Movie: Night of the Creeps
Recently, Netflix recommended to me the 1986 film, Night of the Creeps
. I hazily remembered hearing it was worthwhile--possibly from Doug Winter, which would mean it is not A-level filming but interesting horror with some quirks. Now I'm wondering if it could have been from Doug; anyway, it is indeed interesting, quirky horror. It's also interesting in terms of the development of the zombie film, although I can't recall any writing about it in the burgeoning critical literature.
The film opens in 1959, as both an axe murderer is on the loose and some experiment gone wrong is jettisoned from an extraterrestrial craft to earth. When a nearby couple investigates, she is hacked to pieces and he is possessed by an alien sluglike thing that enters his mouth. Cut to 1986, with students on the same campus, including bullying frat boys and a picked-on pair, a shy guy and his joking friend on forearm-braced crutches. The former, of course, crushes on a cute sorority girl who is going out with a frat-boy bully, and the cheerful disabled sidekick, of course, wants to help him get her. Add alien parasites that have been Kept in cryogenic stasis in the basement of the college science building and an emotionally scarred cop who saw the 1959 event.
Not only is the script self-aware, but the character names are a good sign: last names Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, DePalma, Cameron, Landis, and Hooper, all of which horror fans should recognize Another is Miner, after Steve Miner, who didn't become as famous but made the 1986 film House
, which I remember well and intend to rewatch next. The director of NotC, Fred Dekker, didn't even make it that big, but he did also work on House
and, much later, Predator
The parasite-possessed people are even called zombies once, and their assault on the sorority house is typical of the living dead, evil dead, and so on. The tone and look/feel of the film is more like 1985's Return of the Living Dead
, although that could just be the zeitgeist. Like Return
, the film manages to be ironic, often funny, but scary at the same time. Some time in, NotC freatures a lawnmower vs. a zombie, significantly before Peter Jackson's Dead Alive
.What I found most interesting is the ways in which the film is traditional, especially presenting a pre-Romero hero who sets out to save his girl and does defeat the monster, albeit temporarily. But that "temporarily"--setting up a sequel--is itself classic, going back at least to The Blob
(1958). The contrast to most zombie films shows how based they are in Romero's much bleaker vision of the efficacy and even moral nature of human beings. In fact, the semi-recent big-budget film Zombieland
features a character who starts out as the kind of person we expect to survive, but then becomes more of the hero we see in NotC--and that second turn is received as something fresh, so far are we from heroes and zombies.
I also like how NotC is open to a feminist reading, despite all of its efforts to the contrary. The heroine, though attractive, speaks in a soft, high voice and walks with a self-effacing posture that was almost painful to watch. No other female has any active, non-victim role. Yet the key to destroying the alien parasites is that one female science student has stored a box full of jars of human brains in the basement & the heroine tells the hero about it. The "creeps" of the title are clearly both the slithering parasites and the possessed dead, who stalk the sorority girls and stare in the house's window, trying to come in. From a 21st century perspective, however, the "creeps" are not just the frat bully boys but every guy, including the romantic teen hero, who schemes to get sex from a woman instead of just establishing an honest relationship.
Some recent films have depicted parasite-based zombies, such as Slither
(2006), but none is as good as NotC, unless flat-out gore is your thing. And of course Cronenberg may have pioneered behavior-altering parasites with Shivers
in 1975, but the result, while creatures of the id, were not in any sense living dead. I've been tracking the various causes of the undead plague in various movies, so I found NotC interesting that way as well.
Status: relaxing; amused at the wealth of info about parasites available on the web