Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thrill Me

It was the summer of 1986. I was in Ocean City, the pre-season, which was, in those days, like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, only without the barracading of oneself against endless assaults of ravening hordes of the living dead. Instead, I was at the local movie theater, which was located all the way up Coastal Highway, about a mile from Delaware and its tax-free booze.

Milling around the lobby—I believe I was waiting for the next screening of Police Academy 2 to begin (which is not as bad a movie as you may think…if you're stuck in Ocean City with nothing to do and no one to talk to and your thoughts often drift to the gun on the nightstand, praying for a zombie to come stumbling through the door to distract you from turning the weapon on yourself) I came across a poster. Featured on said poster was a cute, young white couple, obviously dressed for a formal college dance, but lugging about a clunky-looking flamethrower and pump shotgun, accountrements that would easily gotten them stopped at the door of even the most liberal establishment. But there was a reason for the heavy weaponry: surrounding the couple was a horde of slathering dead folk reaching for the couple in the most offensive manner.

The tagline read: "The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is…they're dead."

The movie being advertised was Night Of The Creeps, directed by Fred Dekker, starring Jason Lively, Jill Whitlow and Tom Atkins. Naturally, I was intrigued.

Let me put this in context: I had seen Night Of The Living Dead in 1976 (or thereabouts) and, at the tender and very impressionable age of only 16, was invited to and attended a screening of Dawn Of The Dead in 1979 by the owner of my local comic shop. In 1985, I was one of the few witnesses to Day Of The Dead's blink-and-miss-it theatrical release.

To say I was somewhat interested in zombie cinema would be to make an understatement.

Alas, I did not see Night Of The Creeps that evening. Instead, I shuffled off to see Police Academy 2, returning later to my hotel room to contemplate the aforementioned gun on my nightstand, praying once more for zombie armageddon. There but for the grace of God went I.

It was until a year later, the movie unceremoniously dumped onto VHS and into video stores without so much as a notice from Fangoria or a by-your-leave. It was a classically produced and abandoned film, forgotten by the studio that made it, bought up by an uncaring video distirbution company and lumped into whatever block of garbage was being shipped to the mom-and-pop video stores in those dark days before the advent of Blockbuster (um, yeah).

Fortunately, I found it. Others did, too. Now, don't get me wrong: Night Of The Creeps is not a great movie, by any stretch. Viewed by today's teenaged sophiticates, it would not muster within them the splattery enthusiasm afforded the latest remake of a '70s or '80s classic.

What Night Of The Creeps has is a light heart and a tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It—or, more appropriately, Fred Dekker—not only had a fun and sometimes shockingly violent story to tell, but also an appreciation of not its own history, but of its genre as well. Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is not only namechecked in both past and present-day sequences, but integrated into the story itself. (I've often considered Creeps to be Dekker's take on Plan 9, his meta-hommage to Ed Wood as well as the "true" story upon which Wood based his own warped narrative.)

Creep's opening is cleverly built around the classic urban legend of The Hook-Handed Man. Creep's climax, over-the-top for the mid-1980s provided the inspiration and template for the even more mind-scarring climax to Peter Jackson's zombie opus, Dead/Alive (aka Braindead)--zombies versus lawnmowers, anyone?

Night Of The Creeps arrived this week on DVD and Blu-Ray after twenty-three years of waiting for a proper release. Go and buy your copy now.

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