Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Night of the Creeps (1986)

The Movie: We start out aboard an alien spaceship, where one baby-like alien is being chased by two others. When the pursuers are locked out of the corridor their prey escaped to, one emphasizes to the other that the experiment in the capsule he was carrying must not get off the ship. Unfortunately, he takes it to the airlock and it does just that.

The experiment winds up on a certain blue planet that should be very familiar to all of us. Specifically, it lands just outside Corman College in 1959. There, a sorority girl is about to go on her first date with a guy who she hopes will be her new boyfriend. Unfortunately, the evening goes even worse than you could normally expect a date to go. First, the beat cop who interrupts the couple on lovers’ lane to warn them about the escaped ax-wielding psycho turns out to be her recently dumped ex. Then when they see something fall out of the sky in the woods, the boyfriend goes to investigate, leaving her in the car by the road. Loverboy is attacked by slug things that come out of the alien capsule. The girl, meanwhile, meets the escaped psycho and gets the ax.

Twenty-seven years later, on the same campus, we meet best friends Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall). Chris sees and immediately falls in love with the beautiful Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), but is too terrified to approach her. Fortunately for him, J.C. has no such reservations. J.C. is a paraplegic chronic smart-ass, and he’s well aware he’s never going to get laid anytime soon; so he figures he should help his best friend in that regard instead.

Chris gets it into his head that the only way Cynthia will give him the time of day is if he pledges a fraternity. Unfortunately, frat president Brad (Allan Kayser), who unbeknownst to the boys is also Cynthia’s boyfriend, has no intention of pledging them. Still, since they’re kind enough to present themselves for some humiliation, he feels he should give it to them. They are told to steal a corpse from the school’s medical center and leave it on the doorstep of a rival fraternity.

Searching for a corpse, the boys stumble across a top-secret cryogenics facility. They take the body out of the device, but unfortunately it turns out to be Loverboy from the beginning of the movie. When he moves, they freak out and run like hell, so they miss him killing the grad student who attends the facility.

The cop called to the scene is Ray Cameron (the prolific Tom Atkins) who, by a really nasty coincidence, turns out to be the jilted ex of the girl we saw axed in the first scene, and the first person to find her remains. Loverboy, meanwhile, turns up outside of Cynthia’s window, so she gets to not only see the corpse move, but also to see the head explode in a shower of slugs. Having dumped Brad for being an asshole (considering the kind of woman she turns out to be, you have to wonder what took her so long), she turns to Chris and J.C. for support. It looks like Chris might have that shot at the woman of his dreams after all.

Of course, it’s not that easy. The alien slugs infest all the bodies they can get, animating them and in turn causing them to infest the living. Cameron has some demons from his past that literally aren’t going to stay buried. Finally, the whole mess cumulates when a bus crash results in a horde of slug-infested zombie frat-boys….

The Review:

I personally would rather have my brains invaded by creatures from outer space than pledge a fraternity.”

As I mentioned in my review of Re-animator, creating a successful horror comedy presents a very difficult balance. If you lean too far in either direction you either wind up with a bad, tasteless (and not in the desirable way) attempt at comedy or a weak, half-assed horror movie. Also, if you’re not careful about how you balance the humor and horror elements, they can cancel each other out. Either way, the outcome is rarely entertaining.

However, every so often somebody is able to strike that precarious balance. Night of the Creeps is one of those rare attempts at a horror comedy that actually manages to get it right. For the most part, it is just a plain fun movie to watch. The humor, while often twisted, mostly works; only occasionally aging badly or falling flat. On the other hand, while Night of the Creeps mainly operates in the spirit of good, though usually perverse, fun; it does have teeth and doesn’t hesitate to use them.

On the fun side of the equation, Night of the Creeps has all the beloved staples we expect from our B-movies. The very beginning has some goofy alien costumes, and the rest of the film contains obviously low budget, yet still good and effective, special effects. We have likeable heroes, villains we love to hate, and gratuitous boob shots.

The humor can be hit or miss, but for the most part it works. J.C. and Detective Cameron get all the best lines, and they deliver them well. Where it misses is in the culture references, such as how almost everyone is named after B or horror movie directors.

As for the horror side, when Night of the Creeps gets dark it really gets dark. Things happen to characters we are led to like and care about; even when other movies of this sort would lead us to believe that some of said characters are off limits. Also, the character of Detective Cameron is one of the really bleak points. On the one hand, Atkins plays the character well, making him believable as an exasperating but likeable curmudgeon. He also provides a large portion of the humor. On the other hand, as the movie goes on we get to see how damaged an individual Cameron really is, and the situation with the alien slugs really isn’t helping him with that any.

One final issue of import is the ending. Night of the Creeps actually has two endings; the one that the moviemakers originally intended, and the theatrical ending that the studio made them use instead. For the longest time the theatrical ending was the only one I was able to see, as it was the one on the VHS tapes that were available to me. However, with the recent release on DVD (I snapped up my special edition copy as soon as I could get my hands on it), we are provided with a cut that has the original ending; although the theatrical one is apparently provided as a special feature.

I won’t spoil the endings for you, but I will offer this critique. The theatrical ending is your typical horror movie kicker ending that pops up out of nowhere. It’s not bad, but it’s not great and is something of a disappointment compared to the rest of the film. The original fits in much better, and is also much more ambivalent. You can probably guess which one I prefer.

So in conclusion, Night of the Creeps is a fun, well made little classic of a B horror movie. The acting and writing are good and the special effects, while obviously low budget, are equally well done. It’s also one of the few attempts at a horror comedy I’ve seen that gets it right; the humor mostly works and it’s fun, but the movie also has some rather nasty teeth. Definitely a must see for the B-horror aficionado.

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