In terms of pop culture, the decade of the 1980s has today become synonymously associated with bad hairstyles, one hit music wonders and bawdy teen sex comedies. For many others, it might very well be the decade when their favorite cult horror movie was released; a film that perhaps was overlooked for years but has since slowly grown in reputation and has somehow surpassed in popularity more reputable movies of its era. No film typifies the hypothetical example just created then 1986’s NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, the first film written and directed by Fred Dekker (THE MONSTER SQUAD, ROBOCOP 3). One of the most long-awaited films of its type to be granted a DVD release (after years of widespread bootlegging of the VHS and laserdisc sources), Sony Pictures Entertainment proves once again how in-tune they are with fandom, coming through with higher expectations than any admirer of this film could have hoped for (not to forget, before its release, potential buyers were allowed to vote from three different potential DVD covers on Amazon.com).
After an opening flashback (set in 1959) involving aliens, their failed experiment landing on earth, and an axe murderer on the loose, the story continues in the present day of 1986. Two somewhat geeky college students – Chris (Jason Lively, EUROPEAN VACATION) and his wisecracking sidekick J.C. (Steve Marshall) – decide that joining a cool fraternity is the only way for shy Chris to woe the campus cutie, Cynthia (Jill Whitlow). After their first meeting with the intimidating frat boys, the ultra conceded leader Brad (Allan Kayser, Buba on “Mama’s Family”) dares them to steal a corpse and bring it to the campus as their initiation stunt. The determined duo of Chris and J.C. sneak into an experimental lab, but a catastrophe occurs when they thaw out and unleash the body of a young man, preserved in a deep-frozen state for the past 27 years. Now a walking corpse, his brain holds parasitic alien slug-like creatures that can move from one body to the next (through the orifice), creating a deadly batch of the living dead and causing widespread pandemonium for the town. Enter Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a tough veteran police detective with a startling back story: it will take him and the new and improved Chris to annihilate the “creeps” with a rifle and a flamethrower, bringing a terrified sorority house back to safety.
While failing to make an impact at the box office on its initial release, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS found an audience through video store rentals and repeated airings on cable channels during the late 1980s. Over 20 years later, the film is more popular than ever, and with good reason – it’s an energetic, enjoyable mishmash of standard B-level science fiction themes, action buddy film antics, syrupy youth movie influences (the budding romance between Chris and Cynthia) and of course, the fact that parasitic-controlled zombies are thrown in doesn’t hurt it any (you also get to witness a zombified cat and dog!). While it’s certainly classifiable as a horror/comedy with tongue planted firmly in cheek, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS doesn’t resort to toilet humor or having its monsters making ridiculous one-liners. Any humorous dialog is imparted to the human characters, and there are some truly scary moments, with the fast-moving black parasite creatures (the “creeps” of the title) being especially unsettling. These critters, as well as the zombie make-ups, exploding heads, and other effects were created by a very talented team who would later be known as KNB Efx Group (effects artists Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger even get to play frat boys who become zombies).
Though writer/director Fred Dekker was only 26 at the time of shooting, his maiden voyage is visually very well shot and nicely edited. It was obvious that Dekker was a longtime fan of movies, and the genre in particular when you add up all the assorted references thrown in. This is evident in the opening black & white flashback sequence (convincingly set in 1959) with its blazing meteorite-like object descending to earth as a couple of teens in a convertible parked in lovers’ lane look on. From there on, the college is named “Corman University”, most of the main characters bear the last names of modern horror film directors (Cronenberg, Romero, Minor, Carpenter, etc.) and there’s even a doomed character watching PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE on late night TV. The casting of beloved character actor Tom Atkins (familiar to fans from his appearances in several John Carpenter and George Romero films) was a wise choice, as the part seemed tailor-made for him, even if it wasn’t. The hard-drinking, cigarette-sucking Ray Cameron is a “man of action” and is given the film’s most memorable lines. A tragedy during his early days as a rookie cop now make him prone to bizarre dreams and suicide attempts, but nevertheless, he is the hero of the piece. Dick Miller (drive-in movie royalty) has a small but memorable part, and future Oscar nominee David Paymer plays a young scientist who becomes a… you guessed it. Also look for Robert Kerman (of adult film and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST fame) as the police patrolman with a flashlight.
For the first time ever, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is being released on DVD (and additionally on Blu-ray disc), and it’s being presented in an unrated “director’s cut.” The “director’s cut” is the same as the theatrical version, except that it contains Dekker’s original ending, which was shown on broadcast TV and actually works much better than the quick “scare” final shot which is preserved here as an extra. This new transfer presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (with anamorphic enhancement) and it’s a beauty from beginning to end. Colors are distinct and vivid, fleshtones look radiant and picture detail is extremely sharp, a far cry from the previous laserdisc and VHS transfer. The image is also extremely clean with very little in the way of grain, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio is strong and impressive, with music, dialog and sound effects all coming through nicely. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Sony has done a knockout job seeing that a maximum amount of extras be supplied for this DVD, and that's sure to please every diehard fan of the film and leave everyone with the impression that they now know every single detail about it. There's an audio commentary with Dekker, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures (also responsible for all the fine interviews found on the disc). The track has a very enthusiastic Dekker giving his memories about just about every aspect of making the movie, with a number of revealing tidbits, as well as his likes and dislikes of its various ingredients. Felsher (an obvious devoted fan of CREEPS) does a great job, as there’s never an uninteresting moment, and you would almost think the two participants were longtime friends while listening.
A second, un-moderated commentary features cast members Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow who have a ball watching the film (and you’ll probably do the same watching it with them) and laughing it up, so most of their meatier comments are saved for the featurettes. THRILL ME: MAKING OF NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is made up of five featurettes (“Birth of the Creeps”, “Cast of the Creeps”, “Creating the Creeps”, “Escape of the Creeps” and “Legend of the Creeps”) which can be played all at once (totaling an hour running time). Here, everything is covered: the film’s inception and reception, the actors, the make-up and its ongoing legacy. Interviewed are Dekker; actors Lively, Atkins, Marshall Whitlow; producer Charles Gordon; editor Michael Knue; make-up and FX men David B. Miller, Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger; animation effects creator Todd Masters and; composer Barry DeVorzon. Each interview segment begins with colorful comic book-type art inspired by scenes in the movie, and watch closely for a few surprise appearances from the creepers! Also included is footage of the cast and director attending a reunion at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where a handful of fans are also interviewed. Atkins is rightfully given his own separate featurette entitled “Tom Atkins: Man of Action” (19:53) where he talks about his career and the cult films he’s been in, and the veteran actor affirms that CREEPS is his favorite of the films he’s appeared in. There are seven deleted scenes (some of which used to show up on otherwise edited TV airings) which amount to almost eight minutes. A favorite of these excised bits is when the creepers invade the kitchen where the unknowing sorority sisters are baking cookies. The aforementioned alternate theatrical ending is included, as is a “trivia track” which lets you play the entire movie with accompanying scene-specific subtitles of fun facts and various trivia. Rounding out the extras is the film’s original trailer, as well as previews for other Sony sci-fi DVD releases. (George R. Reis)
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