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Night of the Creeps
Director: Fred Dekker
Screenplay: Fred Dekker
Stars: Jason Lively (Chris), Steve Marshall (J.C.), Jill Whitlow (Cynthia), Tom Atkins (Ray Cameron), Wally Taylor (Detective Landis), Bruce Solomon (Sgt. Raimi), Vic Polizos (Coroner), Allan J. Kayser (Brad), Ken Heron (Johnny), Alice Cadogan (Pam), June Harris (Karen), David Paymer (Young Scientist)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1986
Country: U.S.
Night of the Creeps DVD
Night of the Creeps Cult auteur Fred Dekker, whose reputation is based entirely around a small handful of horror and science fiction films made in the late 1980s and early 1990s, likes to describe his directorial debut Night of the Creeps as a “stew.” The film is very much a reflection of Dekker’s feverish imagination, fed by years of B-movie fare cutting across every conceivable generic boundary, which we see in the film’s barrage of movie references and in-jokes that range from old film noir dialogue, to kitschy sci-fi special effects, to characters whose names are taken from such modern horror titans as Roger Corman, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and George A. Romero. For fans of horror and science fiction, Night of the Creeps embraces everything that is silly, scary, and gross. Along with Tom McLoughlin’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which was released the same year, Night of the Creeps marks a knowing shift to wink-wink postmodern horror-comedy a good decade before the deconstructions of Scream (1996).

Dekker wastes no time getting into the story, opening the film inside a massive spaceship manned by gun-toting, baby-bodied aliens whose mouths are, for budgetary reasons, frozen in a perpetually ugly downturn. After a truncated firefight, one of them manages to blast off a container that lands on Sorority Row, U.S.A., circa 1958, which allows Dekker to engage in an amusing pastiche of the black-and-white sci-fi era, complete with old cars, bobby socks, necking at make-out point, and girls named Muffy. The alien container is filled with space slugs (the creeps of the title) that jump into a victim’s mouth and turn him or her into a mindless zombie. But, since that isn’t enough, Dekker also gives us an axe-wielding psychopath recently escaped from the local mental institution.

We then jump ahead to Sorority Row circa 1986, with all the attendant visual excesses of the Reagan era (the specific dating of the story, which is rare in ’80s cinema, makes it feel like that much more of a purposeful time capsule). We are introduced to the heroes, a pair of freshmen geeks named Chris (Jason Lively, best known as “the second Rusty” in National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and J.C. (Steve Marshall). Both are essentially handicapped: Chris by his debilitating shyness and lack of confidence and J.C. by a physical handicap that forces him to walk with crutches, but has no effect whatsoever on his gregarious, outgoing nature. They make for an amusing odd couple who set the plot back in motion when they agree to a fraternity prank that results in them unfreezing a cryogenically-frozen victim from the prologue, thus releasing the space slugs again. A world-weary homicide detective named Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), whose recurring trademark line is “Thrill me,” is called onto the case as the space slugs invade the campus, turning dim-witted frat jocks into lumbering zombies. Not surprisingly, it is up to Chris and the object of his affection, a sweet sorority girl named Cynthia (Jill Whitlow), to save the day … with a flamethrower.

If any of that made any sense to you, then Night of the Creeps is probably right up your alley. If it sounded silly, ridiculous, and/or flat-out inane, then you should probably steer clear (even though your assessment is pretty much spot-on). Dekker’s loving homage to Z-grade cinema propels his film past any narrative inconsistencies (like, for example, who cryogenically froze the 1958 victim and why?), instead feeding the ravenous horror fan with a cornucopia of kitschy thrills, particularly the recurring image of a victim’s head splitting open and disgorging a bunch of squirming slugs, all of which is shot in the garish primary hues of an old EC comic.

Everything is done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but not in a way that speaks down to the material. Rather, virtually every frame of the film is a love letter to a bygone era as realized in the vibrant tones of the music-video-addled ’80s (it is not surprising that Barry De Vorzon’s score relies heavily on rock beats and synthesizers). Dekker proves himself to be a capable and inventive director, giving us impressive tracking and crane shots that belie the film’s relatively low budget. The special effects, which were cooked up by a team that included Howard Berger (who has since worked with everyone from Sam Raimi to Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar in 2006 for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia) and Robert Kurtzman (who has also gone on to a hugely successful career), are consistently impressive, and even when they fall short, their hokiness just plays right into the film’s overall serio-comic tone. The casting also works well, particularly Tom Atkins, who was already something of a cult hero after roles in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) and Escape From New York (1981), George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982), and Tommy Lee Wallace’s much-maligned Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Although a dud when it was first released, Night of the Creeps has gone on to develop a strong cult following whose members are in synch with Dekker’s campy approach (it was also a direct inspiration for James Gunn’s 2006 film Slither), which proves that sometimes it just takes a little time.

Night of the Creeps DVD
Night of the Creeps is also available on Blu-Ray.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by actors Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins
  • Audio commentary by writer/director Fred Dekker
  • “Birth of the Creeps” featurette
  • “Cast of the Creeps” featurette
  • “Creating the Creeps” featurette
  • “Escape of the Creeps” featurette
  • “Legend of the Creeps” featurette
  • “Tom Atkins: Man of Action” featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Original theatrical ending
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Trivia track
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    SRP$19.94
    Release DateOctober 20, 2009

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Making its long-awaited debut on DVD (fans can finally put away their worn-out VHS copies and laserdiscs), Night of the Creeps is presented in a very good high-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer of the director’s cut of the film, which essentially changes the last few minutes of the film (the original ending is included as a supplement). The transfer boasts good detail, solid black levels, and strong color saturation that nicely highlights the film’s sometimes gaudy primary hues. The overall image is a tad soft and quite grainy at times, which is probably reflective of the way the film looked in theaters. The newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also quite good, expanding the original stereo mix with some strong directionality and added heft to the synthesized musical score.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Longtime fans of this oft-neglected cult classic have much to look forward to in terms of the supplementary material that has been collected for this DVD. We get not one, but two audio commentaries. The first is a group affair that reunites the film’s cast--Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, and Tom Atkins--to laugh and reminisce together about the film’s production and their experiences making it (and the bad clothes they wore). The second commentary is by writer/director Fred Dekker, who discusses the making of the film with DVD producer Michael Felsher, who actively engages Dekker with questions and comments that keep the discussion flowing. The disc also offers a subtitle trivia track.

    There is also a nearly hour-long retrospective documentary that is broken down into five featurettes: “Birth of the Creeps,” in which Dekker discusses his various influences and how he came to make Night of the Creeps; “Cast of the Creeps,” which features Lively, Atkins, Marshall, and Whitlow discussing their experiences making the film; “Creating the Creeps,” in which make-up effects designers David B. Miller, Robert Kurtzman, and others divulge the secrets behind the film’s gooey FX; “Escape of the Creeps,” in which Dekker, composer Barry De Vorzon, and producer Charles Gordon discuss the film’s post-production and disastrous theatrical release; and finally “Legend of the Creeps,” which chronicles the film’s enduring cult appeal and features interviews with some of its most dedicated fans at a reunion screening at the infamous Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. There is also an additional featurette, “Tom Atkins: Man of Action,” in which the cult actor discusses his favorite roles over the past 30 years.

    The seven deleted scenes run close to eight minutes total and were clearly transferred from a full-frame video source. Most of them are extensions of scenes already in the film, and it is not hard to see why they were trimmed. We also get the film’s original theatrical ending, which unfortunately you can only watch as a separate sequence and not integrated into the film itself, and the original theatrical trailer.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


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