Night of the Creeps (1986) — The most fun an ’80s zombie movie can have and still be legal

night of the creeps

“What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?”

The Scoop: 1986 R, directed by Fred Dekker and starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow

Tagline: “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.”

Summary Capsule: Aliens. Zombies. Brain slugs. Sorority girls. Axe-wielding maniacs. Exploding heads. Yeah, this movie really couldn’t get any better if it tried. And it did try.

Wolfy’s review: Maybe it’s because we’re nearing the spooky season, but something about this movie hit me in just the right place and arrived at just the right mood.

I’m certainly familiar with Fred Dekker, but for some reason this movie was nowhere near my radar. I’m glad I ran into it, though, because Night of the Creeps is the kind of ’80s horror film nonsense that I live for.

Night of the Creeps takes us to a small college town that falls under siege by some alien experiment of some sort that crashes to Earth, starting a chain of events that spans a few decades and sees three college students and one detective survive their own little zombie apocalypse.

This movie has it all: college-age silliness, some really great special effects for the time, long ’80s synth pads that try to build tension, and alien brain slugs that turn people and animals into zombies. It also has some mostly likeable characters (Tom Atkins is a particular standout) and some pretty solid pacing, trying its best to slow burn in an attempt to make things more tense. But then it ends with a couple of college kids wielding a shotgun and a flamethrower against a very small, shambling zombie horde. Also there’s the spaceship.

Those moments taken individually might read like sarcastic criticism, but as part of the greater whole of the film, these moments just seem to make a strange sort of sense. It’s endearingly goofy as the film either tries to pay homage to schlocky horror films or lampoons them. Perhaps both. Whatever it’s attempting to do, Night of the Creeps does it with such unapologetic gusto and a smirk on its face that it’s hard not to enjoy.

If you don’t mind some slight gore (none of it really gets out of hand to the point it feels like the makeup effects artists wanted things to look puppet-like) and love ’80s horror film cheese, then this one is impossible not to recommend. It both tries to be campy while also being a fun enough addition to the horror genre of its day. And after all, ’tis the season.

Justin’s rating: The only thing stopping the alien slug invasion was my handy jar of table salt

Justin’s review: Fred Dekker – one of the coolest names every, by the way – had an incredible two-year streak in 1986 and 1987.  During this period of time, he wrote House, wrote/directed Drew’s favorite Halloween flick The Monster Squad, and wrote/directed Night of the Creeps.  Three for three, these are some of the most underrated cult classics of the 1980s, each deserving your time and subsequent brain cells for long-term memory storage.  Why I hadn’t heard of any of these until the past couple years, I have no idea, but it’s great to see that Dekker is getting more his due as these head to a widespread DVD release.

I’d easily say that Night of the Creeps is the best of this unofficial horror/comedy trilogy, if only that its main characters are more endearing to me than the other two films.  Creeps was Dekker’s homage to the zombie/alien B-movies of yesteryear, and even if it’s not A-list material, it’s an A-list effort from all involved.

See if you can’t follow this chain of events: Back in the ’50s, a renegade alien shoots an experimental capsule down to earth, infesting a local with a brain slug on the same night that an axe-wielding escaped convict goes on a rampage.  Somehow, this all ends okay for mankind – or at least the problem is put on hold for a few decades.

Flash-forward to the totally tubular eighties, where two nerds pledging Beta House accidentally let loose the space slugs – who really like to make zombies, by the by – upon the local college population.  Before you know it, the nerds, their new lady friend, and a trigger-happy cop are all that stands between a horde of zombies and the rest of mankind.  Lawnmowers, flamethrowers and shotguns, oh my!

It just about made my year to see this.

What makes Night of the Creeps work is that Dekker strikes just the right note between the absurd comedy of B-movie conventions and the spirit of ’80s splatterfest horror flicks.  The characters are far wittier than they have the right to be, especially when trying to convey how a human might react to a best friend’s head exploding via pregnant slugs.  They exist for the snappy banter, the apropos one-liners, and the spot-on heroic gestures.  They may not be in a “good” film, but they’re in a “fun” movie — and that’s really what we need.

Dekker also has a blast with the creepy zombie creations (including those of both the cat and dog variety), Sam Raimi-like camera movements, and bizarre juxtapositions of mundane themes (like getting a date for the big dance) with gratuitous gore and slithering space-worms.

My only complaint is that Night of the Creeps is far, far too short for all the entertainment it delivers, and I truly wish we could’ve seen a sequel, as the end scene suggests.

Didja notice?

  • Why don’t aliens ever invent clothes? They have spaceships, for crying out loud!
  • Girls always go for the unibrow jocks
  • Betas really ARE better
  • I think Chris was the prototype for Harry Potter’s Ron
  • That girl seems awfully caviler about toting around a half dozen human brains
  • An actual jumping cat fake scare
  • Dude, that zombie cat was AWESOME
  • “Go Monster Squad!” on the bathroom wall
  • The vertigo shot when the zombie turns around
  • Nobody in this sorority closes their shower curtains?
  • Police stations carry flamethrowers. I mean, why not?
  • Zombie dog!
  • The totally radical 80’s lingo – “I’m SO sure!” “Bogus man!”
  • Several of the characters are named after famous movie directors – James Cameron, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, John Landis, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Roger Corman, Tobe Hooper, Steve Miner
  • The house mother is watching Plan 9 From Outer Space

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