I had a plan…really, I did. I was going to blow the roof of this whole Month of the Living Dead thing. I was. Because I had a plan. Sitting on my ass, watching Friday the 13th Part VII (again), it hit me. Zombies, you say? Hell, son, who’s a more famous zombie than Jason mothafuckin’ Voorhees? And didn’t they just make another one of these damn films? Hell, I thought, Why not just review the rest of ‘um all at once. Back to back to back to back…
Things didn’t turn out that way. For one thing, I sobered up. For another, I saw Night of the Creeps staring out at me from out of the Horror racks.
Night begins with…alien midgets. Good God, we’re in for it now. Alien Midget #1 runs down a dimly lit corridor and through an airlock, gripping a canister in his (her? its?) hands. Alien Midget #2 orders #3 to blow the hatch, warning him (her? it?) that “The experiment must not leave this ship.”
Too late, Pinky. Alien Midget #1 promptly tosses the canister out the airlock and we’re off to…
The 50s, where two young lovers sit parked, staring off into…whatever town this is supposed to be. Their non-date goes on hold when Officer Ray (Tom Atkins) pops up to warn them away. There’s a murderer on the loose, don’t ‘cha know? Haven’t ‘cha heard it on the radio?
Our Lovers, Pam and Don, move on…but not before they see a meteor streak overhead. Don, being an idiot, decides to track the meteor and finds…Alien Midget #1’s canister. Something long and slimy shoots up into his mouth and it’s bye bye, Don. Pam, being a girl, sits in the car and crows for Her Man until an axe to the head shuts her up. There’s a murderer on the loose, you know? Haven’t ‘cha heard it on the radio?
Right off the bat Night of the Creeps defines itself by throwing every kind of cheesy horror movie set up into a blender and mincing it to pesto. This is, after all, a Fred Dekker film. And while most of you are probably wrinkling your brows and asking Who? I know at least one other person in this godforsaken world remembers The Monster Squad. Or RoboCop 3.
Cut to the 80s, where Chris (Jason Lively), Our Fumbling Hero, and his friend J.C. (Steve Marshall), the (crippled) Odious Comic Relief, saunter through a typical post-Animal House, cinematic frat party. Chris has his eye on Cynthia (Jill Whitlow), but of course she’s in deep with the local Alpha Male, Brad (Allan Kayser). To try and impress her, Chris and J.C. join Brad’s fraternity. As a matter of course, their initiation ritual involves stealing a cadaver from the basement of their nearest med-school…While pondering where, exactly, med schools keep their corpses, Chris and J.C. find a cryogenically frozen corpse and (of course) push the Big Red Button that reads “Disengage”.
This Bad Idea leads to predictably Horrible Things. Like small, slimy space slugs jumping into people’s mouths. Like the slugs killing their hosts…and then reanimating the corpses. Like, say, a fifty year old axe murderer climbing out of his unmarked grave, axe still in hand. Like a bus full of frat boys crashing and burning…only to rise again, all decked out for the (spring? fall? who gives a rats ass?) formal. Oh, lord, I’m in B-movie heaven. Why the hell haven’t I seen this show before?
Actually, I have, long ago, before the Sci-fi channel sold out. Had a different ending, too, if I remember correctly. ‘Tarded, made-for-cable endings aside, Night of the Creeps is what every B-movie should try its damnedest to be. Smart, gory, and just this side of serious. Fun, in so many words. We don’t get many fun films these days. Everybody’s too busy trying to be “spectacular”, “eye-popping”, “jaw-dropping”, or “hyman busting”. Night of the Creeps is none of those. Instead it’s a forgotten zombie movie made by a talented group who actually gave a crap. Not about profit, no…but about entertainment. Remember that? And if you’re entertained by zombie cats, hot chicks with flame throwers, and any film that comes up with new, creative uses for lawn mowers, then this is your movie.
And what a movie. I mean, this kind of stuff wouldn’t get play today. Or if it did it would quickly degenerate into another 90 minute parade of Pretty White Kids with Problems. Instead we have Jason Lively as the quintessential 80s geek: that likeable, annoying underdog, devoid ofthe brooding, cynical obsessions his 90s counter parts enjoyed. (See Jamie Kennedy in Scream…or don’t.) We have Jill Whitlow as The Chick…and, in a wonderful change of pace, our Chick grows a spine in the third act. Once the zombie hoards start a-strutin’ she’s right there in the thick, flame thrower at the ready. Thus we have two relative unknowns who manage to breath life in to the stereotypes they play. In another flick these two would’ve been colossal bores, but capable casting and decent performances save them (and the movie) from degenerating whenever Tom Atkins isn’t onscreen.
Atkins is Detective Ray Cameron, the best character in the film, and one of the most entertaining zombie fighters in movie history. While Detective Ray (in his capacity as an Officer, back in the 50s) had nothing to do with the cryogenic corpse (uh-huh, right…just how it wound up in the med school basement is never explained), he did manage to take care of his town’s little axe murderer problem…that is, until the outbreak of alien brain slugs. Atkins, ever the pro, brings just enough over-the-top film-noir energy to make Detective Ray believable without turning him into a (cough) grotesque. Writer/director Dekker knew enough to leave that to the effects department. And while Ray may be a collection of detective-novel stereotypes, Atkins grizzled voice and stony face make him believable; whether he’s chewing out his subordinates or being a zombie slaying bad ass.
So is it all wine and roses? No. Of course not. But that just adds to the fun. Creeps hides its limitations well, keeping its zombies few (rumor has it the entire effects crew was drafted into service) and poorly lit. What’s more, it’s obvious Dekker knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do with the resources at his disposal. So no Endless Army of the Undead, no Pointless Battles with the Military, and certainly no Undead Breakdancing, thank the Gods.
What do we get? A lot of set up. Far too much for today’s Hollywood. We spend a lot of time with Chris and J.C…so much so I began to fidget. Hello? Zombies? Yes? No? Maybe? The answer turned out to be yes, and I’m not going to bitch the flick out for its lengthy set up. Because once J.C. winds up in a bathroom full of brain slugs it all comes together nicely…Oh, right. Spoiler alert.
It may be horribly dated (and it is), micro-budgeted (oh yeah), and chock full of Bad Taste (oh, hell yeah) but, really, aren’t all our entertainments deficient in these key elements? So I thank the Gods for Night of the Creeps, and those video stores still smart enough to carry it. Run out, rent it, and wash all that high-pro-gloss crap out of your brain. Tell ‘um I sent yah. And enjoy.