Face-Off: Night of the Creeps vs. The Monster Squad

DC Comics villains will join forces for heroic purposes in this weekend's SUICIDE SQUAD, but as far as movies with "squad" in the title are concerned, the first one that will always come to my mind is director Fred Dekker's 1987 classic THE MONSTER SQUAD. So while Harley Quinn and co. prepare to wreak havoc on the big screen, I decided to take a look back at Dekker's SQUAD film this week and see how it fares against his other '80s horror classic, 1986's NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.
An alien science experiment goes wrong, unleashing nightmarish parasitic slugs into small town America. Any creature, living or dead, human or animal, that these slugs manage to crawl into becomes a vehicle for these things, stumbling around while slug eggs incubate in the brain. When the eggs hatch, the host's head explodes and more slugs come pouring out to repeat the process. Many of those infected by the slugs are your basic zombies, but there are some cool and unique ones, including a slug-zombie cat, a slug-zombie dog, and best of all, the rotten corpse of an axe-wielding maniac who has been dead for 27 years.
THE MONSTER SQUAD brings together versions of classic Universal Monsters, some of the greatest icons of the horror genre - Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and Gill Man - in a film that I find to be a step up from most of the Universal productions that had monsters crossing paths with each other. The Mummy and Gill Man aren't particularly useful in the grand scheme, but they both look pretty awesome. Tom Noonan is a heartwarming Monster; Jon Gries is fantastic as the human side of the terrifying Wolf Man, who only wants to be stopped; and Duncan Regehr makes a chillingly evil Dracula.
Jason Lively plays Chris Romero, a dorky college kid who pines for sorority girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), who is already taken by a stereotypical frat bro. The sweet Cynthia is more approachable than Chris expects, but he still manages to make things more complicated than necessary. As he pursues his dream girl, he's aided by his dedicated best friend, Steve Marshall as James Carpenter Hooper. While Chris and Cynthia are adequate characters, J.C. is the heart of the film in some ways. When he's removed from the proceedings it gives Chris the initiative to kick some slug zombie ass.
The monsters are great, but this movie wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for the characters that make up The Monster Squad and the endearing performances of the child actors who bring them to life. There's Andre Gower as Sean, who assembles his friends to fight this monster menace; Robby Kiger as his right hand man Patrick; Brent Chalem as Horace, whose biggest problem before this was bullies; Michael Faustino as little Eugene (accompanied by his dog Pete); Sean's adorable tag-along sister Phoebe (Ashley Bank); and Ryan Lambert as cool older kid Rudy, who turns out to be a very capable monster slayer.
Tom Atkins steals the show as Detective Ray Cameron, a hard-boiled type who isn't afraid to go rogue when the situation calls for it - like when his high school sweetheart is killed by an escaped lunatic. Cameron enjoys cigarettes and beer (specifically Miller), dreams of tropical getaways, and even has his own catchphrase: "Thrill me."
The Monster Squad wouldn't be able to pull off the heroics they do if it weren't for the help of Leonardo Cimino as Scary German Guy. Suspected by some to be a German spy, this guy is actually a kind man who offers visitors pie and aids the kids with the translation of an old diary that contains the secret of how to thwart Dracula's schemes.
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS unexpectedly begins with a chase sequence on a space ship that involves odd little aliens who have horrible aim. Brief action and horror beats throughout the running time then build up to a zombie assault on a sorority house where the walking slug factories are taken out with gunfire and flames. The climactic battle seems a bit quaint and slow when viewed thirty years later, but the characters get the job done, and in one very cool moment a lawnmower is put to unconventional use. Peter Jackson took this idea and cranked it up to 11 (and beyond) for DEAD-ALIVE.
THE MONSTER SQUAD packs plenty of action, suspense, and monster screen time into its well paced 82 minutes, beginning with a 19th century raid on Dracula's castle. After establishing the squad and the monsters they'll have to deal with in 1987, the film then concludes with nearly 30 minutes of almost non-stop action. These sequences confirm that the Wolf Man has nards and is much harder to kill than you might expect, that Dracula can't handle garlic pizza and really likes blowing things up with dynamite, and that Rudy probably could have handled this situation all by himself.
It's made clear in his films that Fred Dekker is a huge fan of horror, and CREEPS functions as a tribute to the sci-fi horror movies of his youth and many of the genre's most influential directors, as you can see from the character names that have been listed and the many more that come up in the film (like Raimi, Corman, Cunningham, Miner, etc.) Dekker got to do it all with this film: space aliens, a black and white sequence set in the '50s that combines a slasher urban legend with a BLOB-like meteorite, zombies, a detective story. He brought this mish-mash to the screen in a goofy, fun way.
Fred Dekker co-wrote THE MONSTER SQUAD with soon-to-be legendary screenwriter Shane Black, and while the film doesn't feature many of Black's trademarks, the banter does flow freely. So do the explosions near the end. A loving homage to the Universal Monsters, this is a fun adventure for horror fans of all ages and a wonderful "gateway movie" for young viewers just getting into the genre. I speak from experience; I was 4 when this movie was released and I watched it repeatedly. It's short, it's fast, it has good characters and iconic monsters, and it invites you to rock until you drop.
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD were both part of my earliest horror viewing rotation, but SQUAD was the one that I connected with and related to more at the time, and it still is to this day. While CREEPS is a good movie in its own right, I find SQUAD to be a substantially more entertaining film. Tom Atkins aside, the '86 film isn't much competition for the '87 film in my eyes - and even in that category, I'd rather hang out with Scary German Guy. He has pie.

Is the result the same for you, or do you find NIGHT OF THE CREEPS to be the more satisfying viewing experience? Sound off on these films by leaving a comment below. Do you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles? If so, you can send me an email at [email protected].



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