- Monthly Theme: Alien Invasions
- The Film: Night of the Creeps
- Country of origin: U.S.A.
- Date of U.S. release: August 22, 1986
- Studio: TriStar Pictures & Delphi V Productions
- Distributer: TriStar Pictures
- Domestic Gross: $591,000
- Budget: $5 million (estimated)
- Director: Fred Dekker
- Producers: Bill Finnegan, et al.
- Screenwriter: Fred Dekker
- Adaptation? No.
- Cinematography: Robert C. New
- Make-Up/FX: Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, et al.
- Music: Barry De Vorzon
- Part of a series? No.
- Remakes? No.
- Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror actor Tom Atkins (Creepshow, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, etc.).
- Other notables?: No.
- Awards?: n/a
- Tagline: “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.”
- The Lowdown: Night of the Creeps is a pastiche of 1950s alien invasion movies, John Hughes-style teen melodramas, sorority girl exploitation pictures, and post-Dawn of the Dead zombie splatterfests. A couple of college geeks are conscripted into a fraternity prank that involves stealing a corpse from the university morgue. In the process, an alien parasite is accidentally released from cryogenic stasis and kicks off a zombie outbreak (the alien slugs enter your body through your mouth and lay eggs in your brain, turning you into a mindless zombie until the eggs hatch and your head explodes with more alien slugs). A bitter police detective (Atkins) tries to stop the alien invasion while the college geeks try to woo a gutsy sorority girl… Will they be able to save Earth?
If you haven’t seen Night of the Creeps our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Sean: This was a big movie for me as a kid.
Kristine: After seeing it, I am not surprised at all.
Kristine: Shit. I totally forgot that I had a plan for starting this discussion.
Sean: What was the plan?
Kristine: I wanted to start by saying, “Thrill me.” Which is how I plan on answering all phone calls from now on. And that’s how I’m going to answer the door. And also everything else.
Sean: Every time Det. Cameron said, “Thrill me,” I could imagine your eyes rolling back into the depths of your head.
Kristine: Wrong! I loved it. I was also cracking up at how Cynthia’s androgynous frat asshole boyfriend was so “’80s Aryan Supervillain.”
Sean: Yep. The Bradster.Kristine: He was ridiculous.
Sean: I think Tom Atkins is great in this movie as Det. Cameron, who is really just a tongue-in-cheek riff on the noir trope of the grizzled detective with the dark past. His hard-boiled dialogue was a continual source of delight. And I loved him using all the things around the sorority house as impromptu weapons against the zombie slugs, like when he takes that girl’s hairspray and combines it with his cigar to make a blowtorch. I loved him. Did you recognize the actor?
Kristine: He looked really familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. I thought he was good, too.
Sean: He was the mean, abusive dad in Creepshow’s frame story. I just want to say, it’s always a toss-up when I rewatch some old movie that I loved as a kid. You never know how it will have aged. But this movie still worked for me. When I rewatched Fright Night, I was like, “Oh, this doesn’t quite hold up,” but here I had the opposite reaction. Rewatching this reminded me that Night of the Creeps really is one of the best horror movies of the 1980s.
Kristine: When we watched Creepshow, I couldn’t resist imagining you as the voodoo-practicing tween boy from the frame story, and I couldn’t help imagining you as J.C. in this one.
Sean: The ambiguously gay kid with a severe disability? Sounds about right.
Kristine: But he was awesome. And continues to be helpful even after he dies.
Sean: He was in love with Chris so hard.
Kristine: I know, and Chris did not deserve his love. Chris sucks.
Sean: Chris is piss.
Kristine: Chris is the worst. My favorite line in the movie is when J.C. says, “Fuck you, Chris!” I wanted him to just end there, but then he goes on to give a speech about how Chris is a whiny baby but J.C. still wants to make him happy.
Sean: Their whole dynamic was just the most confused boylove. “When you’re depressed, I’m depressed,” J.C. says to Chris, giving voice to their frustrated codependence. The way that Chris exploits J.C.’s love for him makes him a terrible character and someone who is impossible to root for. I wanted J.C. and Cynthia to go thrifting and decide to run off to L.A. to break into show business together. Chris needed to go.
Kristine: Go, Chris, go. See Chris go.
Sean: I did get a pretty big kick out of them bickering like an old married couple as they’re manhandling this naked, dead fraternity boy’s body. It’s like their hands are all over him, their eyes are locked… It was funny as hell.
Kristine: Boys, when your regular nightly antics keep ending with you and your best boyfriend tugging and yanking on a naked man’s body, the universe is trying to tell you something…
Sean: Right? Though that dead frat brother’s a pretty great Freudian symbol for the frustrated attraction between Chris and J.C. – it’s a big cold stiffie, but it also represents sterility. It’s the glacier of unrealized erotic energy between them. The movie itself keeps referencing that fact that J.C. wants Chris to throw his (useless) legs in the air and pound his ass… Like, at one point, the director frames a two-shot of them and there’s graffiti on the wall behind them with the words “Enter At Your Own Risk” and an arrow pointing to J.C.
Kristine: That is a lie! That did not happen.
Sean: It did. I’ll show you proof.
Kristine: Hmmm… But the zombie boy from 1959 is not sterile, he’s totally fertile. In fact, so fertile that his head suddenly bursts open and sperm-slugs go shooting everywhere.
Sean: That’s true. But the explosion happens outside Cynthia’s window, directing all that perverse erotic energy towards her. I know Chris is a total drip, but maybe he’s a kinky whore bottom supplicant in bed. Maybe Cynthia would have a thousand orgasms sitting on his face and smothering him and making him lick her sensible pumps.
Sean: I actually thought that Cynthia was pretty well-treated in this movie, especially for the genre, in terms of getting to be both feminine (a ‘regular girl’) and also a fighter (flamethrower-wielding zombie killer).
Kristine: I was pleasantly surprised by the movie’s treatment of Cynthia, too. It was a little weird because it seemed like Chris being such a jackass baby was what allowed the Cynthia character to be proactive. Like, someone has to be the useless turd and in this movie it’s Chris. Though I guess Chris kind of pulls it together at the end… There is no way that Cynthia would fall for Chris the Piss and end up making out with him. Ugh. Also, Cynthia is cute but I was not a fan of her breathy baby voice. Just a minor complaint.
Sean: No, she would not want to date Chris. She’d be the girl who helps him come out of the closet, actually.
Kristine: Cynthia was a bit too ‘pastel lip gloss.’
Sean: Cynthia’s a tough character to love, but I think the movie does an admirable job of making her compelling. She’s clever and regular at the same time.
Kristine: Okay, I need to bring our discussion back to the very beginning of the movie for a minute.
Sean: Jinx! I was about to say… I pressed play on this movie and when those rubber-suited alien midgets in space appeared on screen, I was imagining you, somewhere in Texas, dying and vomiting at what I was asking you to watch.
Kristine: Sean, you are so wrong. As soon as I saw those melted Cabbage Patch Doll-looking aliens I was on board. Maybe it’s because they are clearly related to my #2 horror movie baby of all time – Selwyn from Dead Alive.
Sean: I am so confused, but I like it. Perhaps Baby from It’s Alive would have grown up to look just like them?
Kristine: I freaked out later when Chris uses the lawnmower as a zombie killing machine. Didn’t that also happen in Dead Alive?
Sean: Yes. The lawnmower shtick appears (in a much gorier incarnation) about 6 years later in Dead Alive.
Kristine: How many horror movie points am I awarded?
Sean: 1,000? I was sure those aliens would be an immediate dealbreaker for you. But I figured the movie might win you back by the quick switch to the B&W 1950s segment. That triple-switch between genres in the opening is, to me, a sign that this movie is About Movies. In the first 15 minutes, we go from one aesthetic universe (camp ‘80s sci-fi with rubber-suited aliens á la Battle Beyond the Stars) to another (‘50s teen melodrama/’50s drive-in movie á la Rebel Without a Cause crossed with The Blob) to yet another (classic John Hughes movie á la Weird Science) pretty effortlessly, and the movie nails the tone of each one effectively.
Kristine: I even thought the transition from B&W to color was effective. It felt very pulp comic book and I liked it. Actually, a lot like Creepshow.
Sean: Yeah, it’s awesome. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” playing during the slow pan across the iconic American college campus of the 1950s – poodle skirts, skinny ties, pegged pants, argyle sweaters, saddle shoes – was, for me, a moment of Pure Cinema. I loved it. And that sorority sister on the phone? “I mean, wake up and smell the coffee, Muffy, I am her roommate!” Too good.
Kristine: Agreed. The line that perfectly sums up the 1950s subgenre and is when Pam is left alone in the car and she tries to get her date to come back by offering, “I’ll even let you fondle my breasts…” Can I tell you what part totally established this as AN ‘80S MOVIE (all caps)? The “his and hers getting ready for the big night” montage, which is one of my favorite tropes. The soft-core erotic showering scene for the ladies and the shaving cream fight, towel-snapping antics for the gents earn this one an A. So ‘80s. And OMG the unbelievably ugly dresses on the sorority girls. I was dying.
Sean: Yeah, it was a lot. Carrie did a similar montage, to lesser effect. I thought the movie went out of its way to show the difference between Girldom in the ’50s vs. the ‘80s. In 1959, Pam’s utter passivity is her death sentence. All she can do is sit in the car and plead with Johnny, offering sexual favors in return for agency (“I’m getting lonely out here!” she says), whereas in the 1980s Cynthia snaps out of that moment of shock/horror and fights. This movie has some feminist content.
Kristine: Oh, I absolutely think you are right. I do wish that stupid Chris hadn’t screamed, “Do something! Do anything!” at Cynthia, which seemed to spur her into action. I get that it underscores her breaking from that passive mode (Pam) into New Woman mode, but I still didn’t dig it. Plus, in my opinion, Cynthia had already established herself as a badass when she gave the Bradster the classic “jack-in-the-box” middle finger.
Sean: I love that moment. Another classic ‘80s teen movie trope: the girl finally breaking up with her evil boyfriend so she can be with the good guy.
Kristine: Yes. Some Kind of Wonderful, et al.
Sean: Didn’t you also think the frat guy prom dates showing up as monsters/mindless zombies was sort of feminist and awesome? “The good news is your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.”
Kristine: So many things about this movie would sound so clichéd or obvious if someone was describing it to you, but most of it works really well. So, want to hear something that will make you happy? There was a moment in this movie that made me scream loudly and jump off the couch to run away. Like, I was truly scared for a moment.
Kristine: It was the grinning frozen 1950s zombie boy popping up outside Cynthia’s window. I don’t know why, but his horrible smile scared me terribly.
Sean: That’s weird.
Kristine: There was also a moment that made me feel truly nauseous: the heap of squirming, squealing zombie-disease-carrying slugs. Creatures swarming and piling onto one another is the vilest thing ever. Even though the special effects were not so stellar at moments, I was still icked out by the lighting-fast squealing plague slugs. And Sean? They want to infect you by sodomizing your mouth…
Sean: I was cracking up when J.C. gets a hot 6-inches in his mouth in the men’s restroom… Just not the hot 6-inches he was secretly yearning for.
Kristine: Right? I hated seeing JC’s crumpled corpse and listening to his goodbye message. It was truly sad-making, and it was hard to watch the rest of the movie because I just wanted him back.
Sean: The slugs are pretty gross. Plus, the slugs “lay eggs in your brain,” which is wicked rape/impregnation…
Kristine: Very much so. It’s interesting that the majority of the victims/zombies are men.
Sean: This brings me back to my thing about the feminism of the zombie prom dates. Remember when they’re attacking and one of the girls (I think it’s Cynthia) says, “Don’t these creeps take no for an answer???”, which is the line that gives the movie its title. And doesn’t that just give the title so much subversive power? The idea that the movie imagines these macho frat guys as being the monsters we should be leery of. I feel like the movie’s title is an expression of female subjectivity – men can be date rape monsters who shamble at you and won’t stop when you say no, which is very #YesAllWomen for 1986.
Kristine: I didn’t catch that, but you are so right.
Sean: I was especially aware of it during the scene where the zombie version of the Bradster shows up at Cynthia’s sorority and Cynthia doesn’t even notice that he’s a mindless monster for a few minutes. She, like, leads him by the hand to the front steps to have a talk… I thought that was a pretty cutting satirization of the frat bro archetype. Their girlfriends don’t even really notice when they’ve become zombies!
Kristine: It’s a pretty good trick.
Sean: Quick aside: The Asian janitor is the most ‘80s racism ever. He was Long Duk Dong: Janitor Edition.
Kristine: You mean the “screaming like banshees” guy?
Sean: You mean, “Skweamy wyke buncheeze”?
Kristine: Stop it.
Sean: It’s true.
Kristine: There are a lot of elements in Night of the Creeps that really aren’t necessary to the basic plot, like the elaborate set up of the cryogenic lab and Det. Cameron’s backstory with the murdered girlfriend. This movie has a whole lot of extra extraness, but I think it pulls it all off pretty well. I did think it was crazy how the origin story is so similar to The Return of the Living Dead – an infection lies dormant in a body housed in a morgue/crypt and is accidentally awoken (by idiots) and the infection is released. Then all hell breaks lose. Do you agree?
Sean: Yes, they’re very similar.
Kristine: Which film came first?
Sean: The Return of the Living Dead is 1985, Night of the Creeps is 1986.
Kristine: It’s just weird that these two films have such a similar inciting event.
Sean: Were there lab outbreak issues in the early-to-mid ‘80s? Maybe the concept is a product of the era in some way.
Kristine: Oh, maybe.
Sean: So you said over the phone that you’d give this movie a B-, but it sounds like you really liked a lot of it. Why the mid-range grade?
Kristine: I lived for J.C. and, as I’ve said, I think this movie just goes for it with all these different genre nods and tropes and is successful. And that is both fun and impressive. However, I really loathed Chris. Like, a lot. And other than the pathos and awesomeness of the J.C. character, the movie seems slight. I liked Cynthia and Det. Cameron, but J.C. was the only character I was actually invested in, and he exits the film pretty early. So, even during the big climactic battle at the sorority house, the stakes never seem very high. I’m not sure if this will make sense, but the big setpieces at the end – Cynthia and Chris fighting zombies with the lawnmower/flame thrower and Det. Cameron blowing himself up to save the day – felt like false climaxes. Also, the purported climax didn’t have the conspiracy/edge/nihilism of The Return of the Living Dead or the cracked-out gleeful mayhem of Dead Alive. In comparison, it felt a little weak.
Sean: I suppose my only counterargument to that criticism would be that the “stakes” on the movie aren’t really on the plot/character level, but on the aesthetic level. Or, to say it another way, the pleasures of the movie are stylistic and genre-based – the narrative is pleasurable because of the way it plays with established genre tropes, not because of how it treats individual characters…
Kristine: Except J.C., who is amazing.
Sean: Like, for example, the stylistic excesses during Det. Cameron’s fever dream, where the minor details keep shifting: first he’s holding Pam’s dismembered arm, then a shotgun; first he’s at a beach resort, then he’s at the night of Pam’s murder in 1959. Those flairs of style compensate for the shallowness of the characters, who are more archetypal than individual. Det. Cameron is the movie’s mouthpiece for all its meta-ness, like when he says “What is this a homicide or a bad B-movie?” or “Zombies, exploding heads, creepy crawlies, and a date for the formal. This is classic, Spanky.”
Kristine: I agree with your point as it relates to Det. Cameron and the overall stylistic nods, but that explanation doesn’t extend to Chris, which is the movie’s main failing. He’s such a dud. I suppose the bland leading man with a wittier, more compelling sidekick is a trope in and of itself, but even still. I think the Chris character would have been way better if he was just a Wonder Bread bland cipher, and the movie played that up and riffed on it. But the Chris we get isn’t even that. He is actually full of unattractive personality traits, but still “wins,” and the win isn’t played as cynical. I guess Chris bothered me more than I realized. I wish he had been more of a Channing Tatum type.
Sean: Yeah, Chris is lame and has sheep’s eyes. His face is the face of a sheep.
Kristine: It is! I hated his staring doltish eyes.
Sean: I thought that Chris and J.C. were supposed to be horror movie versions of the guys from Weird Science. If Anthony Michael Hall had played Chris, would that have made the character work? Because I feel like the actor is a poor man’s Anthony Michael Hall in the first place.
Kristine: Sure. AMH at least has some personality and actively embraces being a spazz. He uses his geeky quirks to get the gal, as opposed to Chris who feebly tries to fit in but gives up when faced with the slightest difficulty.
Sean: I especially hated when he said, “The vision, the angel, the goddess” about Cynthia. I was like, ‘You fucker… She’s a person!’
Kristine: Yes. Remember when J.C. mentions that Chris mooned over some other chick all through high school? It’s just his thing. He’s only a couple of steps away from being Elliott Rodger.
Sean: Well, no… The deal is that he broke up with his high school girlfriend before they came to college.
Sean: Can we count all the perverse and/or gay/kink things that J.C. and Chris say to each other? Starting with, “My grandparents have sex more than we do” (with each other)?
Kristine: What about “At least we don’t have to have sex with a farm animal.” “Hey, you might like it! Then you wouldn’t want Cynthia anymore”? J.C. is totally aware that Chris doesn’t care that Cynthia is a person, not an idealized lady-sex angel. He is throwing shade at Chris for only being interesting in Cynthia as a sex object, not as a delightful human. And then when Chris protests again, J.C. is all, “I am being serious!” He really goes for it, which I appreciate.
Sean: Totally. Chris’ misconceptions about women are really gross. And that is one of the most perverse/weird conversations that they have in the movie.
Kristine: I think it’s real that J.C. knows how lame Chris is, but is still in love with him. That is accurate teenage/early 20s relationship dynamic realness.
Sean: J.C. should be like, ‘My hole is so sweet and tight, you can’t have it.’
Kristine: Yes, he should, but that’s the realness. J.C. knows that he is too good for Chris, but he loves him anyways.
Sean: “Yeah, well fuck you too.” “You try it.” “You’d let me.” “You’d want me to.” “You wish.”
Kristine: “It’s important to me that you’re happy.”
Sean: A couple of things before we wrap up. I just want to stress how much I enjoyed the way that the 1950s prologue compresses a lot of tropes effectively. Not just the classic “meteor crashes at make out point” trope of ’50s alien movies, but the urban legend of the escaped mental patient and the couple in the car… The moment when the radio says the escaped mental patient with a large fire ax is “moving west on Rte. 66 toward the Corman University area” and then Pam turns on the headlights to reveal two signs: one that says “Route 66 West” and the other that says “Corman University”… That is an epic pop moment. Also the ’50s soundtrack is so great: “The Stroll” by the Diamonds is the song that’s interrupted by that newscast.
Kristine: Oh, I loved her P.O.V. realization also. I keep forgetting that there is this other menace in the movie besides aliens and zombies and slug carriers: the escaped mental patient.
Sean: The movie uses a lot of tropes from a lot of different kinds of movies.
Kristine: But it reads as horror movie history enthusiasm rather than desperation or confusion.
Sean: Yep. I also want to give a shout out to all the little moments of black comedy, like the cop walking along looking at his paperwork being like “See you tomorrow” to the gory, reanimated corpse of the grad student as it shuffles past him in the hall.
Kristine: Is that an honest mistake that happens often in the hallways of academia?
Sean: Basically. Or how, during the zombie mental patient attack on the house mother while she’s watching Plan 9 from Outer Space, the score is suddenly overtaken by the theremin (a classic ’50s instrument for sci-fi movie scores). There are just a lot of little touches like that.
Kristine: Agreed. So, when you first saw this, did you immediately know J.C. was gay for Chris?
Sean: No, I only realized that as an adult. But I think I must have picked up on it subconsciously.
Kristine: But you knew J.C. was awesome, right?
Sean: I did. Though his old Jewish comedian from the Catskills act was a bit much at times.
Kristine: Wrong. He’s amazing.
Sean: Just like in Lifeforce, I really saw the meteor in this movie as metaphorical sperm, impregnating from beyond. Are alien crash-landings/meteors always rape/impregnation metaphors? Where Earth is “fucked” by space and impregnated with alien monsterbabies?
Kristine: Seems like it. It is “Mother” Earth after all.
Sean: Right? It is such rape.
Kristine: Creep rape.
The Girl’s Rating: This movie IS the ‘80s AND A good romp AND More feminist than you’d think AND Totally disgusting (because of the slug heap and the sheep face)
The Freak’s Rating: More feminist than you’d think AND Pop perfection AND Queerer than you’d think AND Postmodern as hell AND Sleazesterpiece! AND This movie shaped my brain for all time.