I don’t remember ever hearing anything about Night of the Creeps, so I wasn’t expecting much when I decided to give it a try. As I was watching, I kept wondering how I possibly could have missed it, but evidently everyone else missed it too. I’m not sure why, but it only played in 70 theaters nationwide and didn’t play at any of those for more than a week or two. That’s a real shame, because it’s one of those rare movies that does both horror and comedy well, and deserves to be seen. Thankfully, the video release garnered the movie a sizable cult following and now every horror fan can take the opportunity to watch this underappreciated gem.
The story begins in 1959 with a rookie cop walking around the local makeout point warning all the couples to go home because an axe murderer is on the loose when a fireball from space flies over prompting one of the couples to go find where it landed and then the guy, leaving the girl in the car to get axe-murdered, runs off into the woods and gets infected by a brain-eating space slug sent by aliens and then… Okay, look, there’s a lot going on here and everything I just described takes place in the first 10 minutes, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you it eventually all comes together. The rest of the movie is set 27 years after the opening scene when the space slugs escape from the head of the now-cryogenically frozen guy I mentioned earlier and start turning people into zombies and…just watch the movie and you’ll see.
It’s really not as complicated as it sounds. Writer/Director Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad) wanted to do a tip of the hat to B horror movies, so he took as many cheesy, overused elements of those movies as he could think of and crammed them into Night of the Creeps. This could have easily led to a movie that becomes nothing more than a vehicle for overwrought, spoofy jokes, but I think Dekker is successful in meshing everything together into a fun and coherent story without making it farce. That’s not to say there aren’t some silly moments, but it feels like the movie is bringing the viewer along as a participant in the jokes rather than throwing them like bricks. I like a director who respects his audience.
Jason Lively (Ghost Chase), best known for playing Rusty in European Vacation, and Steve Marshall work well together as college roommates Chris and J.C., who accidentally free the space slugs as part of a fraternity pledge prank to impress Chris’s dream girl Cynthia (Jill Whitlow, Ghost Chase, Twice Dead). They bring a fun, buddy-movie vibe and it’s easy to get behind them from the beginning. Whitlow is terrific in her transformation from soft-spoken sorority girl to zombie ass-kicker, and is a cool departure from the usual “final girl” who spends most of her time running away and screaming. A good actress, pretty, and likeable, it’s a mystery to me why Whitlow didn’t get bigger roles during her career.
Easily the most memorable role of the movie is that of Detective Ray Cameron played by horror movie legend Tom Atkins (The Fog, Creepshow, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The New Kids, Maniac Cop). Detective Cameron is a blast from the past, his rhythm and manner helping to maintain the feel of a classic 1950’s Hollywood crime drama, as well as tying the opening scene to the rest of the movie (He was that rookie cop 27 years earlier). Most of the quotable one-liners from the movie come from Detective Cameron and Atkins delivers them perfectly every time. I don’t think the character would have the same impact if anyone other than Atkins had played him, and he has said that Creeps is his favorite movie he’s worked in. It’s apparent he’s having a great time during every one of his scenes.
There’s so much more – more one-liners, more zombie-killing, more old movie references – but I’ll just let you watch it for yourself and discover those things on your own. I talk a lot about how horror movies should be fun to watch in one way or another and I think that’s where Night of the Creeps shines. It won’t give you nightmares and it may not be the goriest movie ever made, (although there is plenty of good splatter) but it’s a blast to watch from beginning to end. It’s the kind of movie to play when you’re stuck inside on a cold, rainy Friday night when you want something familiar that makes you feel good – like the comfort food of horror movies. What could be better?
“It’s Miller time.”