January 22, 2011
Night of the Creeps
Movie Imposters. Did you know that January is the month when studios dump the crummy movies onto an unsuspecting public gorged on holiday food and a glut of "important" Oscar-bait? Perusing the roster at my local multiplex confirmed this with such dazzling prospects as Season of the Witch, The Dilemma, Country Strong, No Strings Attached, and The Green Hornet (which looks like it might be the best time among this selection). After that, it's leftovers from 2010, and isn't 2010 old news already?
Shall we go back, then, to 1986? Where in Night of the Creeps, a pair of less-than-smooth college buddies accidentally unleashes an alien parasite that turns people into incubators so that it can reproduce itself by the hundreds. The slimy alien-thing looks like a slug (if you saw Slither, that movie most assuredly borrowed from this one), and it slithers across the ground at a remarkable pace. The movie, directed and written by Fred Dekker, is essentially grabbing as many B horror movie plot elements, throwing them against the ceiling, and seeing what sticks. There's the tormented detective (played by Tom Atkins) whose high school sweetheart was chopped into pieces by an axe murderer in 1959. He's apparently still bothered by the 27-year-old case that happened when he was barely two weeks with a badge, and now he thinks that the axe murderer may have been "regenerated" by those slug things, which have the affect of turning their human subjects into zombies (until they leave their host for another). There's the fraternity-sorority drama that has been the basis for a number of horror movies in the 1970s and 1980s (and has informed plenty of non-horror plots as well). Jumping back to the detective's story, there's the homicidal maniac on the loose plot.
Dekker's script, frankly, tries too hard to be an homage, and tries even harder to be self-aware so as to outsmart its audience. Fortunately there are moments when Dekker forgets himself and allows us to simply have a good time at his movie. After all, it's the kind of flick you would watch late at night for a good laugh, so it shouldn't require too much from a filmmaker in terms of plot development. Dekker smothers his dialogue with corny lines and obvious statements such as, "this is like a bad B movie." Atkins has most of the crummiest lines. For some reason Dekker or perhaps Atkins thought it would be funny to have the detective call everyone he meets by some cartoonish character name. He also makes liberal use of the catch phrase, "thrill me," which isn't bad as dumb catch phrases go, but it gets overused.
Night of the Creeps is keenly aware of all the important and not-so-important movies of its genre of choice, and of course the pleasure--or the hoped-for pleasure--is in seeing what the cast and crew will do with that. How will they manipulate our knowledge of Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and every other piece of horror schtick which the movie has set out to alternately canonize and lampoon? The problem is, it gets so repetitive that audiences may grow bored. You're waiting for something truly uncanny to happen, but (perhaps because of budgetary constraints), the movie relies chiefly on its perceived cheekiness (and its only marginally appealing cast) to stretch out the plot until the big finale where the frat brothers are turned into the walking dead and head to the Beta house to "pick up their dates."
What is ultimately going on in Night of the Creeps is that, rather than being a commentary on society, it's a commentary on moviemaking and movie love. The hosts (i.e. the humans whose brains become incubators for the slugs) are the various plots of horror movies that have been made and made money over the years. The little slithering alien slugs are inside them, incubating, reproducing, until they tear through the flesh and the bone and escape so that they can create imitations of the original. After all, this is Dekker's love letter to his favorite horror movies, and he's not very subtle in giving characters names like Cronenberg, Romero, and Carpenter (even the college is called Corman University). Dekker wants to pay tribute, and while it's not a total washout, Night of the Creeps is firsthand documentation of the tension between trying to be original and trying to imitate for the sake of imitation. It tries to do something a little out of the ordinary, but then doubles back in fear that it might go against the current "masters" of the horror movie. With Jason Lively, Jill Whitlow, Steve Marshall, Allan Kayser, Dick Morris, and Suzanne Snyder.