“Detective, Thrill Me.” – Night of the Creeps (DVD Review)

Rating:

When an alien experiment goes awry, it crashes to Earth in 1959 and infects a young college student. Twenty-seven years later, his cryogenically-frozen body is thawed out by fraternity pledges, and the campus is quickly overrun by alien creatures whose victims come back to life as zombies.

Fred Dekker directs this often silly blend of science fiction, horror and comedy and well aware of how ludicrous the whole experience is.  It’s a well-executed throwback to the B-Movie brought to life with the sci-fi silliness of the 1980s and a film that’s surely ripe for a remake!

From its opening sequence, with aliens trying to stop the experiment escaping, to the black-and-white shlock sci-fi (complete with escaped asylum patient and teens in peril), the film sets out its goals admirably. The aliens, actors in latex costumes, are effective and the aforementioned schlock sci-fi is well done before we quickly move to 1986, where we see the difference between the teens of old and the teens of the 80s, complete with all the stereotypes of the era.

There are pretty girls, nerdy heroes and jocks aplenty as Night of the Creeps really gets underway. Jason Lively’s Chris and Steve Marshall’s J.C. may not drift far from the nerdy stereotype, but there’s something rather progressive about a mid-80s film where a handicapped character is a confident would-be womaniser, mostly accepted by others as a person instead of a disability. Chris, by contrast, is the awkward one who falls in love far too easily and gets the pair into a rather sticky situation as they pledge for a fraternity.

There are incompetent cops, a jaded detective (who was around when the original incident happened) played with aplomb by Tom Atkins and Jill Whitlow’s Cynthia, the popular girl who wants something much better.

Of course, nothing goes quite to plan in this type of film and it’s all down to science with J.C. and Chris breaking into a research facility and unleashing the long-dormant nightmare, complete with parasites that turn everyone into zombies.

Dekker’s script is a smart one and the film is well acted.  The rapport between the two leads brings to mind Richard Wenk’s Vamp or A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.  He keeps close to the tropes of the genre throughout the film, the girls are vulnerable (even the strong-willed ones), whilst the jocks are all braggadocious fodder and our heroes are on the reluctant side.  

Well shot by Richard C New with visual effects from, amongst others, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, Night of the Creeps has an effective line in horror moments and revels in the silliness of some of its visual moments.  Whether it’s a resurrected cat or dog, the parasite slugs or the ever-growing army of leech-secreting zombies, it all looks impressive without being too over-the-top until the final third when the zombie attack. Even then, it’s not an all-out gore-fest.

Night of the Creeps is a fine example of its genre, a genuinely humorous film that borrows elements from teen comedy, horror and science fiction and uses them all relatively well.  Dekker isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, nor is his work designed to be high concept art (as the extra features attest). It’s 90 minutes of lean filmmaking that emphasises building horror over jump scares and keeps the gross-out horror to a minimum, whilst still being largely effective.  Witty, silly and creative, Night of the Creeps deserves a place in any 80s horror collection.

Eureka’s release gives us the Director’s Cut of Night of the Creeps and a wealth of special features.  It includes an in-depth hour-long feature entitled Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps, which explores the development, influences and making of the film and includes candid interviews with the cast and crew.  Add to this the commentary from the stars and the director and it’s a wonderful package with just these three features. Add to this the Tom Atkins: Man of Action featurette, a video interview with Dekker, deleted scenes and the original theatrical ending.  The inclusion of a trivia track adds even more context to the film, including the various references that make it a compelling watch for genre fans.

Dir: Fred Dekker

Scr: Fred Dekker

Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Tom Atkins, Jill Whitlow

Prd: Charles Gordon

DOP: Richard C New

Country: USA

Year: 1986

Runtime: 90 mins

Night of the Creeps is available on Dual Format DVD and BluRay from 8th October 2018