Saturday, August 1, 2009
#66: Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker, 1986)
Following the excellent Night of the Comet comes another fantastic 1980s horror/sci-fi/comedy hybrid with the words "Night of the" in the title. I saw Night of the Creeps on the great Denver station KWGN as a kid and loved it (KWGN was also home to the mildly disturbing Blinky the Clown), and I was pleased to love it even more as a grown-ass man. Unfortunately, Night of the Creeps is out of print on VHS and has never been released on DVD in this country. Fortunately, a DVD is finally coming out in October.
This movie has it all. Aliens, ax murderers, zombies, space slugs, cryogenics, "Stryper Rules" written on a bathroom wall, a girl who looks like Sarah Silverman, a frat dick who calls himself the Bradster. Fred Dekker's directorial debut is an affectionate and funny homage to youthful obsessions (comic books, 1950s sci-fi movies, George Romero's zombie trilogy, slasher flicks, cop movies, college social life), and the film visually resembles all these obsessions and includes characters and institutions named after David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, Sam Raimi, James Cameron, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, and John Carpenter. There are little nods to all these filmmakers, as well as a cameo from Roger Corman/Joe Dante regular Dick Miller.
The film opens with a bunch of pig-like naked aliens and their tiny naked butts running around a spaceship, shooting at each other. The aliens' dialogue is subtitled in both English and the hieroglyphic-like alien language. An experiment in a sealed tube is in dispute, and it ends up being launched out of the ship toward Earth. It lands in a wooded area near a highway in an unnamed college town in 1959 (this 1950s sequence is in black and white with the rest of the film in color), and a couple at a teen make-out spot see it fall toward Earth. They drive off to check out the space junk and encounter something weird. Meanwhile, there's an escaped ax murderer on the loose as well, just to make things even crazier.
Fast forward to the 80s. It's Pledge Week, and the frats and sororities are partying it up. Our nerdy heroes, roommates Chris and J.C., are bemoaning their lack of female companionship. Chris fixates on the Sarah Silverman lookalike, Cynthia, but is too shy to talk to her. J.C. decides to make it his mission to get Chris and Cynthia together, so that Chris can escape his malaise and the good times can begin. Cynthia belongs to a sorority, so Chris and J.C. pledge to the Beta house in hopes of increasing Chris' chances. Unfortunately, the Beta house is full of hilarious frat dicks, led by the Bradster, who calls everybody "bro," "dude," "babe," "dork," or "chucklehead." (An aside: It's been interesting to see the evolution of frat dicks throughout the ages, both cinematically and actually. They've gone from looking like Tony Dow in the 50s and 60s to a young Donny Osmond in the 70s to James Spader in the 1980s to Fred Durst for the last 20 years. It's time for a new look, frat dudes. And the seashell-necklace pot-dealer look doesn't count.) The Bradster and his smarmy, smirking frat brothers send Chris and J.C. out on a massive frat prank, though they have no intention of pledging our heroes. Without revealing too much, this attempted prank sets into motion some crazy zombie and space slug insanity that ties together our space alien and 1950s elements with the rest of the movie.
Needless to say, the fall formal is going to be interrupted by zombie frat boys, exploding heads, topless sorority girls, flame throwers, shotguns, drunk driving mishaps, zombie cats, and zombie dogs, and lots of silly catchphrases. I love this shit.
The whole cast is likable and effective, but character actor Tom Atkins appears to be having the best time as hard-ass detective Ray Cameron. When he answers the phone, he doesn't say "hello." He says, "Thrill me." He's seen it all, and he's too old for this shit. He provides an excellent reading of the film's tag line: "The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, they're dead." I'm so glad movies like this exist.
Writer/director Fred Dekker has had a sporadic but interesting career. Besides Night of the Creeps, he wrote and directed kick-ass children's movie The Monster Squad (featuring the immortal line, "Wolfman's got nards!") and Robocop 3. He also wrote several episodes of HBO's Tales from the Crypt series and was a producer and writer on Star Trek: Enterprise. Dekker and his cast and crew reunited in Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in June. Here's what they look like now. Rent this in October. You won't be disappointed. Unless you're a jerk.