Night of the Creeps (1986) dir. Fred Dekker
Starring: Tom Atkins, Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow
By Greg Klymkiw
Fred Dekker is a genre director who, with his first two features, “The Monster Squad” and “Night of the Creeps”, displayed so much promise, that even the toilet-bowl-plunge of his third feature, the lamentable abomination that is/was “Robocop 3”, would have led to a canon of first-rate genre pictures. It didn’t. Instead, he has, for almost 20 years, slogged about the wasteland that is television drama – working occasionally as a writer, director and consulting producer on material that ranged from mind-numbingly mediocre (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) to tolerably mediocre (HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt”).
One cannot believe this was his chosen path. That would be very depressing. Instead I prefer to think that Dekker’s idiot box purgatory had more to do with the fact that his third feature, “Robocop 3”, was such a total washout, that nobody in their right mind wanted to take a chance on him anymore. A man needs to fill his belly and there is no more consistent trough than that of television. Well, that’s MY fantasy, anyway.
And let’s make no mistake about it, no apologies – “Robocop 3” stinks! Why Dekker and those who green-lit the picture thought a kid-friendly Robocop was a good idea is beyond me. Not only was it dull, toothless and stupid in all the wrong ways, but it had the dubious distinction of being one of the last releases of the once-mighty mini-studio Orion – and this after sitting on the proverbial shelf a couple of years and suffering the indignity of starring a no-name in the title role when Peter Weller didn’t bother to reprise the role that made him a star.
Dekker’s sophomore feature, “The Monster Squad” was a deliciously entertaining homage to the Forrest J. Ackerman-inspired fan boy appreciation of monster movies. The picture was an absolute joy – especially to anyone who loved the sensibilities of the Universal Horror programmers of the 30s and 40s. This, alas, might have been exactly why it didn’t click at the box-office. Late boomers and early Gen-X-ers would have keyed into Dekker’s headspace perfectly, but sadly, too many kids during the 80s were either into the kinder, gentler Loserville of John Hughes, or if they were into genre at all, they were brought up on the likes of Leatherface, Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger, Jason Voorhees and any number of anonymous slasher epics or worse – much worse – “The Goonies”.
At the end of the day, the monsters in Dekker’s film must have been so “uncool” and/or beyond anyone growing up in that cultural dead zone of the 80s.
And of course, let us now turn to the reason we're all here - Dekker’s fine first feature, “Night of the Creeps”. This funny, clever and terrifying horror picture should have been a hit. It wasn’t. The picture had a miserable theatrical run and found its way quickly onto home video, but with little fanfare.
It’s too bad. In fact, with both of these features, Dekker was probably, depending on how you look at it, just behind or just ahead of his time.
“Night of the Creeps” is a horror geek’s wet dream. It begins in a small college town during the 50s where an alien parasite infects a studly college-aged jock. After committing a grisly murder, he is subdued and – get this – is cryogenically frozen. Uh, like…why? Well, because it makes it more convenient to flash forward to the 80s when a horny young geek is assisted by his wisecracking, handicapped and even geekier pal to perform a fraternity house pledge initiation. The goal is to steal a body from the campus med-school anatomy morgue. Of course, they happen upon the conveniently and cryogenically frozen stud and idiotically nab his body and dump it in front of a sorority house. A night of horror begins when Mr. Cryogenic Stud wakes up and begins vomiting parasites into the mouths of his victims, turning them into psychopathic zombies hell bent on vomiting their own parasites into unsuspecting open mouths.
Okay, did I say, at any juncture, that this was Bresson?
Phew! For a minute, you had me worried.
Nope! “Night of the Creeps” is pure, unbridled trash. And it is exquisite – which, I suppose, IS a word one might use to ALSO describe Bresson. Full of in-jokes, references to other great horror movies, but still working on its own steam and merit, this is an extremely well-crafted, good-humoured and effective fright fest.
One of the delightful aspects of the picture is the central performance from stalwart genre tough guy Tom Atkins as the local police chief who delivers one hilarious line of dialogue after another. The most famous line Dekker wrote for Atkins was also used as the picture’s tagline. How this movie could have bombed with a line like this is beyond me, but here goes. Barricaded in a sorority house with a bevy of vixens, Atkins looks out the window at one point and says, “Well, girls. I have good news and bad news. The good news is your dates are here.” One of the bubbleheads asks what the bad news is and Atkins retorts with a straight face, “The bad news is they’re dead.”
This is a fun, stylish and scary picture. Fred Dekker is a terrific genre director. He needs to make more pictures. It’s not too late. His time might actually be NOW!
Oh, yeah – in addition to all the hilarious dialogue, genuine scares, delicious gross-outs, perfectly pitched performances and stylish direction; did I mention that “Night of the Creeps” also features gratuitous nudity?
Get thee to a video store!
"Night of the Creeps" is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment