In 2006, James Gunn’s directorial debut Slither opened and it probably had people scratching their heads as if they had seen this before. Just as his movie, Super, looked like it had been similar to Kick-Ass, Gunn said it was merely a coincidence and had the script completed by the time that graphic novel hit the shelves.
Some might say the same thing about Night of the Creeps, written and directed by Fred Dekker, released in late August 1986, and the similarities with Slither. Both movies about space slug creatures but they end there. Slither seemed to be more of an homage to creature features of the 1980s and 1990s while Creeps was more of a homage to old-fashioned sci-fi/horror movies.
I remember seeing the movie when it aired on HBO in the summer of 1987 and liking it immediately. When many of the cable TV stations were looking for material, Creeps often aired on the local Fox affiliate and the USA Network. One thing I noted that I hadn’t seen before was how the endings were different, but I’ll get to that later.
The plot of this movie begins on a spaceship as a dwarf humanoid alien zombie is being chased through a corridor, carrying a cylinder case. The two humanoids following it are trying to keep an “experiment” on the ship. But the zombie is able to jettison the cylinder where it crash lands near the fictional Corman University in 1959.
Two young college students, Johnny (Ken Heron) and Pam (Alice Cadogan), are out at a make-out point when they spot the cylinder flying through the sky. With reports of a maniac from the nearby hospital for the criminally insane on the loose, they go out looking for it.
However, Johnny is succumbed when a huge slug bursts out of the cylinder going down his throat. And Pam is the victim of the maniac, wielding an axe.
Then, the movie jumps to Pledge Week at Corman in 1986. Two first-year students, Christopher Romero (Jason Lively) and his roommate and friend, James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Steve Marshall) are out one night walking down Greek Row when Chris spots a young co-ed, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), going into a frat house where a party is being held.
Smitten by her beauty, Chris walks in, with J.C., who walks with the use of crutches behind him. Feeling that Cynthia would prefer to date a frat guy, he talks J.C. into talking with the frat officials, who are led by Brad (Allan Kayser), a cocky prep boy, who is Cynthia’s boyfriend.
Brad and the rest of his Beta Epsilon members put Chris and J.C. up for a prank to sneak into the medical research building and steal a cadaver which they will place on the lawn of a rival frat house. However, they are unable to find where the cadavers are and unintentionally find a lab where Johnny’s body has been cryogenically frozen.
Realizing it’s all they can find, they disengage the body, but Johnny’s arm reaches and grabs Chris causing them to freak and rush out of the lab, passing by a med student (David Paymer) who was heading toward the lab. Johnny’s body becomes reanimated and shoots a slug out from his mouth into the med student’s.
The break-in causes Det. Lt. Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) to be called in. Cameron used to date Pam back in the 1950s before she broke up with him to go out with Johnny. And he’s been having nightmares of Pam and her gruesome murder since.
Originally being told there are two bodies, when he arrives, Cameron and the rest of the police only see the med student. It just so happens, Johnny’s zombie is walking toward the sorority house where Cynthia lives. Not only does she live in the same sorority house as Pam but in the same room she once occupied and Johnny’s zombie shows up outside her window, but doesn’t harm her. Instead, the head splits open and more slugs spill out.
Initially afraid to tell anyone what she saw, she later tracks down Chris and J.C., who have also been questioned by Cameron. The dead body on the sorority’s lawn has angered Brad and the other Betas. After being called out by J.C., Brad kicks one of his crutches causing him to fall in front of Cynthia and other college students. She brushes him off, essentially breaking up with him.
Later she tells Chris and J.C. what she saw, even though they don’t believe her. The med student’s zombie manages to leave the morgue and return to the research building attacking a janitor who had identified Chris and J.C., reporting them to authorities.
With Cameron on campus again, he approaches Chris and tells him that he gunned down the maniac after seeing what happened to Pam and buried his body behind the sorority house, which now has a house mother’s cottage over it.
And even though J.C. thinks the idea of the slugs is a joke, he soon finds out they are real when he’s confronted with them in a public restroom.
To say anymore would give away too much of the plot. For a horror movie that is only an hour and a half, it jumps around a lot. Part of the criticism I’ve heard is that it starts as a movie with aliens and then when it goes to 1959, it’s set in black and white before going to color in 1986.
But I think that’s the joy of the movie. Dekker grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and loves these movies. He was basically doing the same thing Quentin Tarantino has built his career on back when QT was still working at a video rental place working on his scripts.
If you haven’t already noticed, Dekker has given the characters surnames of popular horror/thriller directors at that time. Two of the other police officers are named Landis and Raimi after John Landis and Sam Raimi. The janitor is named Miner after Steve Miner.
Make-up and special effects artist Robert Kurtzman appears as one of the Betas. And even Dekker’s friend and occasional collaborator, Shane Black, appears as a uniformed police officer.
Atkins, himself, had appeared in John Carpenter’s movies, The Fog and Escape From New York, as well as the lead in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. There’s also several references to Plan 9 From Outer Space which had a similar plot of aliens reanimating the bodies of dead people.
One thing I’ve found interesting to the movie is the casting of Lively, who is the older half-brother of Blake. He had appeared in National Lampoon’s European Vacation playing Rusty Griswold. This happened because Anthony Michael Hall, who had originated the role in National Lampoon’s Vacation, was cast in Weird Science and didn’t want to reprise his role. Whitlow also appears in Weird Science along with Suzanne Snyder, who has a small role as a sorority member in this movie.
Night of the Creeps wasn’t a big success, grossing just $591,000 in 70 theaters and even reportedly being titled Homecoming Night in Cincinnati and other cities, initially getting mixed reviews but getting more favorable reviews over time.
After the 20th anniversary of The Monster Squad, Dekker’s subsequent movie, released on DVD, a push was made to release this movie on DVD, which happened in 2009 with the director’s original intended ending.
Now, about that ending and this is giving away spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie, so be warned.
The theatrical ending had Cameron blowing up the sorority house where the slugs were accumulating and reproducing in human brains that had been placed in the basement by a sorority student. As the house burns, Chris and Cynthia who were dressed for a formal have a romantic moment, before a zombie dog walks up to her. As she kneels down to pet it, a slug flies out of its mouth toward the screen for a jump scare ending.
Dekker didn’t like this ending and it was suggested by distributor TriStar Pictures after they didn’t like his idea to have Cameron’s burnt zombified corpse walking along toward a cemetery where it falls and the slugs come out and go into the graves. Then as it seems the credits are going to roll with the music, a spotlight hits the graves and moves around. We then see the spaceship from the beginning in the sky searching for the slugs through the cemetery.
Dekker said the special effects were still being finalized when this was shown to the producers and the studio who didn’t like it. I saw this extended ending a lot on TV broadcasts, probably because is a few minutes were longer that didn’t need to be filled by commercials. Most TV broadcasts aired scenes that had been cut from the theatrical release of movies.
Weird Science had done this too in the 1980s and 1990s when broadcast.
I probably have seen Night of the Creeps more than many other of my favorite movies. And I’ll admit, it’s not an Oscar winner, even though Paymer was later nominated for an Oscar and would appear in bigger movies. It might be something you’d find on Turner Classic Movies as part of their Underground series
Even though the special effects look less than stellar, I think that’s Dekker’s intention. During an era in which slashers were being made, it’s combination of decades of sci-fi/horror movies with space aliens, black and white horror, axe-murderers and what was called the Dead Teenager genre.
It’s a movie for horror fans. And because of this is why it didn’t make much at the box office securing its legacy of a cult classic 35 years after its release. But then again, a lot of Oscar winners and TCM classics were big box office money makers either.