We might have taken a break last week; however, this week we're back in full force, ready to drastically improve your Monday by filling it with a manifold of magnificent monsters! This week we have another special treat for you, as I'll be taking a look at one of my favorite horror movies of the 80s - NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)!
n 1959, an alien experiment crashes to Earth and infects a fraternity member. Scientists freeze the body, but in the modern day, two geeks pledging a fraternity accidentally thaw the corpse, which proceeds to infect the campus with parasites that transform their hosts into killer zombies. While no one believes their story at first, the ensuing chaos gradually becomes too extreme to ignore. Now, with the help of a troubled cop, they must fight to protect the world from the ever multiplying slug infestation!
I've been debating about doing a Monster Monday update on Night of the Creeps for a while. I was slightly hesitant because, although the movie certainly contains monsters, it isn't quite a monster movie in the same way that something like Rawhead Rex might be. I had this idea to focus firstly on more overt monsters and then gradually shift to zombie flicks and the like. However, I've changed my mind: Night of the Creeps is too awesome to ignore and, in my view, needs to be dealt with ASAP. So, here we are!
I can't precisely recall the first time I saw Night of the Creeps (henceforth NOTC), but it seems that I must have been around 16. The details are unclear, but I believe the movie was on one of the premium channels (perhaps Showtime) and I decided to check it out. I briefly recall being a bit confused because, at the beginning of the movie, the film reverts back to the 50s and, as such, attempts to convey this fact by being shot in black and white and having the aura of being sort of anachronistic. Of course, after an excellent build up with the aforementioned 50s setup, we're thrust back into the present day, where everything is full on 80s. While at the time I remember not really liking this opening bit too much, I've since gradually altered my view and now recognize how integral the section is both as a sort of preface to the story as well as a homage to the classic alien/monster flicks of the 50s.
At any rate, I've since seen the movie a dozen or so times and, over the years, it's become one of my favorite horror movies of the 80s. It truly is a horror fan's movie, too: it's filled with various sorts of horror references, homages and clever allusions made specifically for fans and, even more importantly, it stays true to the genre by being constantly self aware and reflexive. The characters are quirky and mostly likeable, and the tropes, although predictable, are perfectly implemented in such a way that they always remain entirely enjoyable. I promise you - you're going to have a great time watching this flick.
Up to this point, I've been pretty general about my commendation of the movie. So, let's get specific. What kind of monsters show up here? Well, there are a few different varieties. In fact, the first character we see is an interesting little alien running around manically. Unfortunately, the aliens only make an appearance for this brief opening segment. But, it doesn't take long for other creatures to make an appearance. The stars of the movie - small, slug like parasites - show up about a quarter way through the movie and serve as the primary antagonists. Using a forceful jumping kind of technique, they thrust themselves from a surface and into the mouth of a host (which we learn can be a human, dog, or seemingly any other sort of sentient creature). The host then becomes a zombie like drone who themselves are quite monstrous. The aesthetic of these zombies varies quite a lot. Some of them are antiquated corpses, some seem pretty normal, and others engage in head splitting kinds of behaviors, where the slugs explode all over the place.
What makes NOTC so special, however, is not its individualized ability to do one thing really well, but instead the amalgamation of all of the various aspects of the movie which mesh together so fluidly. The creatures and effects aren't particularly special, but because they supplement the myriad of quirky characters and clever dialogue (including numerous memorable one liners) as well as being scored so wonderfully with the soundtrack, the whole thing seems magical. On a personal level, I've always loved movies taking place on campuses (or schools in general), so I sort of naturally gravitated to the movie from the start. However, you need not have this same sort of interest to be drawn to the movie. Indeed, I haven't met a single horror fan who didn't claim to like the movie.
If you've seen the movie, you no doubt are probably saying to yourself "isn't he going to mention Atkins?" Well, keep your pants on, Spanky. Yes, I'm going to mention Atkins. If you haven't seen the movie, then you can read the following and prepare yourself accordingly to experience the Atkins awesomeness whenever you choose to watch the movie (which should be ASAP). I am, of course, referring to the exceptional performance by Tom Atkins as the troubled, drunken, smart assed cop Ray Cameron. Atkins, in his usual Atkins style, steals most of the scenes he's in and, although he's mostly a jerk, you can't help but love the guy. It's no secret that I have a certain level of contempt for cops; however, even I adore this character. Whether he's smoking, drinking, randomly wielding a shotgun, or articulating hilarious quotes like "I've got good news and bad news: your dates are here... They're dead.", you can't help but constantly smile in admiration. Atkins perfectly nails the role and is, without question, the glue which helps to meld the whole thing together so tightly.
Aside from Atkins and a few other stand out performances, the music in the movie is excellent. Moreover, although I already mentioned the setting, it bears repeating just how effective the whole thing is in creating some truly memorable scenes. One of my favorites begins near the climax of the movie, which initiates with a montage of sororities and fraternities preparing for a big celebration at their respective dorms. This ultimately leads to a fantastic bit where the frat, who all have become infected, make their way into a sorority house. Here, chaos ensues as the girls attempt to flee as their dates do their best to infect them. This includes lots of great bits like head explosions and ultimately ends with a discovery of the parasite hive.It becomes clear soon after watching that shotguns, flamethrowers, alien slugs and sorority houses are indeed the perfect combination for a glorious time.
Over the years, NOTC has garnered quite the cult following. Interest in the movie reemerged around the release of the also excellent Slither in 2006. Shortly after the release of Slither, a lot of people in the horror community were insisting that James Gunn (Slither's director) was paying homage to NOTC due to the obvious similarities in both movies. A bit of controversy then arose due to the fact that Gunn claimed that he'd never seen NOTC at the time of making Slither. This, of course, seemed difficult to believe, since NOTC wasn't exactly obscure at the time and Gunn is well known for having deep ties to the horror industry. Regardless of this fact, however, NOTC remains one of the best of the parasite/alien infection films. While the commentary may not be as profound as something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Cronenberg's Shivers, and the creature effects may not be as ethereal and substantial as Slither's, the movie stands above the rest in terms of pure enjoyment. It's enthusiasm for the genre is clearly evident, and the movie as a whole is absolutely memorable.