Night of the Creeps
I should probably like Fred Dekker’s movies more than I do. Well okay, perhaps not Robocop 3. His first two nurse a long-standing cult following, though, and his sometime collaborator Shane Black has made or written pictures that almost deserve their own subgenre (action noir?) Night of the Creeps wears all its influences on its sleeve – not least in its referencing horror-genre luminaries – but in script and direction, it’s only ever able to muster the level of scrappy horror comedy, awash with low-hanging gags and very rarely truly inspired.
Dekker’s intentionally throwing everything in the pot, but there’s loosely an Animal House meets Evil Dead vibe, with a whiff of the same year’s Critters (the alien framing device). Generally, there’s a sense of Dekker goosing the material too much to too little end; we open on an alien spacecraft (with a nice touch of the aliens being subtitled and their subtitles being translated). Cut to a black-and-white, ’50s prologue featuring a mad axeman and the possession of a teen investigating a “meteorite” (fired from the spaceship). And then cut to Pledge Week 1986. There’s no real need for those opening scenes (the alien craft bookend of the director’s cut also adds very little), and Dekker has none of the flair Raimi brought to the previous year’s lurid period-ish craziness Crimewave.
The frat material, with nerds Jason Lively (Rusty Griswald, but Mk II, and actual brother of Blake) and Steve Marshall mooning after girls or signing pledges is too redolent of already overfamiliar collegiate comedies;Animal House was already being irreverent about these things a decade earlier, and adding brain bugs, zombies and resurrected axe murderers lends the movie a slightly desperate, “see what sticks” flavour. Without Raimi’s visual brio, and the kind of eccentric performances and dialogue that elevate his, Landis and Dante’s horror comedies, Dekker’s clearly struggling. As a consequence, Night of the Creeps is more in the realm of schlock comedy, à la the ex-James Gunn’s Slither, than more elevated fare.
Marshall’s pretty good, though, making it a greater shame he’s killed off midway through. Alan Kayser’s suitably Aryan as uber-frat head Brad. B-horror regular Tom Atkins’s detective is good enough on paper, haunted by his dispatching the axe killer 27 years earlier and decked out in regulation trench coat, but he’s never been the most inimitable of actors. As a result, he adds to the sense of a thoroughly make-do affair (tellingly, Atkins cites it as his favourite role).
The Dick Miller cameo only makes you long for other, better Dick Miller cameos. Similarly, the character names Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Cronenberg, Cameron, Landis, Raimi and Miner, Bava, Dante and De Palma: the likes of Landis and Dante were doing this names thing waaaaay before (in Landis case, going one step further with actual cameos from these guys).
I can see why it’s become a cult item, as Night of the Creeps is self-referential enough, features gratuitous breastage, and has a smattering of good-enough lines – “What is this? A homicide or a bad B-movie?” being the standout – to guarantee it’s someone’s niche. But then, so is National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. Probably.