Fred Dekker’s first directorial effort, 1986’s Night of the Creeps, managed to capture elements of classic B movies like 1958’s The Blob and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and drop them in a mid-1980’s John Hughes world. The result is a movie that never fails to thrill me!
Night of the Creeps starts off with a close encounter of the alien kind but quickly shifts to “black & white” 1959. College sweethearts, Johnny and Pam are parked at the local make out point, gazing at the stars and totally ignoring the radio report of an escaped mental patient on the loose. Before we get any heavy petting action, the young lovers are distracted by a rookie police officer and Pam’s high school boyfriend Ray Cameron warning them about the mental patient on the loose advising them they should go home.
After the awkwardness of Ray’s interruption, Johnny and Pam are then distracted by an unidentified object that falls from the sky and into the nearby woods. Pam writes it off as a shooting star, but Johnny wants to investigate. So he starts the car and Pam soon finds herself sitting in the car alone on the side of the road, while Johnny goes into the woods to investigate.
Johnny would find what he was looking for, the unidentified object was actually a space capsule that contained an alien experiment gone wrong. When Johnny opens the capsule a parasitic slug shoots into his mouth and turns Johnny’s body into its host.
Meanwhile, Pam finds herself the victim of the ax wielding mental patient. Ray Cameron shows up on the scene a few minutes too late and has to deal with the shock of seeing a mutilated Pam and the deranged man who killed his first true love. This incident would haunt Ray Cameron for the rest of his life and we would soon find out that the mistakes of 1959 would come back to haunt everyone in 1986…
It is Pledge Week 1986 at Corman University, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are two college freshmen hanging out on fraternity row one night when Chris spots the girl of his dreams hanging out in the front yard of the Beta Epsilon house… Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow).
Instead of using the direct approach and actually talking to Cynthia, the less than confident Chris decides he is going to have to pledge a fraternity if he wants to get the attention of Cynthia. Enter our cocky, blonde bad boy, Brad (Allan Kayser). Brad interestingly enough is Cynthia’s current boyfriend and the president of the Betas. Now Chris and J.C. aren’t exactly the coolest guys on campus and really aren’t your fraternity types, but Brad being a dick decides to give the two friends a challenge. Brad wants Chris and J.C. to steal a corpse from the school’s medical lab and leave it on the door step of a rival fraternity… if they do that, it would go a long way with proving they are Beta worthy.
So Chris and J.C. go looking for a corpse and end up stumbling upon a cryogenics lab. There they find a corpse, but not just any corpse… its our boy Johnny from 1959, you know the frat guy with the slug in his brain. And with the touch of a few buttons, Johnny is released from his state of suspended animation, this freaks out Chris and J.C. and they take off “screaming like banshees” and they aren’t the only one who leave the cryogenics lab that night, Johnny the corpse (not knowing it is no longer 1959) decides to stroll on over to the sorority house his beloved Pam once called home and the very same sorority house that Cynthia now calls home.
As you might imagine, this incident causes a great deal of panic and it also lays the groundwork for the rest of the film… We find out that the slug that was in Johnny’s head laid eggs and when Johnny meets his demise, multiple slugs are now loose on the campus of Corman University… Cynthia also gets to see Brad’s true colors and it isn’t long before she dumps Brad and is coming to Chris for comfort, even asking Chris to be her date for the big formal… And last but not least, the police get involved after the break in at the cryogenics lab and Detective Ray Cameron is on the case.
The modern day Ray Cameron was played by horror movie veteran Tom Atkins. The Ray Cameron character is one that is dealing with some serious PTSD and not dealing with it in a productive way. Ray is a depressed alcoholic with some serious suicidal thoughts. But Ray Cameron is also a badass cop and when called into duty, there is nobody better. Atkins brings his usual swagger to the character and delivers some classic lines in this film as only he can, including his unofficial catchphrase “Thrill me” and the iconic “good news/bad news” bit.
Cameron sees a lot of himself in Chris Romero, so it is no surprise when Chris’ best friend J.C. becomes a victim of the “creepy crawlies”, that Cameron doesn’t hesitate to help Chris. Props to Jason Lively for bringing his usual likeability to the character of Chris, but also being believable when things get serious and he finds himself taking on an army of zombies first alongside Detective Cameron and eventually Cynthia.
And how perfect was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia? She was smart, beautiful, tough and she could handle a flamethrower! By the end of the movie, this Chris was in love with her too.
While I’m expounding the virtues of the cast of the characters in Night of the Creeps, I can’t leave J.C. out. If you have a friend like J.C. in your life consider yourself blessed. With his life slipping away J.C. manages to make a tape for Chris, that not only serves as a goodbye message to his best friend, but tells Chris what he needs to know to battle the space slugs. If J.C. doesn’t make the tape, Night of the Creeps would have had a very different ending.
Speaking of different endings, Night of the Creeps had two different endings. There was the ending the studio used for the theatrical/home video releases. Then there was Fred Dekker’s original ending that ended up on some TV versions of the film and eventually on the special edition Blu-ray release. Dekker’s ending is far superior and left the door wide open for a sequel that we unfortunately never got.
Dekker’s passion for the horror genre shines through in his rookie effort as a filmmaker and that passion, along with the stellar cast, made Night of the Creeps a few steps above your average horror flicks of the time.