Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
This almost never happens to me. It’s rare that I revisit a film almost 20 years after my first viewing and suddenly like it a lot more than I originally did, but in this case, “Night Of The Creeps” surprised me.
Fred Dekker directed two films in the ’80s that have always had a fairly vocal fanbase, and to some extent, I’ve always been on the outside looking in on both. I know people who are rabid about “The Monster Squad,” and almost to a person, they’re about five or six years younger than I am. When the film came out, I was a projectionist at the theater where it played, and it left me sort of cold. I was at that age where the mere whiff of something being “for kids” was enough to put me off. With “Night Of The Creeps,” I thought it was okay, but not great, and it was never something I felt drawn to revisit.
Over time, though, both films picked up a healthy cult, fed in no small part by their total unavailability on video, and a couple of years ago, “The Monster Squad” finally got its moment when it was released on DVD for the first time. I gave it another chance, and while I think it’s perfectly okay, it’s still not really a film I feel a connection to, and more than anything, it reminds me of “The Goonies” in all the ways I don’t like. I know, I know… that’s a sacred cow, and I am required by law to love and worship “The Goonies,” but I don’t. I’ve always thought it was more noisy and frantic than anything else, and “The Monster Squad” hits me in the same way. I can appreciate that they have their fans… but they’re not really for me.
“Night Of The Creeps,” though? I’m onboard now. I’m not sure what my initial complaints were, but looking at it now, with essentially fresh eyes since I have so little knowledge of the film overall, I thought it was a fun, inventive sci-fi horror film that demonstrates exactly what makes Fred Dekker’s horror geek heart beat, and the new BluRay release from Sony is a gorgeous gift for longtime fans that should make the discovery of the movie for new audiences a pure pleasure.
I didn’t remember the sci-fi elements of the film at all, but it starts onboard a spaceship that looks like it flew in from every post-“Alien” SF film of the ’80s, where one creepy little naked alien dude is running from a bunch of other creepy little naked alien dudes with laser guns. He manages to make it to an ejector tube, where he drops something in and fires it out into space. As whatever it is heads down into Earth’s atmosphere, the film fades to black and white, and we get an extended prologue set in the ’50s where Dekker mixes the urban legends about escaped maniacs and lover’s lane with a monster movie. It’s a clever set-up, but the clever doesn’t serve as a distancing effect as it can so often. The only thing I don’t dig about Dekker’s movie is the way he uses horror director’s names as character names, which is sort of a pet peeve of mine in general. When I hear a character introduced as “Christine Cronenberg,” I groan. I know Dekker did it before a lot of other people, but it’s one of those horror movie things that I just can’t get behind.
Beyond that? I think the movie plays like a dream. After that ’50s prologue, the film flashes forward to the ’80s, where Jason Lively plays a college student with a wise-cracking best buddy, an unrequited crush, problems with frat boy douchebags, and little hope for bettering his situation. Lively’s only other role of note in the ’80s was as “the kid who replaced Anthony Michael Hall in the ‘Vacation’ sequels,” but he totally embodies the ’80s archetype of the nerdy hero. He’s given excellent support by Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins, who plays a grizzled detective-fiction-loving police detective who was part of that ’50s prologue as a young man, and who has been haunted by those events ever since.
It always drove me nuts as a kid when I’d see a great poster or read a great tag line for a film, but the film just didn’t live up to it. To its credit, “Night Of The Creeps” has one of the great horror movie ad lines of the decade (“The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.”), and not only is it an actual line of dialogue in the movie, it’s a great sequence that lives up to that promise. I like the crazy brain slug creatures that are the main threat in the film. I like the way Atkins plays his role. I like the practical make-up FX throughout. I like the crazy ending with the return of the spaceship. I like the way certain ’80s cliches feel like comfort food when they’re done right. Overall, if you’re not having fun by the time Lively and his date end up in formal wear with a shotgun and a flamethrower, then perhaps you’re not really a fan of this type of thing in general, because I think Dekker’s enthusiasm and glee is evident and even infectious.
“Night Of The Creeps” isn’t scary, per se, and it’s not really unsettling at all. This is the sort of horror film you put on a party where people can scream and go “ewwwww!” and laugh, and it’s just fun. I know I’ve said here that I lament the way people resist horror movies that actually horrify, but I’m not the Grinch; I know people want to enjoy themselves and just get the ridiculous release of watching a bunch of zombies attack a sorority house while mutant space slugs explode out of their skulls sometimes. And on those occasions, it’s a damn good thing “Night Of The Creeps” exists.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009.
#1: “[REC] 2”
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