Release Date(s)1986 (October 27, 2009)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
More than seemingly any other genre, the people who make horror movies tend to be fans themselves. They grew up watching scary movies and want to recreate that feeling they had when they were kids for a new audience. More often than not, they simply end up with a carbon copy of those movies, full of quotes and references but few original ideas, especially if the filmmaker is just starting out. But occasionally, you can end up with something kind of wonderful, as is the case with Night of the Creeps, Fred Dekker’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink tribute to horror and sci-fi B-movies of the 50s and 60s.
The movie starts out in the 50s as a deadly experiment from outer space is set loose and crash lands on Earth. A couple of college kids on their way back from Inspiration Point find the crash site. The boy is attacked by the space slugs while the girl is hacked to bits by an axe murderer recently escaped from the local nuthouse.
Flash forward to the neon-colored 80s. Chris and J.C. (Jason Lively and Steve Marshall) are tasked with stealing a cadaver as part of a fraternity initiation. They find one conveniently frozen in a cryogenic lab. Unfortunately, it’s the guy who had been taken over by the creeps thirty years earlier and setting him free unleashes a plague of terror on campus.
Dekker knows how to hook an audience from the start, cramming a mutiny on board a spaceship, weird slug parasites and an axe murderer into the first 15 minutes. It’s a good thing because the movie loses a bit of steam when the focus switches to 1986 and takes a little time to ratchet things up again. Dekker isn’t immune to elbowing you in the ribs with movie references. We catch a glimpse of Plan 9 from Outer Space on a TV and characters are unsubtly named after horror directors (Cronenberg, Raimi, Carpenter, Romero, etc.). But once the creeps start creeping, the fun doesn’t let up.
Tom Atkins is fantastic as the hard-boiled Detective Cameron, chomping into catchphrase-ready lines like “Thrill me” with gusto. And Dekker, whose next movie would be the much-beloved The Monster Squad, has a blast with the creeps, throwing in zombie frat guys and even zombie pets. You’re never quite sure what Dekker will throw into the mix next but playing along is great fun.
After a prolonged absence on home video, Night of the Creeps has finally been released as a two-disc special edition DVD and, somewhat shockingly, on Blu-ray. First, the bad news. That is some god-awful, uninspired artwork. It’s nice to see that even after almost 25 years, the studio still has absolutely no idea how to market this film. The good news? Everything else. This is a fantastic set, starting with the crisp, colorful transfer and rich audio. Night of the Creeps has never looked or sounded better.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray offer a bounty of extras, starting with a pair of audio commentaries. Fred Dekker’s track is predictably the more informative, with lots of candid insights into the making of the film and what Dekker thinks works and what doesn’t. The cast commentary reunites stars Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow and Tom Atkins. It’s fun, jokey, and says a lot about the very real chemistry between these four actors. The movie restores Dekker’s original ending, so the less-effective theatrical ending is included as a bonus, as are several other deleted scenes that may be familiar to you if you’ve only seen Creeps on television. The Blu-ray also includes a fairly interesting trivia track, the original trailer and previews for other Sony Blu-ray releases.
The meatiest extra here is Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps, an extensive documentary broken up into five featurettes (you can either watch them individually or all at once). It’s an excellent piece, covering everything from conception to marketing. I’m particularly glad that DVD producer Michael Felsher took the time to discuss the film’s release in some detail. The actual production of most movies is essentially the same but the marketing and release is different for each one. Too few documentaries talk about why movies succeed or fail and the case of Night of the Creeps is especially interesting and instructive.
Another outstanding featurette is Tom Atkins: Man of Action, an extensive interview with the beloved character actor discussing his entire career, from his beginnings in Pittsburgh to his TV appearances to his work with directors like John Carpenter and George Romero. It’s the closest thing to an A&E Biography devoted to Atkins that we’re ever likely to get.
With Night of the Creeps, Fred Dekker successfully pays tribute to the creature features of his youth. But significantly, he never loses sight of the fact that his primary job is to entertain his audience. This is a movie with absolutely no agenda other than getting you to have a good time and it succeeds admirably. Its mere release after so many years would be enough for most fans. The fact that it has been given such loving, respectful treatment on disc is cause for celebration. Given the fact that Dekker found his inspiration in B-movies, I think he’d find my film rating wholly appropriate.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke