Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fred Dekker's "Creeps" Thrills & Chills

What movie combines elements of the sci-fi, horror and teen romance genres, and throws in a hard-boiled cop straight out of an action movie as a bonus? That would be 1986’s Night of the Creeps. The movie opens aboard a spacecraft, where two aliens attempt to stop a third from launching something from the ship. Cut to a black & white scene on Earth in the late 1950s. A couple on a date at Lover’s Lane sees something fall from the sky, and the guy goes to investigate; he makes a discovery, but meets a strange fate. Meanwhile, an ax-wielding escaped mental patient stalks & kills the girl, despite the fact that a young cop (who has a crush on her) had earlier warned her & her date to go home. We haven't made it too far into the movie, and we're already mashing up the genres!

Fast forward to the 80s and we’re at Corman (yes, it's a shout out to B-movie king Roger) University, where good buddies Chris & C.J. are trying to pledge a fraternity so Chris can impress a pretty coed named Cynthia. While C.J. thinks it's a dumb idea, he goes along with the idea to support his friend. As part of their initiation the frat members ask them to steal a body from the university med lab and dump it on a rival house’s front steps. When our heroes break into the lab, they find a cryogenically frozen body (hey, it's the guy from the 1950s prologue!)….who apparently isn’t dead! Suddenly, dead bodies are getting up & walking around, possessed by alien parasites, and a tough cop named Cameron (who's dealing with a few demons of his own) has to help Chris, C.J. & Cynthia fight off the terror of the...Night of the Creeps! As Detective Cameron says in the film "Thrill me."

B movie veteran Tom Atkins (The FogEscape From New York) shines as Cameron, the tough as nails cop who wouldn't be out of place in a Dirty Harry movie. He gets the movies' best lines, including the classic: “I’ve got good news & bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.” When one girl asks “What’s the bad news?” His reply is “They’re dead.” The cast are all note perfect in their roles, including Jason Lively as Chris & Jill Whitlow as Cynthia. You'll also catch character actor David Paymer (Get ShortyThe American President, TV's The Good Wife) in a brief but noteworthy cameo. Everyone involved with the film obviously knew the tone & balance Dekker was trying to achieve. Night of the Creeps never gets too campy for its own good.

Tom Atkins takes aim in Night of the Creeps
Director-writer Fred Dekker grew up as a “Monster Kid” who clearly loved horror, sci-fi and fantasy films. He's a talented filmmaker, and the film isn't just a retread. Night of the Creeps is a well-tuned pastiche of genres, and there are many references (including character & place names) to famous writers & directors of fantastic films. If you're a fan of horror & sci-fi films from the 50s through the 70s, you'll find a lot to enjoy while watching this one. In addition to Night of the Creeps, Dekker directed & co-wrote another horror film from the 80s, The Monster Squad (1987), where a group of neighborhood kids face off against the classic Universal Monsters; it’s kind of like The Goonies meet Dracula & Frankenstein. These films are clever, affectionate homages to the fright flicks of the past. However, they're more than "B" films, though they fit squarely into that genre. These are solidly made, entertaining movies that old (and new fans) can enjoy.

There’s a lot of humor to be sure, but also good scares & a couple of darker moments as well. The movie is available on DVD & Blu-ray, and has some wonderful extras, including cast & crew commentaries and a making of documentary. The disc versions also feature the original ending, which Dekker reluctantly changed after a test screening. The theatrical ending is now included as part of the extras. As for The Monster Squad (a personal favorite of mine), the extras-laden “20th Anniversary Edition” from Lionsgate is now out of print (though used copies can be found online) but it has recently been re-released in a movie-only version by Olive Films. My review of that film can be found here:

Dekker's films were a little under-appreciated at the time of their original release, but have gained a cult reputation; they've spawned several revival screenings & cast reunions in recent years. I recommend checking out these movies if you're a fan of these genres. I think you'll find them both entertaining, with some likable characters & neat little moments that sneak up on you. Here’s a link to the trailers for Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad

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