AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 8TH OCTOBER, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1959: an alien experiment in a canister crashes to earth and lands in the path of an escaped criminally insane mental patient. A nearby couple go to investigate and, while the girl is attacked by the maniac, the boy finds the canister, from which a small slug-like thing jumps out and into his mouth. 1986: Chris Romero and his pal J. C. join the Beta Epsilon fraternity to get the attention of Cynthia Cronenberg who Chris has fallen for, and are told to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and deposit it on the steps of a sorority house. They find the frozen corpse of the boy from 1959 which grabs them, then kills a medical student working at the lab before heading back to the sorority house where he picked up his date twenty-seven years ago.…
I remember seeing the trailer for Night Of The Creeps many times on video, and I never forgot Tom Atkins saying the lines: “I got good news and I got bad news girls. The good news is that your dates are here, the bad news is that they’re dead”. For some reason, I never got to see the film until now, courtesy of our friends at Eureka Entertainment. It’s a slightly tongue in cheek melding of ’50s sci-fi horror, ’80s horror and John Hughes-style teen movies. Most horror comedies that don’t succeed do so because either the horror outweighs the comedy making the latter seem intrusive, or vice versa. But Night Of The Creeps only sometimes hits the mark because it’s not really scary nor funny enough to succeed, and I’d place it way behind Re-Animator and Return Of The Living Dead in terms of comic zombie movies of the period. But the cult status it now seems to have is no surprise because it still has considerable charm, and would be a great party film for Halloween where you don’t want anything too intense, just some silly fun with a few mild scares.
With a little help from his pal Shane Black, writer/director Fred Dekker wrote the script for this in a week, though the characters of Chris and C. J. were taken from an unfinished short film of his. He told himself that if he didn’t get to the end of the screenplay by that self-imposed deadline, the whole thing would go in the bin. He then sold the script with a caveat: if he wasn’t allowed to direct the film, he wasn’t going to sell it. He’s said that he didn’t care if it sold or not at the time. It was Tri-Star Pictures who eventually picked it up. Many of the interiors were shot in an old Woolworth’s shop that was converted into a makeshift studio, while other footage was shot in and around The University Of South California. Dekker wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but TriStar unsurprisingly nixed that idea. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so the tool shed sequence was added and other scenes has extra bits put in to beef them up. The original ending, which wasn’t finished at the time, wasn’t liked also, so it was altered and shortened to a final shock of one of the slug-creatures jumping out of the zombie-dog’s mouth as the characters watch the sorority house burn down. This ending only remained in cinema and video versions though – the original ending showed up in some TV versions and then the long-in-coming DVD release. The film was a commercial failure, though TriStar didn’t help with their weak ad campaign and limited release.
Dekker still managed to get away with having most of the opening sequence in black and white, and after two very rubbery aliens in a spaceship try to keep something from being released by third member of the crew who, seemingly possessed, launches it into space [and is that a deliberate musical reference to one of the themes heard in the opening scene of Star Wars there?], there’s quite a nice ’50s feel for a while, including acting that mimics very well the style of acting in many B-movies from that decade. A couple in lover’s lane are warned by a cop, who’s the girl’s ex, that a maniac is on the loose, but of course they don’t heed his words and the guy proves himself to be even stupider when he goes off to investigate what looks like a shooting star and leaves his girlfriend on her own. O well, if people were sensible in horror movies then there wouldn’t be very many of them. Disaster occurs and then we’re in 1986, at Corman [Ha Ha] University. Our wet drip of a hero Chris Romero spies his latest dream girl and is instantly in love even though he’s still nursing a breakup, but is then embarrassed when his disabled mate J. C. talks to her for him. Neither Chris nor J. C. are very well played, and the less said about Jill Whitlow as Cynthia Cronenberg and her terribly awkward line delivery the better. And J. C. is positively annoying at times, but on the other hand it’s nice to see the disabled one out of the two being the livelier, happier and more confident one, and his speech when he says how he does everything for Chris is rather sweet.
Cynthia’s arrogant jock boyfriend gets the pair to steal a corpse, setting in motion the action when the cryogenically frozen body of the boy at the beginning awakes, grabbing Chris’s hand in a nice shock moment. We’re probably not meant to ask how they are able to access so easily what is probably a very high security area. After the ‘zombie’ goes to the sorority house where Cynthia resides and dying after his head splits open and releases some slug-like things, the fraternity brothers think that Chris and J. C. were responsible for putting the body there. More corpses appear and Detective Ray Cameron is perturbed by the similarity between the split heads of these bodies and an incident in his past. To be honest, his connection to things is easy to work out, though perhaps it was meant to be considering an early dream scene all but giving it away. His part of the story would have had considerably more impact if said scene had just been removed though. Less easy to work out are the exact details of the creation of the zombie plague that begins to grow, Dekker obviously hoping that viewers would be carried along so much that they won’t care too much. While early scenes cut away before we see anything nasty and an early splitting apart of a face with an axe show just a few frames of impact before it fades out to the next scene, the gore does increase throughout the film, and shots like a head [it’s heads that really get it in this movie] being exploded by a fire extinguisher, plus the slugs, tend to look pretty good despite the low budget that the makeup effects crew, who include Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, had to contend with. Some good zombie makeup on the undead humans too, plus a reanimated dog – though less effective is a reanimated cat despite featuring in another good jump scare. Nice to see a lawnmower being used to dispatch a zombie before Peter Jackson went berserk with the idea too.
Dekker has gone on record as saying that he deliberately filled his film with as many horror and sci-fi B-movie clichés as he could think of, but he doesn’t really make enough of an effort to subvert or even spoof them. Lines like: “Is this a homicide or a bad B-movie”? show some of the post-modern self-awareness that many credit Scream for bringing to the horror genre but which was also in Jason Lives and others. I’ve said elsewhere how this kind of thing tends to irritate me and takes me out of the film. One dialogue exchange where characters introduce themselves puts in as many horror director names as possible, and just seems to have been done merely for that purpose. It’s all a matter of taste – for everyone like me who finds this sort of stuff annoying, there’s somebody who loves it, plus the obvious borrowings from everyone from Ed Wood to David Cronenberg. But there’s certainly some sloppiness here and there, such as an early cut from Cynthia talking to another scene where the sound fades out yet you can still see her mouthing some words. On the other hand though there are two amusing cuts, one where Cameron asks if there’s a point to a story and we go to a zombie bursting out of a floor to prove that there most certainly is a point, and one – virtually repeated in Dekker’s The Monster Squad, where the line “Corpses that have been dead for twenty years do not get up and walk by themselves” is followed by a sight to prove the speaker of the line wrong. Someone else laughs at our heroes for “Screaming like a banshee” and then proceeds to do so himself when he encounters a zombie. But that’s really about as far as the humour goes in a film which I wished was funnier, while only a scene where someones’s trapped in a toilet cubicle with slugs running around outside and that added tool shed scene have genuine edge. A bit involving a tape recording by one character is rather moving though.
Night Of The Creeps is certainly not a bad movie. There’s a lot to like in it, from Tom Atkins doing his grumpy cop routine again [and getting some great lines to deliver this time], to Robert C. New’s cinematography which keeps the camera moving, while there’s some vivid use of colour here and there, like in the laboratory scenes. Dekker, despite never having been to film school, does direct fairly smoothly while provided the odd fun device like Atkins spinning around, obviously on a revolving platform. The great Dick Miller even pops up, plays a character with the same name as his one in Bucket Of Blood. Barry De Vorzon’s synth score is just adequate though. In the end I don’t quite feel Dekker did enough to distinguish his film from so many similar ones whether comic or serious. And not enough is really done with either of the two major plot lines either, nor does one care much about the main characters except Atkins’s – which means that one isn’t majorly concerned when they’re in danger. Or at least I wasn’t. Dekker did much better with his follow-up, The Monster Squad. But on the other hand this film seems to have influenced a few others included The Puppetmaster and Slither, so it must have done some things right. I did quite enjoy it while it lasted, while never being as involved as I wanted to be.
Read Ross Hughes’s review here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2011/09/night-of-the-creeps-the-hughes-verdict-a-short-review/
Night Of The Creeps didn’t even get released on DVD anywhere until ten years ago by Sony in the US, while Eureka’s release of the film is its first UK release since the video! Eureka’s Blu-ray is probably the Sony one with a new encode. It actually looks like a brand new restoration in its vibrancy and detail, and I think few will be disappointed. The stereo soundtrack foregrounds tends to foreground the score more than the songs after the ’50s section, but its full of depth. On my simple set-up, the 5.1 track just sounds louder and a bit unevenly balanced.
Eureka have ported over all the copious extras from the Region ‘A’ release, and added an interview of their own. The two commentaries are both marvelous and compliment each other well as differing types of the format. The first track with Michael Felcher moderating Dekker begins with Dekker warning that he’ll talk very fast because he has so much information to share, and indeed he does, pointing out and commenting on anything and everything as he watches the film, from badly performing extras to the camerawork. He seems to find some scenes too slow, which I disagree with entirely, but it’s great that, while clearly proud of the film, he’s happy to point out where he thinks he failed. He thinks that Jason Lively and Jill Witlow got together during shooting, but near the start of the cast commentary which also includes Tom Atkins and Steve Marshall, the subject comes up and they say that they just went out once and kissed. Lively and Marshall were seemingly more interested in getting into USC frat parties and visiting the many female extras. This track is quite raucous and I could have done with less of Whitlow’s continual laughing plus it has some gaps, but it’s still a fun listen, all four sounding very enthusiastic.
Thrill Me is a series of tiny featurettes focusing on different aspects of the film from the point of view of cast and crew, and I find it strange that they were weren’t all joined together to make one hour-long documentary. Still, it gives you even more background detail in addition to the commentaries, and everyone seems happy to be talking about the film. It appears to have been a really fun, warm shoot except for the effects crew who were really up against it. Listen to how they got their own back on one of their numbers who kept pulling pranks. The final featurette interviews some fans at a showing of the Director’s Cut. Then Tom Atkins discusses how he got into acting and says a few lines about his major movie credits included a great story about The Ninth Configuration. He seems like a really cool guy. The new special feature, an interview with Dekker, mostly goes over ground already trodden on but goes into more detail. He’s still a little bitter on the handling and failure of the film despite the love it gets from many now. Then we get the Deleted Scenes which are mainly scene extensions, though one of them should have been left in the movie in my opinion, because without seeing the boy collect his girlfriend from the dormitory, we’re left with an awkward, jumpy scene transition. Otherwise, what’s there is still good – any more or Atkins is worthwhile – plus there’s a little more extra slug footage, but not essential.
Though I didn’t fall in love with Night Of The Creeps like many others have done, I still found it be a fairly entertaining lark, and Eureka’s release is filled with special features, so the Doc still Recommends – while UK fans of the film having had to put up either nothing or dodgy bootlegs should need no further encouragement to buy!
Limited edition O Card slipcase [First print run only]
High-definition remaster of the director’s cut
Original stereo soundtrack and 5.1 surround audio options, presented in PCM and DTS-HD MA respectively on the Blu-ray
Optional English SDH subtitles
Audio Commentary by writer / director Fred Dekker
Audio Commentary by actors Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow
“Thrill Me: The Making of Night of the Creeps” – an hour-long series of video pieces on the making of the film featuring interviews with the cast & crew [59.55 mins]
“Tom Atkins: Man of Action” featurette [31.07]
Video Interview with Fred Dekker [9.17]
Deleted Scenes [9.17]
Original theatrical ending [0.29]
Trivia track subtitles
PLUS: A limited edition booklet featuring a new essay by critic Craig Ian Mann (First print run only)