Night of the Creeps (1986)

Rating:

aka Homecoming Night

USA. 1986.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Fred Dekker, Producer – Charles Gordon, Photography – Robert C. New, Music – Barry De Vorzon, Visual Effects – David Stipes Productions (Supervisors – Richard L. Bennett & David Stipes), Special Effects – Roger George, Makeup Effects – David B. Miller, Production Design – George Costello. Production Company – Tri-Star

Cast

Jason Lively (Chris Romero), Tom Atkins (Detective Ray Cameron), Steve Marshall (James ‘J.C.’ Carpenter-Hooper), Jill Whitlow (Cynthia Cronenberg), Allan Kayser (Brad)


Plot

In 1959, a creature from an alien lab experiment is dumped out a spaceship airlock. It comes down on Earth near the local university Lover’s Lane where it attacks a couple. In the present day, freshman Chris Romero desires the beautiful Cynthia Cronenberg but she will not talk to him unless he belongs to a fraternity. He and his crippled friend ‘J.C.’ Carpenter-Hooper try to join a fraternity but face an initiation challenge that requires them to steal a body from the morgue. In attempting to do so, they instead accidentally unleash a cryogenically preserved body that is inhabited by parasitic alien slugs. Now freed, the slugs spread throughout the campus, taking over and animating the bodies of the dead.


Joe Dante fairly much created the fan’s sf/horror film with the likes of Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1980). They were ostensibly B-films – but also came packed at the edges with genre in-jokes, cameo appearances and characters named after various horror figures or actors. This jokey style was copied by dozens of other genre filmmakers, usually down the low-budget end of the scale, throughout the coming decade. Night of the Creeps feels like a film that a couple of overly sycophantic fans of Fangoria magazine might concoct over a couple of beers to shoot in their garage. The characters are named after genre directors – the hero is named Romero, his best friend Carpenter-Hooper, the love interest Cronenberg, while other characters named Raimi, Cunningham, Miner, Cameron, Landis turn up, even two cops called Dante and De Palma. There is also a Corman University; a cameo appearance from Joe Dante favourite Dick Miller playing a character named Walt (as he always does in Dante’s films); while Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) plays on a tv in the background.

Outside of that, there is not much more to Night of the Creeps. It is almost all fanboy in-joke. For a film like this to succeed, the humour needs to come snappier than it does but there seems little point to Night of the Creeps beyond Fred Dekker announcing to us that he is a B movie fan. There is a substantial number of unexplained and unconnected plot strands – the aliens at the start, who the frozen body is, and the axe killer and Tom Atkins’ unresolved guilt. The rest of the film is the usual cliches of frat rat pranks and underdog comeuppance. Apart from one decent scene with Steve Marshall being attacked by slugs in a bathroom, Night of the Creeps never amounts to anything particularly scary. The zombie and slug effects are so-so.

There are occasional moments where Night of the Creeps rises above itself. Tom Atkins conducts an amusing parody of a hard-boiled detective and gets to deliver the film’s singularly most amusing one-liner (which was prominently highlighted in the film’s trailer): “There’s good and bad news girls – the good news is that your [prom] dates are here … the bad news is they’re dead.” The film makes a mistake in killing Steve Marshall’s JC character off too early in the show as he is easily the most likable character in the film. Hero Jason Lively on the other hand seems a stuck-up preppie dweeb that one wishes would have been bumped off instead.

Night of the Creeps was the directorial debut of Fred Dekker, who had previously co-written House (1986) for Steve Miner and Sean S. Cunningham (whose names are quoted here). Dekker went onto direct the appealing and much better genre homage The Monster Squad (1987) and then the dire Robocop 3 (1993). Dekker has also written the James Bond spoof If Looks Could Kill/Teen Agent (1991) and Russell Mulcahy’s revenge drama Ricochet (1991). He subsequently turned up as a consulting producer on Enterprise (2001-5).



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