NIGHT OF THE CREEPS opens on a darkened spaceship. One alien creature embraces a black experimental canister as it runs from two aliens in pursuit, guns blazing.
“That experiment must not get off this ship!”
Of course, the experiment is forcefully freed from the ship and finds its way to Earth. The experiment? Sluglike things that infect creatures through the mouth and immediately turns the host into a desiccated zombie.
The experiment ends up being unleashed at Corman University and matters escalate, mostly around semi-dweebish Chris Romero and his disabled friend J.C. Hooper who requires crutches, as well as Cynthia Cronenberg, the schoolmate Chris pines for, but a blockhead named Brad stands in the way.
“Sorry, Brad. Don’t take it personal.”
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (CREEPS going forward) writer/director Fred Dekker has had quite the Hollywood career, spanning close to 50 years, writing everything from HOUSE to THE MONSTER SQUAD to IF LOOKS COULD KILL to 2018’s THE PREDATOR. However, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS feels like his mission statement, his visual thesis for his love of films.
From the knowing winks with a number of character’s surnames being shorthand for Dekkers influences. As noted above, you already have (John) Romero, (Tobe) Hooper and (David) Cronenberg. There’s also Detective Ray (John) Cameron, Detective (John) Landis, Sergeant (Sam) Raimi, and officers (Wes) Craven and (Mario) Bava.
There are also a number of other great inserts, such as Corman mainstay Dick Miller — see GREMLINS 2 and CHOPPING MALL — and all-around horror actor Tom Atkins (the aforementioned Detective Ray Cameron), as well as a mother watching a late broadcast of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
Those who know, know, and horror fans will feel like they’re in good hands.
“Zombies, exploding heads, creepy-crawlers… and a date for the formal. This is classic, Spanky.”
While CREEPS doesn’t quite have the menace or scares it could, that’s beside the point. While it moves surprisingly briskly it’s the characters here that shine, notably Chris and J.C.
“OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.
“Do you think it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain to say ‘OH MY GOD.’ a whole bunch of times really fast like that?”
“I believe you’re allowed to break the commandments in certain situations.”
J.C. is one of the more positive portrayals of a disabled person I’ve seen from a genre film of the 80s. Genre films of that time rarely featured them or if they did, it was in a ham-fisted, clumsy, and insensitive way. While we never quite know exactly why J.C. can’t walk without the aid of crutches, we do see that he is very self-sufficient and accepting of needing them, and his friend Chris is also accepting and never patronizing. He is a good, respectful friend, although occasionally an unappreciative asshole.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: male friendship is very rarely the focal point of films, and they have an intense friendship. They look out for each other and have each other’s best interests in mind. Early in the film, J.C. is the one who steps up and takes the initiative in order to draw Cynthia’s attention to Chris, while also deflecting her blockhead boyfriend Brad.
“I bust my ass to help you and you get chickenshit again. And I push and I push and I don’t give up. And why? You don’t even know. You don’t even care. Because it’s important to me that you’re happy. Is that so crazy?”
Like many mid-80s genre films, there is definitely a queer subtext here. Hell, it isn’t even really subtext, although it’s never exactly addressed in the film’s dialogue, but, well, just read the following excerpt:
J.C.: “[You] just get depressed all the time like you are. So fuck you.”
Chris: “Yeah, well, fuck you too.”
J.C.: “You try it.”
Chris: “You’d let me.”
J.C.: “You want me to.”
Chris: “You wish.”
[PILLOW FIGHT BREAKS OUT]
Granted, J.C. isn’t ‘swishy’ like how most gay men were portrayed in genre films at the time. However, more than a little of the dialogue indicates that J.C. is definitely queer.
“I walked, Chris. All by myself. I love you. Good luck with Cynthia.”
It is not subtle! I’m shocked that folks argue about this! (That said, I do spend a lot of time reading and writing about queer genre works.)
To reiterate: this portrayal of J.C. is far more sensitive and well-developed than most genre folks penning horror at the time, and still feels positive. Yes, he’s ‘Chris’s queer best friend’ but he also has nuance and heart and feels real.
I will note that there is one way where the film lets us down regarding J.C., but it’s a spoiler, so see below:
Unfortunately, this film does bury its gays. And the disabled. J.C. was doomed from the get-go, sadly.
Setting that aside, Tom Atkins is brilliant as hard-boiled Detective Ray Cameron. He gets some of the best lines and his performance straddles both serious and camp. Allegedly, it’s his favorite film that he’s been a part of, and that’s high praise.
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is an eminently watchable film, fantastic for Halloween, but also just for everyday viewing. Dekker put his heart and soul into this film, was bolstered by everyone he knew he wanted to see his creation through, and it paid off in every which way.
There are two different cuts of this film: the Theatrical Cut, where the ending is very bleak, and the Director’s Cut, which sets up a sequel. Obviously, go with the Director’s Cut. I have no idea why the producers and/or editors thought that the theatrical ending would result in better financial success because yikes. It is an utter killjoy of an ending.