My first encounter with 'Night of the Creeps' was a simple walk-by inside my local video store at the ripe-old age of sixteen. In that era of VHS tapes, the travel time between movie theater and home video rental was at least a year. (Whereas today it's been reduced to a three-month difference!) I had missed it in the theater the year it ran --- I didn't even know it existed --- and felt obligated to watch it as a still-growing horror cinema enthusiast. What caught my interest was the cover design of the videotape: a creepy-looking zombie dressed in a tuxedo, standing behind a shattered glass-paned door. I took a chance, paid the fifty-cents to borrow it for the night and walked home expecting to be completely terrified.
Instead, what my eyes witnessed on my then-large 24" Zenith was nothing even remotely scary, but a head-scratching concoction with the kid from 'National Lampoon's European Vacation'. The movie was a bizarre and crazy mixture of aliens, slug-like parasites, cryogenics, slasher, and zombies. And the whole thing was set in the middle of some kind of teen romantic comedy, with a homicide detective pulled right out of a 40's film noir. My first-impressions left me baffled and seriously wondering "what the f**k is this horsesh*t!" It wasn't until much later with my taste for the horror genre expanding into the classics of the 1950s, most of which are B-movie drive-in material, that I grew to appreciate and recognize the shear genius hiding beneath it all.
It is 1959, and the world apparently could only be seen in black and white. When a strange canister from outer space crash lands near make-out point, the teen investigating is suddenly attacked by a leech-like creature. Almost thirty years later, young college students Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall) try to pledge a fraternity by stealing the body from a cryogenics lab, which Chris hopes will impress the pretty Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). Still carrying the alien parasite inside, the reanimated body spews more of the invading bugs, transforming their hosts into blood-thirsty zombies. With the help of Det. Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), it is up to Chris and Cynthia to save the campus.
As the brainchild of Fred Dekker, 'Night of the Creeps' is not only an homage to those films from decades ago, but it is also a celebration of the seriousness behind the camp. This isn't necessarily a spoof of the genre, as much as it is an attempt at recapturing the real sincerity expressed by those filmmakers at creating a scary movie. In spite of a convoluted plot, bad production value, and lame, cheesy special effects, those films were made with a great deal of sincerity and a simple hope of entertaining anyone willing to watch. And Dekker's production team seems to relish in this very idea, while at the same time being self-aware and making silly wisecracks at the movie's own expense.
The following year, Dekker went on to also write and direct another celebratory mix of classic horror in 'The Monster Squad'. But to be perfectly honest, 'Creeps' is better than four kids running around the Universal backlot and relying more on physical gags to induce laughter. The comedy here is much more subtle and viewer's knowledge of the genre is practically a prerequisite, as I've come to find out with several viewings. From one scene to the next, Dekker is on a constant roll issuing one nod after another to that era of fast and cheap horror filmmaking. He even went so far as to name several of his characters after well-known horror and sci-fi film directors.
Accolades aside, the 80s cult favorite comes with a few, arguably minor flaws. Direction is obviously amateur, but contrasted by how well Dekker remains in control and keeps the pace amusingly brisk. While Atkins plays the hard-nose, wisecracking detective in all seriousness, as intended, Lively and Whitlow can't seem to keep up, almost as if unaware of the story's true farce nature. The script, though clever in many respects, falls prey to absurd plot devices which are just too convenient. Most notable is the posthumous message left by J.C., which mysteriously appears in the dorm room before Chris walks out. In the end, however, the film is all in good fun and such gaffes are ignored for the sake of an enjoyable zombie/alien/parasite/gore/comedy B-movie hybrid.
When we boil it down, 'Night of the Creeps' delivers the goods with plenty of creepy crawlies and gory zombie action. Where else can you find zombified house pets, "hot chicks" carrying flamethrowers like fashion accessories, and a universe where red-headed nerds save the campus with a 12-gauge shotgun? How could you not laugh at and love a horror flick which proudly displays graffiti like "Go Monster Squad" and "Stryper Rules" written in a men's bathroom? It may be pure cheese, but it's loads of fun to watch.
Having watched the movie on various formats in its twenty-four-year history, I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (1.85:1), looking much better than I could've imagined. Don't get me wrong, 'Night of the Creeps' still comes across very much 80s in appearance --- what, with all the feathered hair and polo shirts. But for a movie of this caliber, this salute to B-horror is superior in terms of sharpness, clarity, and resolution.
Compared to those other releases (unfortunately, I parted with my laserdisc sometime ago), this new hi-def version demonstrates a great deal of improvement. While the picture is awash with natural film grain, primaries display good saturation levels and secondary hues are full bodied without the hint of chroma noise. Skin tones also appear more accurate and healthy, showing respectable texture in close-ups. Blacks are richly rendered and consistent, adding decent depth to the image. Shadow delineation is stronger here than in previous releases, which is crucial for a pic where the majority of the story takes place at night. Contrast is comfortably bright and well balanced, allowing for much visibility of the finer details in the background. This Blu-ray edition of 'Night of the Creeps' may not be the best catalog title available; but for its age and stock quality, this is a very good high-definition presentation of the cult favorite.
Sound engineers at Sony Home Entertainment have done it again with this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, taking the original design elements and making them work with modern systems without appearing too artificial.
The front-heavy mix arrives with a wide and spacious soundscape that's quite inviting and even, delivering clear and intelligible vocals from beginning to end. Pans and separation in the soundstage are convincing and smooth, with a few great moments of action heard off-screen. Random sounds of crickets and busy crowds provide some credible atmosphere and fill the room nicely. The original music from Barry De Vorzon bleeds into the surround speakers and envelops the listener, particularly towards the end with other random sounds and echoes. Dynamic range is surprisingly stable and expansive for a flick of this quality, exhibiting great clarity even as the shotgun is fired repeatedly. Low-frequency effects are mostly silent, but it has some depth and is used appropriately for certain scenes that require it. Taken as a whole, this lossless presentation is more than adequate for a low-budget entry, and fans are sure to get a kick out of it.
Arriving for the first time on Blu-ray day-and-date with the official DVD release, 'Night of the Creeps' is loaded to the gills with bonus material. Well, maybe not exactly loaded, but it sure as heck is a lot more than what fans have become accustomed to on VHS, LaserDisc and other bootleg copies. And to top it all off, it's mostly all presented in high definition and Sony Home Entertainment throws in a couple of exclusives to sweeten the deal.
Finally, the official release (other than VHS and LD) of the cult classic which blends together various subgenres into a hodgepodge of bizarre comedy is available for fans on Blu-ray. 'Night of the Creeps' is a very understated celebration of B-movie drive-in trash that still works today, assuming the viewer is well versed in the horror genre. This high-def version of the film arrives with a good picture quality and a terrific audio presentation. The supplemental package has much to offer fans and neophytes alike, but exclusive features are greatly lacking. In the end, 'Creeps' is a great way to enjoy the Halloween season.