NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

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A year before he wrote and directed The Monster Squad, that classic ‘80s riff on the Universal Monsters movies, Fred Dekker made his debut with Night of the Creeps.  The young Dekker grew up watching every kind of horror and sci-fi film (good and bad) and it’s no surprise his first try at a feature was a case of mixing genres and throwing everything at the audience.

Somewhere out in deep space, an alien is determined to make sure something sinister is shot out of the craft into the darkness.  It’s successful and the canister lands on Earth in 1959.  On the same night a mass murderer escapes a mental institute the slug-like creature in the canister escapes and infects a curious jock who came to find the crash site. 

Years later and Chris and J.C. are two friends at university.  Chris is smitten with Cynthia and thinks she’ll only speak to him if he’s a fraternity brother.  So he and J.C. undertake a pledge task to relocate a corpse from the university’s morgue onto the front steps of a rival frat house.  The corpse they choose turns out to be said curious jock who has been cryogenically preserved since that night.  A plague of alien slugs, exploding heads and zombies follows.

Starting with a black and white homage to ‘50s sci-fi flicks Night of the Creeps is Dekker having fun with all of those influences from the B-movies he had consumed.  Add into that elements of the still-popular-at-the-time slasher film and nearly two decades of the modern zombie film (Romero-style) and it’s a busy mix. 

It’s a slow but deliberately paced film.  Dekker likes his characters and spends time giving them a bit of depth.  Chris and J.C. aren’t jocks but they aren’t nerds either.  J.C. is the sidekick but he has his own moment of heroism that makes him more than comic relief or the audience surrogate.  Then there’s mighty genre icon Tom Atkins, here playing the gruff, sarcastic Detective Ray Cameron, straight out of a brawling film noir.  

Night of the Creeps didn’t do too well on release and it’s understandable why.  For a wide audience it’s probably too much mixing.  There’s zombies in it, but it’s not a standard zombie film.  There’s a madman with an axe on the loose, but it’s not a straight slasher.  It’s more a sci-fi B-movie than anything else but even then Dekker fills it with a knowing humour that’s a minor forebear of the self-referential style Scream would make big business a decade later. 

For genre fans it’s a hoot.  Enjoying the references is one thing, but Dekker loves these types of films and above everything this is no pastiche but an honest attempt at making something in the genres he knew so well.  And in that he succeeds.  Night of the Creeps is great fun and measures up to its influences in style. 

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENWRITER: FRED DEKKER / STARRING: JASON LIVELY, TOM ATKINS, STEVE MARSHALL, JILL WHITLOW, WALLY TAYLOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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