Night of the Creeps (1986)

VH1 has covered this ground ad nauseum but it bears repeating: I love the 80s! The poofy hair, the shoulder pads, the pastel and neon color scheme…what a generation. So tightroll those jeans, throw on your best slap bracelet, and let’s get tubular.

Now it was only a matter of time before I got around to the first zombie movie in this year’s edition of the 31 Flavors. I’ve seen most of the big ones but I was only seven when Night of the Creeps came out. Since it spent a few decades moldering in obscurity it slipped my radar until it finally got itself a DVD release last year. Creeps is certainly not your typical zombie infestation, what with the aliens and mind-controlling slugs and what have you. Even though in terms of cinematic quality it ranks several degrees below Killer Klowns from Outer Space it’s definitely worth a watch, especially considering the huge influence it obviously had on Shane Black’s excellent Slither.

The story: We open in space to find two naked alien midgets frantically chasing a third down a metal corridor. Number three, who appears to be suffering from some serious cataracts, is carrying a metal tube the others clearly want. In translated dialogue we learn that our space gnomes swear a lot and that they absolutely must not let “the experiment” get off the ship. Of course it does, and where’s it headed?

In space, no one can find their pants.

Cut to a quaint black-and-white 1950s college scene. A pretty girl goes with off to the woods with her fella for a little necking when a something falls out of the sky nearby. Johnny runs off to check it out while young Pam gets freaked out in the car listening to reports of an escaped ax-weilding mental patient on the loose in the area. She probably should have listened when her ex-boyfriend-turned-cop warned them to go home. Just as the ax man gets to Gwen, Johnny finds the capsule, which promptly expels a nasty little black slug directly into his mouth. Two points!

Flash forward to bodacious 1986. Chris and J.C. (who will indeed ascend to some sort of haphazard Christ metaphor before all is said and done) are your basic freshman outcasts. J.C. is dead set on getting Chris over his high school ex, while Chris seems just as intent on moping through pledge week. But he can’t resist J.C.’s pitch for some revelry:

“Will you cheer up? Come on, this is college life: toilet paper in the trees, spring is in the air, couple a bitchin’ guys on the prowl for major league babes!”

They follow some lovely young thing into the dreaded Beta house and decide to pledge to get closer to her. Thing is, the vaguely Aryan and definitely mustachioed brothers aren’t about to let a couple lamewoods into their righteous frat without first pulling a big time prank, in this case boosting a cadaver from the university med center and dropping it on a rival house’s front steps. The best buds sneak into a restricted area and find the gnarly frozen corpse of poor Johnny, who soon reanimates and does the naked zombie shuffle out of the hospital to spew martian slugs at the unsuspecting student body. Bummer.

Is there something on my face?

Biggest letdown: Creeps is a studio movie that must have had a fair budget so there shouldn’t have been an issue with filming enough takes to get the dialogue right. Yet there are half a dozen speeches in the movie that are so badly flubbed they belong in an outtakes reel. Still that would be totally forgivable if only the zombie-making mechanics were consistent. If you tell me it takes a slug a few hours to kill and reanimate its victim, fine. But don’t come to me later and speed up the process to a few seconds just to amp up the pace in the final reel. For all the novelty of the source and style of the outbreak, it’s hard to take the terror seriously when the director is playing fast and loose with the rules.

Why you should watch: First off, Night of the Creeps deserves wicked credit for being one of a very few zombie movies where the zombies don’t bite, and even if they did it wouldn’t turn you into one of the living dead. But even more hellacious, dead girl Pam’s ex-boyfriend from the 50’s plays a major role in the main story and veteran character actor Tom Atkins is fucking rad as surly detective Ray Cameron. In 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (a personal guilty pleasure), Robert Downey Jr. asks Val Kilmer to listen to something. Val responds, “You have thirty of my fucking seconds. Thrill me.” Turns out, that usage of “thrill me” was coined by the bad-ass detective in Night of the Creeps, who uses it to signal his displeasure with everyone he talks to. It’s an incredibly simple and effective catch phrase, delivered with authority by a seasoned actor, and I’m going to start employing it in my daily life immediately.

Detective, thrill me.

Memorable Moment: The whole movie is one hellacious 80s flashback, and there’s one especially boss montage of young dudes and dudettes getting ready for the spring formal. Of course slugs hit the fan before they can boogie down, which results in the ridiculously awesome image of a hot chick in a prom dress with a flamethrower. Slug-b-q!

Choice quote: “Thrill me” is so much better than any possible alternative that I’m removing it from the competition on suspicion of PEDs. Instead let’s go with one of Lieutenant Cameron’s many hostile work environment quips: “This shit is getting old real fast. You know I was awakened out of a real pleasant dream to come down here? You gonna straighten it out, Raimi, or am I gonna play poo patrol with your night stick?”

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3 Responses to “Night of the Creeps (1986)”

  1. […] releasing rage-infected primates at the beginning of 28 Days Later, or all those nudist aliens in Night of the Creeps. Most others, like the original Night of the Living Dead, make at least a passing reference to […]

  2. […] Night of the Creeps – A bunch of alien slugs make college life interesting for a couple of losers. A hard-boiled detective makes his presence felt. […]

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