Comedy Oddities: Night Of The Creeps

night of the creeps indexFrom Fred Dekker, the director of the surprisingly enjoyable children’s horror film The Monster Squad, comes this sci-fi horror that mostly plays it for laughs but has the odd quite unsettling or strangely unusual moment. The sci-fi part is weirdly underplayed too, with some aliens setting up events by mysteriously sending off a vial in to space which lands in 1950’s America, but then they are all but forgotten about for the rest of the film.

Linked to the above is a pre-credits black and white sequence set in the fifties where after what looks like a meteorite lands in the wood some teenagers investigate, and naturally it doesn’t end well. There’s also an escaped mental patient on the loose who is responsible for a murder, because this film sure does like to over complicate matters, before we’re suddenly thrust in to the present day (at the time at least, this being released in 1986) and the lives of a bunch of college students.

Our main two heroes are crutches wielding J.C. (Steve Marshall) and his best pal Chris (Jason Lively), with the latter deciding he’s madly in love with Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow) within seconds of seeing her. She’s not the only character to be named after a horror movie director either but Dekker owes Cronenberg his biggest debt as after Chris and J.C. break in to a morgue thanks to a fraternity related prank they discover a cryogenic pod and unleash a dead body, one which comes complete with Shivers style parasites.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that makes J.C. and Chris sound like idiots but they’re actually sympathetic and geeky, and this is just a moment of madness between the two who soon decide they don’t want to join the Beta House and the twats who are members of that fraternity. But both are quickly in trouble when Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins) discovers they’re responsible for unfreezing the body, and inbetween scenes of Chris attempting to flirt with Cynthia, the boys being mocked by the jocks, and Cameron investigating matters, various bystanders are brutally possessed and thus killed by the slug like “Creeps” that are dashing all over the place like molluscs on speed.

Detective Cameron is a particularly odd character, filled with guilt for having been unable to save his ex-girlfriend from being murdered at the beginning of the film, and the fact that he secretly killed the escaped mental patient and buried the body. It’s a very real, disconcerting performance in certain scenes as he’s haunted by his actions, with it clear that he’s about to commit suicide just before the third act kicks off, but then because this is an extremely uneven piece he slips in to action hero mode by the end and delivers many a pithy line while shooting the creeps.

Also odd is that J.C. is a sparky, likeable sidekick whose death feels like the actor quit the film half way through, and I’m not convinced a recorded message that Chris finds was actually delivered by Marshall. Though this is a film that is largely played for laughs every so often it feels like a particularly gruesome horror film, with J.C.’s recorded speech being weirdly troubling, and there’s also a good few gory scenes and quite unpleasant deaths. Oh, and because it’s an eighties movie there’s unfortunately also some female nudity which truly isn’t needed, and given that it doesn’t feature any of the regular cast or characters who even have names it could have been cut out without anyone noticing at all.

The director’s cut features the original ending which ties the movie in with its unusual beginning, but this for once isn’t a case where the director has latterly made a movie better, as if anything it just made me wish that aspect had been a much bigger part of the film. With a slightly less uneven tone and a sharper script this could perhaps have been seen as something of a lost cult classic but the one liners aren’t as funny as the writers believed them to be, and the only really memorable thing about the film is Tom Atkin’s unusual character and strong performance, otherwise it’s a movie that is vaguely fun, but little more than that.

★★3/4

Alex Finch.
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