Monday, July 6, 2009

Night of the Creeps (1986)

There are few alien slug/zombie movies that work well, but the cult classic Night of the Creeps is one of the best, if not THE best at mashing together sci-fi thrills with horror movie spills! It even inspired James Gunn’s under-appreciated film Slither!

With the official release DVD release of Night of the Creeps scheduled for October 20th, 2009, it was high time to revisit this horror comedy from 1986!

After a brief intro featuring midget aliens chasing a rogue alien as it releases a tube containing some kind of “experiment” into space, the film opens in the black and white ‘50s, looking all Pleasantville-esque. Sweethearts Johnny and Pam, students at Corman University, drive up to The Point for a little necking, but when they see a meteor streak across the sky and crash not too far from where they are parked Johnny decides to investigate. While he’s tramping through the woods, Pam hears a news report on the radio about a psychotic mental patient who has escaped and is going around killing people with an ax. Pretty soon, Pam gets forty whacks (and then some) and Johnny discovers that the “meteor” is the tube those aliens didn’t want released, which holds a gross slug that quickly jumps into Johnny’s gaping mouth.

Cut to the 80’s, where Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are now students at Corman U. They aren’t the most popular guys around, but Chris falls for seemingly unattainable sorority babe Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). Deciding that the only way to get her attention is by joining a frat, the two friends decide to take part in a hazing prank to gain entry into a fraternity. They must steal a cadaver from one of the college’s labs, but the only body they can find is the cryogenically frozen body of 1950’s Johnny. They release him from his chamber, but soon realize that Johnny isn’t quite as dead as they hoped and they run away, “screaming like banshees.” The undead Johnny, incubating a host of slugs in his brain that infected him in the ‘50s, kills a scientist (David Paymer) and shambles into town until his head explodes…from which a horde of creepy crawlies is unleashed. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) is called to investigate the murder of the scientist and several strange murders around town.

Soon enough, Chris discovers that the alien slugs infect victims through their mouths and burrow into their brains to lay eggs. While the eggs incubate, their host is turned into a zombie, searching for more victims to infect with the slugs until said victim’s head explodes, releasing even more parasitic slugs. Can Chris, with the help of Detective Ray, stop the undead menace before it overwhelms the entire town? And will Chris ever get the girl of his dreams? Well, “I’ve got good news and bad news…”

Night of the Creeps is a delightful romp that mixes Revenge of the Nerds-type jock vs. nerd scenes with a ‘50s sci-fi feel and some excellent zombie action to satiate your inner Romero. It’s a perfect silly, goofy movie that also offers up a few good scares and gore scenes. The film was written and directed by Fred Dekker, who brought us the amazing The Monster Club, and of course he pays homage to all his favorite horror flicks here. From the characters’ names (Romero, Hooper, J.C. = John Carpenter, Cronenberg, Cameron, Raimi, Landis, etc., etc.!) to the name of the university to the gratuitous boob shots and ample blood spillage, Night of the Creeps definitely wears its influences on its sleeve!

The two main characters of Chris and J.C., played by Jason Lively and Steve Marshall also give us someone to root for the entire time. The nerdiness and shyness of Chris and the got-nothing-to-lose bombast of crippled J.C. perfectly compliment each other and the two have the perfect best-buddy chemistry, making their performances seem natural and effortless. We really do want to see Chris get the girl and towards the end we want them to succeed against the slugs! Another fantastic character is the unforgettable Detective Ray Cameron, played with unabashed bravado by Tom Atkins! From the memorable delivery of his quote-tastic lines (“Thrill me!”) to his bad ass attitude (“Get the 12 gauge out of my car!”) Detective Ray is one of the most memorable characters ever witnessed in a horror movie.

Besides the awesomeness of its script, characters and corny, yet funny, moments, Night of the Creeps also boasts some great special FX work. I loved the decomposing look of the zombies, especially the near-skeletal corpse of the long-dead ax killer! The super-fast, super-slimy slugs are pretty impressive as well, especially when they jump out unexpectedly. When the heroes figure out that fire kills the slugs there are lots of fun scenes of slugs fried to extra crispiness with a flamethrower! And you just can’t beat a zombie vs. lawnmower scene. While some effects still have a certain campy charm to them, most of them work in creating a fun, inventive horror flick.

Many people haven’t yet had the pleasure to see Night of the Creeps, especially since it has never been released on DVD. Well, hopefully that will change when the film is released by Sony this coming October. Fans will also have the opportunity to see never-before-seen extras and special features on the disc, including deleted scenes, commentary, a special featurette on Tom Atkins called Tom Atkins: Man of Action, a few making-of featurettes and much more, not to mention the original director’s cut, which features a different ending than most versions.

Night of the Creeps is a movie that will take you back to the ’80s style geek-wants-to-get-the-popular-girl comedies while also adding in some super-duper alien slug/zombie action! It’s got corny jokes, likable protagonists, a bad ass Lieutenant, slithering slugs and stumbling zombies galore. Add a flamethrower, a lawnmower and some fire-power and what more could you ask for?!

Check out Night of the Creeps when it arrives on DVD…in the meantime, “Thrill Me!”

Available from Amazon!

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