I used to get a lot of crap from friends and family because I don’t watch “good movies.” The fact is that if it opened at the top of the box office, I probably haven’t seen it. If the DVD case displays quotes like “Inspirational!”, “Touching!”, or “A Revelation!” I probably haven’t seen it. If it’s a coming of age story about a rich white person who reaches out to help a group of inner-city african american children by teaching them to find themselves in music while teaching us a lesson about forgiveness – or if it just has anything to do with Sandra Bullock – I guarantee I haven’t seen it.
The difference is that there’s nothing popular about the latter. Sure, there’s an audience out there for them, but they aren’t big money audiences and they don’t win awards. To make an unpopular movie takes either passion or hubris. Or, if I’m lucky, it’s both.
Hence, my life-long affection for Fred Dekker’s 1986 Horror/Sci-Fi/College Comedy/Cop Action/B-Movie Homage Night of the Creeps. This is Dekker’s first movie, so there isn’t much opportunity for hubris in the film’s brisk 88 minutes, but man, is there passion.
This is a construction paper scrapbook of one man’s love for the movies. It’s got an alien invasion, a love triangle, a ’50’s setting, a zombie outbreak on a mountain road while a woman gets attacked by an axe wielding maniac, and that’s just the prologue!
Then we fast-forward to the 1980’s, where we meet Chris, played by Jason Lively, older brother of my childhood crush, Robyn (oh, and some chick on Gossip Girl), who sees the girl of his dreams and decides she’d only go for him if he was in a frat. He and his best-friend J.C., in an attempt to join said frat, accidentally release a cryogenically frozen body that carries alien slugs in its head that turn people into zombies and, needless to say, blood is spilled, brains are eaten and a boy becomes a man.
This movie is just bursting at the seams with cinematic joy. Chris is the original “dorky yet charming,” his lady-love is classic ’80’s hot, his best-friend is one of the most awesome best-friend characters ever put in a movie (seriously, as a writer, I’ve blatantly stolen the character more times than I can count), and then we mix in Tom Atkins as an alcoholic detective with a secret, a vendetta and a goddamn catch phrase (“Thrill me”).
The plot of this movie is like reading my Christmas List from 1987.
And yet, despite all of its awesomeness, the great explosions, the world-class one-liners, the bad-ass finale and the little-people in alien suits, this is not a very good movie. I’d spent my whole life believing it was fucking Citizen Cane, until I sat my wife down to watch the Blu-Ray and, half-way through, found her bored and myself embarrassed. As much as I love it, as a whole, it just doesn’t hold up.
The script isn’t nearly as cohesive as it should be, there are entire scenes that just plain don’t work, and, despite a short running time and enough plot to fill a space-ship, it really drags. It makes strengths out of stuff that usually bugs me – cheesy special effects, stereotypical baddees and a dream sequence (I really hate dream sequences) – but, it can’t overcome the too-long tracking shots, the hideous music, schizophrenic lighting and a painfully slow epilogue.
But, a lot of this can be chalked up to the simple fact that this was the director’s first movie. That he was truly learning on the job and, from what I’ve read and heard on the commentary, he had different opinions about pacing and style than the producer. But, there I go again, defending a movie I love, despite its flaws.
This movie is a classic example of potential over product, and I’m totally okay with that. Because, in the end, I’d rather watch a 26 year-old guy swing for the fences and land a double than a dozen Michael Bay movies slip past the infield. (That metaphor quite doesn’t work, but I won’t miss an opportunity to take a stab at that jack-ass.)
Night of the Creeps isn’t a great movie, but fuck if it isn’t worth your attention, your respect and, at the very least, your time. You can call it shit, but you can’t call it lazy. And, I’ll take that over “the feel good movie of the year” any day.
P.S. Dekker would go on to make Monster Squad. Now, if you call that one shit, you and I are gonna have a problem.