Night of the Creeps – (The Test of Time)

Last Updated on August 10, 2021

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must-see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

“Zombies, exploding heads, creepy-crawlies… and a date for the formal. This is classic, Spanky.”

STARRING JASON LIVELY, TOM ATKINS, STEVE MARSHALL, JILL WHITLOW

DIRECTED BY FRED DEKKER

Attention all you Fred Dekker heads, be real, what’s your favorite film from the beloved 80s filmmaker? Is it Godzilla: 1985, House, Night of The Creeps (WATCH IT HERE / OWN IT HERE), The Monster Squad, House II: The Second Story, Ricochet, Robocop 3, The Predator? Open your dome and spill a little brain matter on the topic below!

Personally speaking, I’ll always rock with The Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad as my two all-time favorite Dekker joints, two of the three feature films he officially directed in addition to writing the script. Believe it or not, Night of the Creeps turns 35 years old this August. While the film was a monumental flop at the box office in the summer of 1986, the film has gone on to earn a rep as one of the all-time greatest horror-comedies, one that is genuinely funny and scary in equal measure. That rep has only increased over the years, with the film proving itself to be far ahead of its time for its slick self-reflexive humor, sly self-referential in-jokes, and overall awareness of the horror genre that Dekker defiantly subverts at nearly every turn. All while delivering legitimately exhilarating thrills! But how does a film so prescient and entertaining in 1986 play in 2021. We’re about to find out when The Night of the Creeps takes on The Test of Time below!

THE STORY: Written in one week by Dekker with the uncredited help of his then-roommate Shane Black (who makes a brief cameo in the police station), Night of the Creeps opens in an alien spaceship where a possessed extraterrestrial launches a mysterious canister that lands on Earth in 1959. When the canister unleashes a slithering black slug into the mouth of a schoolboy, his body is cryogenically frozen for medical experimentation. Cut ahead to Sorority Row in 1986, where nerdy-ass Chris Romero (Jason Lively, the first of several characters named after famous horror directors) desperately wants to catch the amorous attention of Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). To do so, he accepts a crazy frat pledge with his best friend J.C., aka James Carpenter Hooper (Steve Marshall) to break into the school’s medical lab, steal a corpse, and dump it on the steps of a rival frat house. The body Chris and J.C. steal is the frozen alien-infested corpse from 1959, which animates, unleashes hordes of slimy black parasitic slugs that enter human bodies, eat their brains, and turn them into mindless, bloodthirsty zombified hosts. The only person able to help Chris and J.C. quell the invasion before the school formal arrives is Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a hilariously laconic, jaded, and deeply cynical cop still scarred from the incident in 1959 that he was assigned to. Atkins has gone on the record claiming this movie as his favorite of his own, and there’s absolutely no argument here. Atkins is one of the best parts of the movie, and one of the main reasons to see it.

WHAT HOLDS-UP: Who the hell are we kidding….everything about this badass movie still holds up like the Statue of f*cking Liberty. Flamethrowers, zombie housecats, ripped-off frat-boy faces, what’s not to love! It’s so relentlessly entertaining, so full of eminently quotable one-liners, and so satisfyingly rewatchable that it’s hard to find a single fault even 35 years later. But if we had to narrow the merits down to a few, it’s definitely the deft mixture of meta side-splitting humor and head-cracking horror, the performances by Atkins and Marshall, and the genuinely terrifying makeup and FX work of the sluglike parasites and concomitant zombie ghouls they possess that continue to make Night of the Creeps such a re-livable 80s horror classic.

Well ahead of its time, the film boasts a uniquely playful balance of humor that not only pokes fun at horror B-movie cliches, but it also delivers visceral deadly dual-action horror – slithering slugs and zombie ghouls alike – in a way that you can tell comes from a heartfelt affection for the genre. With Cameron firing such waggish zingers as “What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-Movie?” and “I got good news and bad news girls. The good news is your dates are here.” the bad news “They’re Dead!” underscores the self-awareness and mordant humor of Dekker’s script. By naming police officers Sgt. Raimi and Det. Landis, Dekker is both paying homage to and poking fun at the genre he lovingly spent the majority of his career working in. The result is clear as can be, this movie was made by horror fans for horror fans with a hysterical dose of referential inside jokes and a heartfelt love of reanimated body horror.

Atkins kicks so much ass in this film that it’s hard to quantify his coolness. As the boozy, stoic, take-no-shit detective dripping with sarcasm (thrill me!), he radiates such an air of put-upon disdain that it’s hard not to like every line of action he takes and line of dialogue he spits. Whether he’s spouts lines like “It’s Miller Time” before blowing up a zombie head or “You sonuva bitch. I already killed you,” Atkins’ droll interplay is the main attraction of the entire film. Perhaps my favorite Cameron barb: “Corpses that have been dead for 27 years do not get up and go for a walk by themselves!” A similar line was recycled almost verbatim in The Monster Squad one year later.

However, we’d be remiss not to mention what a great character J.C. is and what great performance Marshall gives in his film debut. Although presented as a geeky kid with a disability, J.C. is actually much cooler than Chris is. When asked about the reason for J.C.’s disability, Dekker said “there’s no reason aside except we just don’t see it. You can make a movie with a character who’s handicapped without the story being about the fact that he’s handicapped.” Indeed, J.C. is not only a fully-rounded character because of his condition, but in many ways, he actually proves more capable than Chris does. The scene where J.C. explains why Chris is such a geek who can’t get girls is among the most authentic scenes in any teen movie, much less a horror flick, and establishes such a natural chemistry between the two actors that both become instantly relatable and rootable. Later, when J.C. gives his heartfelt goodbye to Chris as he’s turning into a zombie, proudly admitting that he walked again in making a stand, adds a surprisingly layered pathos to a movie you simply do not expect it from. J.C.’s disability is a feature of his personality, not a bug, which goes a long way in making him so lovable.

Now on to the actual horror. With early work done by KNB boys Howard Berger and Robert Kirkman, as well as Greg Nicotero (all of whom make zombie cameos), the dynamic movement of the slithery black slugs still holds up extremely well today, so much so that I have no earthly clue how they credibly achieved such (it almost appears like footage is sped up to increase the pace of the slugs’ movement). Moreover, there are no less than two genuinely jaw-dropping HOLY-SH*T moments involving the slugs flying through the air and into a person’s mouth. A great example of this that also combines the aforementioned meta-humor and compelling characterization includes the iconic bathroom scene in which J.C. is attacked in a toilet stall. First, notice the “Go Monster Squad!” graffiti on the wall a year before that movie came out. Next, J.C.’s physical disability confines him to the stall, where creepy-crawly slugs speed across the linoleum while making disturbing hissing sounds. J.C. wisely and hilariously lights a slug on fire with a match, but the janitorial zombie walks in and spews a nest of alien–slugs from his head that prove too much for J.C. to outlast. The scene fuses self-reflexive humor, thrilling horror, and well-observed characterization that all unite in one harmonious and horrific whole that embodies the best of what Night of the Creeps has to offer.

Aside from the nasty slugs, the practical FX and makeup of the gore-soaked, head-splitting zombies also remain top-notch. Whether it’s Brad’s torn-off face, the worm-ridden zombie cat, or the decrepit graveyard zombie, the effects are viscerally chilling and the carnage as gratifyingly graphic as one can imagine for a film made in 1986. Because there is zero CGI to show its age, the film’s gory makeup and FX work still hold up incredibly well.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: You know what sucks these days? Knowing how ahead of its time the movie was, how great it continues to get every year, and yet still never getting a sequel due to the abysmal box office performance. The film clearly sets up a sequel with Cameron’s head releasing several slugs that slither into a nearby graveyard as the alien mothership searches for them from above. Yet, grossing a paltry $591,000 against a $5 million budget dashed those plans instantly. The thought of what-could-have-been is what blows these days…otherwise, we’re talking about a near-perfect 80s horror-comedy!

THE VERDICT: Indeed, Night of the Creeps still delivers everything you’re looking for in a durable 80s horror-comedy. The meta-humor and morbid horror come in equal dosage, the two cited characters are as credible and compelling as can be, and the overall combination lends for such a replayable piece of entertainment that it’s hard to find a better go-to example of the subgenre this side of Ghostbusters.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.