chris must take part in the obligatory prank, set to him by preening frat bully Brad (Allan Kayser). The challenge finds gullible Chris and J.C. breaking into a local research facility. At this point, those with an enquiring mind may ponder why laboratories in movies all seem to have the most appalling security, especially if they are harbouring a dark secret. Nevertheless, with relative ease the boys gain access to a locked room and manage to thaw a body that had been frozen for quite some time - or since 1959 to be precise, unwittingly both resurrecting the corpse and letting loose a slug-like parasite in the process.
The campus is soon overrun by fast-moving slithering critters, which have an uncanny knack of propelling themselves into the mouth of anyone standing too close, transforming their unsuspecting host into the walking dead. With the fraternity gradually turning into shuffling zombies, Chris realises that he has to step-up to the challenge of stopping this menace and save the girls over at Kappa Delta - but he’s going to need a little help from some unlikely allies.
Night of the Creeps has a goofy charm that leans more towards Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) than any of the deeper allegorical output of George Romero or visceral body horror of early David Cronenberg. That doesn’t stop Dekker referencing these and other cult directors, by cheekily naming characters after them, so we get Sgt. Raimi, Detective Landis and so forth. We’re even treated to a fleeting cameo from Corman regular Dick Miller. There’s plenty of splatter and icky head-splitting mayhem here to satisfy genre fans – some of it none too convincing, showcasing some early work by FX gurus Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger.
There are some priceless moments, such as when none of the sorority girls notice Brad’s sudden pallor and lumbering gait, talking to him exactly as normal. As with Wright’s later zom-com, this is a film where our protagonists seize whatever is at hand to defend themselves – watch out for a bravura attack by lawn mower. If Whitlow’s transformation from meek student to flame thrower wielding heroine doesn’t stick in the mind, Tom Atkin’s brilliantly funny turn as hardboiled cop Cameron serves as a definite highlight. He’s a trench coat wearing detective who suffers flashbacks and thought he’d seen everything, but now struggles to make sense of the lunacy unfolding around him. He gets all the best lines too, at one point aiming his gun at one of the undead and declaring “It’s Miller time!” This B-movie mashup may not be high art, but with a likeable cast and plenty of delicious black humour, it’s well worth seeking out.
Night of the Creeps has not been available in the UK since 1987, when it had a very low-key video rental release from CBS. Like Dekker’s second film, The Monster Squad (1987), this also flopped in the US, but later acquired a loyal cult following. Following demand, it was later released on Blu-ray in the US during 2009 by Sony.
The film finally arrives on disc in the UK courtesy of Eureka! in a dual format edition. Originally rated 18 for its fleeting cinema and video release in the UK, the film has been recently downgraded to a 15 certificate. Clearly the BBFC now recognise the general comic tone, with the most horrifying aspect now being those dated eighties fashions. The 1080p image, properly framed at 1.85:1, looks suitably bright and clean. There’s an appreciable amount of detail, while retaining some filmic grain (more prevalent in the opening sequence). If some of the skin tones look a little pallid, that’s excusable in this case as they’re zombies after all. Overall, the HD presentation is a marked improvement compared to an earlier DVD edition released in the US nearly 10 years ago.
There are two audio options: LPCM Stereo and a remixed DTS-HD 5.1 track. For such a low budget film, the sound mix is highly atmospheric and really serves the film well. From subtle noises like steam escaping from a vent, to the thunderous boom of a shot gun blast or the squishy creature FX, this all comes through highly effectively. Dialogue is also distinct throughout with no discernible issues.
There are also two commentary tracks: the first with writer / director Fred Dekker and a second with principal cast members. English subtitles have been included and there is also a second track of trivia subtitles
Most of the supplementary material provided here has been ported over from Sony’s 2009 US release:
Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps (59:46) - A comprehensive five-part documentary covering the film’s evolution, with contributions from key players. These include the main cast members, director Fred Dekker, producer Charles Gordon, editor Michael Knue and composer Barry De Vorzon. The personable Jason Lively chats about his role, along with co-star Steve Marshall and a bubbly Jill Whitlow. I can only remember Lively for one other role besides this, playing Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985). It appears that he largely gave up acting in the mid-nineties, so you may now be more familiar with Lively’s younger half-sister Blake – recently seen in Paul Feig’s entertaining A Simple Favour (2018). Highlights of this doc are some recollections of the FX crew, including KNB’s Howard Berger, who had to come up with some inventive creations to a very tight schedule.
Tom Atkins: Man of Action (19:59): The charismatic Pittsburgh-born star explains how he got into the business, from first treading the boards during the sixties in New York, getting a small role in Sinatra’s The Detective (1968) that provided his big screen debut, then a regular spot starring opposite raspy-voiced David Janssen in the seventies TV series Harry O’. Atkins, now in his eighties, admits that he has frequently been cast in detective roles over the years because of his appearance. He also became a regular on films directed by the late great George Romero - described here as a “terrific guy” and John Carpenter. Atkins goes on to mention his role in William Peter Blatty’s remarkable The Ninth Configuration (1980), filmed in Budapest and Hungary, describing the experience as “unforgettable”. He clearly has very fond memories working on Night of the Creeps too, that later lead to him being cast in the smash hit Lethal Weapon for Warner Bros (1987).
Director Fred Dekker (31:09) – A more recent interview recorded in 2016 by David Gregory of Severin Films. Dekker talks about his career, explaining that he always wanted to be a director and began writing scripts in the eighties as a way into the business to fulfil this dream. In the great tradition of young aspiring directors, he would make amateur movies with his frat buddies, who included future hotshot writer/director Shane Black. Dekker discusses his many influences, including the raucous Animal House, cheesy B-movies and those extraordinary stop-motion creatures brought lovingly to life by Ray Harryhausen. Apparently, a show reel made on 16mm later evolved into Night of the Creeps. It is also revealed that John Cusack was considered to play the lead, but the rising young actor proved too expensive. Dekker admits that filming Creeps aged 26 with little experience became a real learning curve, with both good and bad days along the way. You might wonder what became of Dekker, who hasn’t directed since the disastrous Robocop 3 (1993). He’s still busy churning out scripts, having recently co-written The Predator (2018) with old friend Black.
Deleted Scenes - a selection of inconsequential material cut from the release print.
Alternate ending - Although the film is presented here in a “director’s cut” with a more satisfying denouement, the original – and inferior - jump scare climax shown in cinemas and on video is included as an extra. It’s worth noting that an earlier BD released in Germany enabled you to watch the complete film with either ending, but Eureka! haven’t provided that option.
Theatrical trailer and a limited-edition booklet featuring a new essay by critic Craig Ian Mann (First print run only and not available for review).