Horror films of the 80s were a different breed. That’s not a statement on modern horror, horror before the 80s, or an indictment of 80s horror. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a prime example of this. In 1986 TCM2 took a deeply dark and transgressive film and turned it into a horror comedy, an odd one at best. How about Primal Rage? A rage virus horror film that takes place on a college campus, with students acting like high schoolers and a 20-minute montage of some of the most elaborate Halloween costumes you’ll ever see. Filmmakers took risks with little to no care about the payoff, they made the films they wanted to make no matter how whacky they were. When thinking of strange 80s horror films one always comes to mind pretty quickly and that is Night of the Creeps. Strange, creepy, campy, and a guilty blast, Night of the Creeps brought some big names to an obscure project written and directed for Fred Dekker’s directorial debut.
Oh, and for the record we’ll be going by Fred Dekker’s original ending rather than the theatrical ending. Night of the Creeps follows Chris Romero (Jason Lively) a bumbling starry-eyed himbo who obsessively fawns over Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), who is dating a macho man frat boy. With the help of his best friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall), J.C. stands for John Carpenter, a plan is formed to get Cynthia’s attention. The boys have to join a frat, which they think will get Cynthia’s attention. Unfortunately for Chris and J.C. their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to get the frat boys a body from the campus morgue. When doing so, they stumble into a cryogenics lab, complete with a cryogenically frozen body. After getting the body out of the lab a plague of giant black slugs descends upon this college community, turning frat boys into zombies. All while this is happening, Chris is getting a sort of mentorship from Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins), and that’s its own bag we can unpack later.
Just writing that out sounds ridiculous. Can we start with just how ridiculous the frat’s request is? I mean I know frats are dumb and do little to no good for society, but a dead body? Granted, frats have been known to deface dead bodies, and mutilate animals, hell, even the college I went to tragically had a death at a frat house. And while the request for a dead body is strange, what’s even stranger is Chris and J.C.’s retconning of the mission to take a cryogenically frozen body. The implications here are insane. Not only would the boys have been charged with grave (morgue) robbing, but who knows how many other laws they are breaking by TAKING A BODY OUT OF CRYO SLEEP. Like, that would be murder if the body died. Right? RIGHT? Chris and J.C. seem like smart guys, but it’s hard to get past just how unbelievably stupid their decision was.
Let’s look at how the body got here in the first place. The film starts with two Thumb Thumb-looking aliens chasing another, possessed-looking, alien down a corridor. There’s a conversation about how they cannot let the experiment get off the ship. Eventually the third, possessed, alien puts the experiment in a container and shoots it off the place. This brings us to glorious black and white. Sorority Row 1959. Johnny (Ken Heron) picks up his girlfriend Pam (Alice Cadogan) and they drive out to Makeout Point. Throughout this, there are two newscasts about a patient who escaped from the Crestridge Institue for the Criminally Insane. A police officer, Pam’s ex-boyfriend, tells them to move along because of the escapee. On their drive home, they see the landing of the pod shot out of the alien spacecraft. They follow it, and Johnny goes to investigate while Pam stays in the car. Johnny finds the pod and gets infected by one of the giant black slugs. Pam, on the other hand, falls prey to the hatchet of the escaped patient. Later we’ll find out that Detective, then Officer, Cameron came upon Pam’s crime scene and killed the patient with a shotgun; burying him in a, then, undeveloped plot of land. Does the escaped patient plotline matter one bit in the long run? Nope. Can you make an argument about how it’s a hellish rebuke of unchecked police power and the failure to address mental health in America? Uh, I guess.
The majority of the charm of Night of the Creeps comes from Tom Atkins, the lead side character. Crusty Griswold continued his streak of mouth-breathing eye-candy for 80s audiences, providing nothing to the overall outcome of the film. Atkins delivers his lines with the barking nihilism of someone who has seen one too many dead bodies and had a few too many shots before arriving on the scene, always with a cigarette nearby. Undeniably, Atkins delivers one of horror’s most iconic lines with his constant utterings of, “thrill me.” It’s stupid, impractical, and just what the character needed. On top of his grisly exterior, and personality, a cop like this would DEFINITELY have a catchphrase.
Probably the greatest, and most insane, aspect of the film is the final scene. “I got good news and bad news girls. The good news is your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.” Iconic. Chris and Detective Cameron show up at the sorority house with a shotgun and a, yep I read that note right, a flamethrower. Not just a flamethrower, a flamethrower THAT IS POLICE PROPERTY. Thanks to the now-deceased J.C. they know to kill the invaders they have to burn them. So Chris shoots the [possesssed] frat bros in the head with a shotgun while Cynthia burns the slugs that come out of the bodies. Where the film forgets its canon is when Detective Cameron gets cornered by three infected people, and shoots them all in the head…only, he doesn’t burn the slugs. In another scene, Cynthia just burns the frat boys who are surrounding them, without Chris having to shoot them in the head. There is a real continuity problem throughout the whole film.
With all that being said…I do find this film incredibly entertaining. The practicals all look pretty 80s, and sometimes not in the best way. Are there plotlines that have little to no effect on the plot at all? Yes! And that’s okay! Fred Dekker had an idea in his head, and he made that film. No matter how absurd, canonically challenged, and overwritten this film is, it’s hard to deny just how fun it is to watch. Tom Atkins is a pure joy in whatever he is in and he does not hold back one single bit in this film. I wonder how sore his jaw was from chewing up all that scenery? If you haven’t seen Night of the Creeps in a while you should go back and check it out. If you have never seen Night of the Creeps, change that and watch this quirky alien invasion film.