Almost thirty years later, 1986’s “Night of the Creeps” is a horror science fiction film that is nowhere near being a masterpiece, but is still one of the best horror romps I’ve ever seen from the decade. Director Fred Dekker treated fans to a double dose of horror entertainment, offering “Monster Squad” and then “Night of the Creeps.” While both films aren’t universally renowned like “Bride of Frankenstein,” they are classics in their own right. If you happened to love both films, you kind of want to give Fred Dekker a big hug. For me, it was a one two punch of horror comedy gold.
Incidentally both Dekker entries also happen to be meta horror films that pay homage to a certain age of horror film; and offering a plot element that would become a trend later on, Dekker names his characters after famous horror figures like Romero, Cronenberg, Carpenter, etc. At the time it was a novelty. While “Monster Squad” was a love letter to Universal horror, “Night of the Creeps” is a call back to the Atomic age of horror with aliens and mutant slugs. Much like “Return of the Living Dead,” Dekker’s film re-invents the zombie monster for a different twist on the tale, this time basing the zombie as more of an infectious parasite rather than a flesh eating beast.
Starting in 1959, an alien ship accidentally unleashes a horde of parasitic slugs that escape the ship and crash land on Earth. Coincidentally, the slugs land in the path of an escaped mental patient on the run in the woods, and three victims set the stage for the modern day disaster. Twenty eight years later, Chris Romero and his handicapped friend JC are struggling to fit in to their new college, and decide that the only way to become accepted is to join a fraternity and win the heart of Chris’ affection, Cynthia Cronenberg (cutey Jill Whitlow). Not surprising, Romero and JC are hazed by the frat filled with jocks who challenge them to steal a cadaver from the local medical center and bring it back to them.
Why a top secret medical experiment is being held in a small town medical center is anyone’s guess, but if this cadaver poses a threat to civilization, wouldn’t they have armed guards at every inch, and laser sensors rather than a few doctors and a janitor? That lapse in logic aside, Romero and JC sneak in to the center and steal the cadaver from suspended animation, unaware it’s still alive and kicking. Frightened, they flee, but the zombie has other plans, as it begins spreading its brain eating slugs mercilessly. Now that the lab has been breached both specimens in suspended animation have been released, and Detective Ray Cameron has been called in to investigate the missing cadavers that have a connection to an old case from his days as a rookie where his first love was murdered by the axe wielding mental patient.
As the cadavers make their way along the town spreading the slugs and re-animating anything dead, and before long the entire town is overrun by the walking dead. While funny and dripping with fifties nostalgia from the soundtrack to the overall tone of the story, “Night of the Creeps” succeeds in being awfully creepy and suspenseful while writing complex characters we can laugh at but care for. While Romero and JC are the harbingers of this invasion, their plight becomes very important as they both strive to stop this growing menace. There are many heartfelt moments, including a key scene involving JC that helps extrapolate the purpose of the slugs, and Romero’s relationship with Carpenter as they come face to face with this undead menace at every turn.
The film builds up slowly and inevitably explodes in to a zombie free for all that’s still boiling with terror and incredible scenes of gore and grue. The performances are fantastic, especially by Tom Atkins as Detective Cameron, and Steve Marshall as the quick witted JC. “Night of the Creeps” is an almost forgotten eighties gem, and one that sports a sick and twisted ending that deserves to be seen, mainly because it lays seeds for a great sequel that we never saw. Still a ball of a zombie film, director Fred Dekker offers his own take on the zombie, while also paying tribute to fifties science fiction and slasher films along with a clever script, and original concept. “Night of the Creeps” is an entertaining horror romp and one that deserved a sequel.