Night of the Creeps (1986)

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

Has any movie so perfectly been a synthesis of the gore aesthetic of the 1980’s and the science fiction angst of the 1950’s? I doubt it — Night of the Creeps takes on those genres and adds zombies to the mix, making for a crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn filmmaking.

Between writing the story for House and bringing The Monster Squad to the screen, Fred Dekker’s name generally signifies that you’re about to watch something pretty darn interesting. This was his directing debut, working from a script that took him only a week to write.

Back in 1959, a fight on board a UFO leads to a mysterious canister being shot out into space, crash landing on Earth. It looks like a falling star to a couple on lover’s lane. As they try to see where the star has landed, the girl is killed by an axe-wielding mental patient and a small slug jumps into the boy’s mouth.

Decades later, Chris Romero (Jason Lively, Rusty Griswold from National Lampoon’s European Vacation) is trying to get over being dumped. His friend J.C.  is trying to help him out. Luckily — or perhaps not — our hero falls for Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow, Twice Dead). 

To try and win her heart, he decides to pledge a fraternity. Unfortunately, he decides to pick the Beta Epsilon house — the very one that Cynthia’s boyfriend is in charge of. He charges Chris and J.C. with stealing a corpse from the morgue as part of their initiation.

That’s when the plot kicks in. That corpse is still alive and they run from it after setting it free. That dead body — now very much alive — is the boy who ate the slug in the opening and now Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins, making this movie his own) is on the case.

The reanimated dead kid heads back to the sorority house where its head explodes, releasing more of the slugs. Soon, they’ve started to take over more bodies who then start killing everything in their path. Meanwhile, Cameron reveals his stake in all this — the girl killed in the beginning was the woman he never fell out of love with. He’d hunted down and killed her murderer way back in the late 50’s and buried the body near the sorority house. Now that axe killer is back among the living thanks to the alien slugs.

Things move even faster now, as the slugs infect a dog that causes a bus crash filled with frat boys that transform into zombies that come after our heroes. Can the suicidal and bitter Cameron, Chris and Cynthia survive?

I’ve always been struck by the relationship between J.C. and Chris in this film. It’s really obvious that J.C. is in love with his best friend and he pretty much says so in the message he leaves for him after the bugs infect him. It’s not presented as humorous, but as very much matter of fact.

There’s also an alternate ending that showed Cameron transformed into a zombie, causing more slugs to worm their way into more graves before the spaceship from the beginning of the film returns. That ending is somehow even darker than the one that made it into the released film.

Back when I was a teenager, this movie ran on Cinemax at 5 AM nearly every night. I remember that it would still be one when my dad and I ate breakfast together. It’s packed with so much head exploding gore that I was worried that I might not be able to keep my toast and cereal down.

Also — if you didn’t notice from the character names, Dekker named every character after famous horror directors — George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (J.C.’s full name is James Carpenter Hooper), John Landis (Detective Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Detective Ray Cameron) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner is the janitor’s name) And the college setting is named for Roger Corman.

This movie remains Tom Atkins’ favorite role. It’s obvious he’s loving every moment, stopping to smell the flowers and dreaming that he’s on a beach when he’s not saying. “Thrill me” and “It’s Miller Time” while shotgun blasting zombies to oblivion.

I pretty much consider this movie required viewing. It’s a roller coaster ride that must be experienced.

You can watch this on Shudder or grab it from Shout! Factory. Sadly, you can no longer get the deluxe version that came with a Tom Atkins action figure. I still can’t believe that they made that!

BONUS: You can listen to us discuss this movie, Night of the CometNight of the Living Dead and Flesheater in the video below.

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