Night of the Creeps: Director's Cut (US - BD RA)
Gabe loves this film. The alien slug in his brain is just a coincidence...
A fight breaks out on an alien spacecraft, and a biological weapon is rocketed to earth circa 1959. A couple making time at a local make-out spot see the capsule enter earth’s atmosphere, and chase it to its final resting spot. The boy leaves the girl in the car as he investigates on foot. While she’s chopped to bits by an unrelated escaped mental patient, he’s infected by a slug that leaps into his mouth. Cut to 1986. To impress a pretty sorority girl named Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his handicapped friend JC (Steve Marshall) decide to join a frat. The cruel frat leader dares the duo to steal a cadaver from the medical school. Chris and JC don’t find a regular dead body, but they do find the infected boy cryogenically frozen, and accidentally defrost the alien slug frozen within him. Soon the campus is wracked with slugs and zombies, and a disgruntled detective named Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) is stuck on the case.
I’m curmudgeonly enough to not particularly like many of the 1980s’ most beloved cult films, and I’m afraid Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad really isn’t an exception. I enjoy the film for what it is, but don’t love it like so many others. I had assumed for a long time that my feelings on Dekker’s other cult-favourite, Night of the Creeps, would follow a similar line, so I initially avoided seeing it. When I eventually got around to watching the bootleg DVD I was given by a friend I was shocked by how much I liked the film. My dislike of the bulk of ‘80s pop-culture, specifically movies about college life (even more specifically frat house comedies), was pushed aside by colourful photography, likeable characters, biting satire, and a genuinely clever script teeming with pitch perfect genre throwbacks. It deserves its hidden gem status, and this Blu-ray/DVD release is reason to celebrate.
It’s probably not a coincidence that my favourite genre films of the era are almost all remakes or distinct throw-backs to a bygone era. Besides franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, the era genre was at its best when recalling the early years of the Red Scare, which is likely not a coincidence, as the ‘80s were the heated end of the Cold War. The best of the era genre ( The Fly, Day of the Dead and The Thing) were dark pits in a buoyant sea, but there were plenty of airy romps that fully embraced the campy atmosphere of the MTV generation. I’m not personally a huge fan of The Lost Boys, Night of the Comet or Fright Night, but I appreciate their contributions to the genre, and their fan-bases. Night of the Creeps is something a little more special, something I personally compare to Chuck Russell’s The Blob, Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, John Carpenter’s They Live, Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead, films that embrace a slightly darker view of the ‘80s, while looking back at the ‘50s and ‘60s with admiration.
Dekker takes the whole throw-back thing kind of literally by beginning the film in the era, complete with black and white photography, and some choice period music. This leads into an equal embracement of the ‘80s, including neon hues, big hair, and again, choice period tunes. Both eras are shot through nostalgic lenses, almost as if the film were made specifically for modern audiences, which explains both the sustained cult following and the fact that I actually enjoy the experience, rather than cringing at it. Dekker’s second, and more clearly intended achievement in setting Night of the Creeps apart from other nostalgia-fests is found in his axe-murderer subplot. This subplot is structurally extraneous, but it adds a reality and sophisticated slant to the otherwise otherworldly horror, and it really fills out the Tom Atkins character.
Dekker’s dialogue is largely hit and miss throughout the film, but he manages to find a bit of a muse in Atkins. The actor’s lines are long standing fan favourites, and earn the right through a series of John Carpenter inspired one-liners. However, unlike The Lost Boys and Fright Night, the film’s comedic successes don’t depend on one or two great, hammy performances, but a stew of referential gags, physical gags, character attributes, and quick whip one-liners. The John Hughes/Jon Landis stuff isn’t as super satisfying, and some of the referential stuff (like the character names) is a little too on-the-nose, but overall Night of the Creeps is one of the funnier films of its ilk. Perhaps even more compelling than the successful comedy are the successful dramatic elements. I don’t totally buy the love story, but Chris and JC’s relationship is believable, and JC’s death is a genuine heart-breaker.
Not including the Monsters HD showing, this marks the first time since the film’s release that fans have had the chance to see Night of the Creeps in widescreen. I have no idea how bad the VHS release was, or if it was cropped or open-framed, but intended framing is always a plus (was the Laserdisc widescreen?). This Blu-ray release (and the accompanying DVD, which I took the screen caps from) looks good overall, but is comparable to Sony’s sometimes reviled Ghostbusters transfer. In other words—it’s really grainy. A couple recent Blue Underground and Severin cult catalogue releases have made me re-evaluate my assumptions concerning the possibilities of high definition versions of B-movies. Upgrading to the DVD is a no-brainer, but the further upgrade to Blu-ray is a little less clear cut. Night of the Creeps is a very colourful film, and the 1080p upgrade fully embraces the brightness of these hues in ways standard definition simply can’t.
The opening scenes, which were shot in black in white, are the grainiest thing on the transfer, and there is plenty of noticeable dirt as well. In this case a certain amount of grain was clearly intended to best ape the period photography, but some of the dirt was likely avoidable. The later colour scenes are less grainy, and much cleaner (there are only minor flecks of artefact, no obvious print damage or tracking lines), but the film does show its age. Beyond the grain, the transfer’s biggest problem is a lack of sharp edges. Thankfully the disc’s producers don’t go crazy with DNR and over-sharpening, but it looks like something could’ve been done to create harder edges without creating ugly edge-enhancement. Details are consistent and impressive enough, at least slightly more impressive than the DVD (sharp enough to see the strings pulling the slugs), and I think fans will be very happy to be able to make out small stuff that was likely lost on bootlegs and VHS copies. Perhaps I’m being too gentle here, but my only big complaint is the condition of the basement scene. The basement is very dark, but probably shouldn’t have been this hard to discern details. The ‘director’s cut’ ending isn’t in great shape either.
Night of the Creeps’ overall sound design is stylized, but relatively thin by modern standards, so I at first assumed that this new release’s 5.1 remix would be a pretty minor achievement. I’m immediately impressed with the breadth of this new DTS-HD soundtrack, which isn’t only incredibly clean and clear, but generally really wide, from direction effects to music, and even dialogue, which moves cleanly with the characters. Dekker points out the tracks not-so-hot ADR on his commentary, but even these bits are audibly clear and geographically appropriately placed. The effects are, as stated, kind of thin, but there are lively action moments featuring shooting guns, flaring flame-throwers, a car crash, and a big old explosion. The slithering alien slugs’ squeals are the most enjoyable directional element. The surround effects are naturally blended with the stereo stuff, and there’s a bit of LFE punch that doesn’t overwhelm the clearly aged track. The synth soundtrack isn’t the most memorable in the world, but is a big part of the track’s breadth, and really fills out the thin spots in the track. The period pop actually sounds better than a lot of the stuff on Universal’s impressive American Werewolf in London track.
So many studios release their cult items with little fan fair, but Sony clearly knew they had something special on their hands here, and the extras are pretty great. Things start with two feature commentaries. The disc’s producer Michael Felsher (sp?) acts as moderator to director Fred Dekker on the first commentary. Dekker announces at the top of the track that the disc’s long production period gave him a chance to think about what he was going to say, and the practice is to our advantage. This is a solid track, full of technical information, retrospective storytelling, and a good natured self-effacing streak. Felsher is almost as valuable, and a good moderator from an interviewing and supporting standpoint. Notably nobody mentions Slither or Braindead at any point in the commentary. The second commentary features cast members Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Jason Lively and Tom Atkins. This track is much less informative, but a fun enough time, assuming you’re looking to pretend you’re watching the film with people that don’t know much about production, but enjoy the experience. It’s almost all in reference to on-screen action, but the time is pretty well filled.
‘Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps’ (60:00, HD) is a making of documentary broken into six parts with a ‘play-all’ option. The doc covers the usual bases, including the early inception, inspiration, writing, the cast, special effects, post-production, music, release and reception. The last section covers the film’s lasting cult success, and the Alamo Drafthouse re-release (complete with embarrassing fan interviews). There isn’t any behind the scenes footage, but the film footage is used to good effect, as are behind the scenes stills and fun comic book illustrations, and the interview subjects are all lively. To make sure we’re paying attention slugs occasionally slither across the screen. This is followed by a shorter featurette called ‘Tom Atkins: Man of Action’ (20:00, HD) where the actor runs down his career to laid back jazz music.
The disc also features a trivia track, seven deleted/extended scenes (07:40, HD), which were clearly cut for pacing issues, the briefer original theatrical ending (00:30, HD), the one with the dog, the original theatrical trailer, and a series of Sony Blu-ray trailers.
I love Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps almost in spite of myself, considering my constant bummer crusade against ‘80s cult culture. Then again, I also love James Gunn’s Slither, which more than a few fans have noticed shares quite a bit visually and thematically with Dekker’s film. The comparisons, and cries of plagiarism are mostly moot because both filmmakers were inarguably inspired by David Cronenberg’s Shivers, which features slugs that enter victims mouths and turn them into zombies. Cronenberg’s zombies want sex, but the idea is the same. I recommend buying all three and drawing your own conclusions. The semi-bad news is that there aren’t huge differences between the new DVD and the new Blu-ray, but either way fans are getting the best looking and best sounding version of the long lost film, and they’re getting it with a bevy of exciting extras.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Extras: Director Commentary, Cast Commentary, Theatrical Ending, Deleted Scenes, Thrill Me: The Making of Night of the Creeps, Tom Atkins: Man of Action, Trivia Track, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Fred Dekker
Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Allan Kayser
Genre: Comedy, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 90 minutes