Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker, 1986)

Some people describe paradise as a place where inflation is nonexistent and sore-free miscreants are always at the ready to lick your genitals. Others describe it as a giant vat of creamed corn. However, extremely normal people, like myself, see things quite differently. You see, our paradise bares a striking resemblance to a nondescript screening of Fred Dekker's exceedingly awesome Night of the Creeps, the Citizen Kane of intergalactic space slug movies. I mean, does get any better than seeing this film (which is still not available on DVD - Edit: The DVD and Blu-ray was finally released on October 27th 2009 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) on the big screen with a packed house full of rowdy creep fans? I don't think it does. (The fact that director Fred Dekker and star Steve Marshall were in attendance, and took part in a humourous Q&A afterward, wasn't too shabby, either.) Clear as the strategically-torn fishnets on a surly squeegee kid from Penetanguishene, everything in this film appeared to me like a crystallized beam of unclouded tranquility. Everything from the intense legginess of a couple of lounging sorority sisters to the repetitious ramblings of an easily amused custodian ("screaming like banshees"), was all there, staring back at me; and it was glorious.

The film is about this cryogenic stiff–who has been on ice since 1959–being inadvertently un-thawed by a couple of socially awkward fraternity pledges. At first, it just seems like a prank gone awry, but little do they know, that they've awakened the space slugs that live inside the stiff's brain. It's a long story how they got in there, but needless to say, the slimy critters need to find brains, so they can incubate, and where better to find fresh young minds than fraternity row? In charge of stopping the slugs is a hard-boiled cop, a cop whose high school sweetheart was killed by an axe murder–also in 1959 (they may be related).

It's true, Night of the Creeps may not have been the scariest or goriest film to claw its way out of the neon blur that was 1980s, but it sure was the most fun. And I can totally see why I watched it so many times back in the day when I did nothing but fondle my malnourished puppy. The way it combined the gratuitous nudity and frat boy shenanigans of your average teenage party movie, with the walking corpses and exploding heads of an intergalactic zombie epic, was obviously very appealing to the younger version of me.

And call me somewhat deranged, but shapely coeds combing the hair in dainty sleepwear while their decaying boyfriends lurk on the porch of their sorority is all I really need when it comes to cinematic satisfaction. They don't even have to interact; she can just comb, he can just lurk. It's all copacetic, baby.

The wonderful Tom Atkins gives grizzled detectives a good name with his turn as Det. Cameron. Impatient, churlish and forthright, Atkins is an utter delight (you know, the kind of delight who wields a large shotgun and has a penchant for kicking zombie ass). Whether he's emitting the words "Thrill Me" or mocking the incompetence of others, the accomplished thespian creates a timeless character who verbalizes some the film's most memorable dialogue.

However, Steve Marshall does come close to stealing the picture from Mr. Atkins as J.C. Hooper, the best friend and roommate of Christopher Romero (the film's shy hero played by Jason Lively). Steve's monologue about Lively's incessant whining was so great, that it was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

While the lovely Jill Whitlow redefines the image of the damsel-in-distress as the wonderfully-named Cynthia Cronenberg (all the main characters are named after well-regarded genre directors). Sure, it takes her longer than usual to realize her asshole boyfriend's head is replete with predatory slugs from outer space, but her first-rate flamethrower skills more than make up for her lack of zombie awareness.

Oh, and personal fave Suzanne Snyder (Killer Klowns From Outer Space) has a brief yet integral role as a sorority girl, one who is obviously from The Valley.