My two favorite genre films are Fright Night (85) and Night of the Creeps (86). Both are similar in their Those-Who-Came-Before homages, but differ greatly in tone; however, both remain in a perpetual tie for first place in my head. Mickster did a great Five Favs on Fright Night, so I am going to give my five for the latter. I will list them in order of least to most favorite thing. *SPOLIER ALERT* Number one is Tom Atkins.
5: The Character Names
Chris Romero, James Carpenter (JC) Hooper, Cynthia Cronenberg, Det. Ray Cameron, Det. Landis, Sgt. Raimi, and Mr. Miner. I don’t need to tell any of you what those names mean. Oh, and the first three all attend Corman University. Fred Dekker obviously loves his chosen field, and even more he loves the people who helped to build his chosen genre. In fact, he goes out of his way to pay homage to the giants upon whose shoulder’s he stands. The entire movie is Dekker’s love letter to the sci-fi b-movies he grew up on. Opening in a flashback, a rogue alien aboard a UFO launches a canister into space, only for it to fall to Earth- specifically, right into 1959 middle-America in the backyard of Corman U. Meanwhile, two clean cut American teens are making out in a sweet-ass convertible. Following the path of what they think is a meteorite, they run into a recently escaped axe-wielding maniac.
As poor Peggy Sue (Sure, let’s call her that.) is being diced like an onion, her boyfriend finds the canister in a smoking crater. Space slugs fly out of it and into his mouth. Smash cut to 1986 Coman U., and Chris Romero (Jason Lively being as perfectly him as only he can.) being moody over unrequited love. His pal, JC (Steve Marshall giving some real heart to what would be just another comic relief role for other actors.) is providing solace with promise of others girls and parties to come. Before we know it, our heroes are accidentally thawing the corpse of our slug swallower from the opening, as he has been cryogenically frozen by a scene stealing David Paymer.
Why? Who cares? The point is, Dekker now gets to pay homage to the zombie films he also loved, as the slugs start inhabiting people’s brains, turning them into living dead pollinators. As more people are infected, the more fun we have watching the protagonists get stuck in tighter and tighter spots. By the movie’s end, we have been treated to not only the above mentioned homages, but there are easter eggs galore, including a Dick Smith cameo (More on that in a minute.), slasher tropes, Plan 9 playing on a television set, and not one, but two references to Dekker’s other cult classic/my Goonies, The Monster Squad, which would not be released until the following year.
4: “STRYPER RULES!”
JC is hiding in a bathroom stall while the floor teems with space slugs hungering for his meaty cerebellum. There, clearly over his shoulder is the graffiti, “Stryper Rules!” The story goes that this was done as an in-joke for makeup artist Kyle Sweet, who was then dating and would later marry Stryper front, Michael Sweet. I am not a Christian, but I am a metal fan, so there’s no way I should like anything about Stryper. However, in 7th Grade, I had a crush on Bev M, and she was a member of one of those churches that do moralistic haunted houses for Halloween. So, I went to a Stryper concert with her youth group just to hang out with her. I don’t remember a ton about the show, other than it was the only metal show I have been to that had not one but two prayer breaks. Anyway, seeing that graffiti always takes me back to that time during my misguided youth when I could have gone down one a path that led to conversion camps and belief that Halloween was satanic, but in a bad way. Thank Buffy, I went the other direction.
3: The FX:
We all know that when it comes to splatter, we want to see that oversaturated, red corn syrup magic potion that is so much more satisfying than the pixelated cartoon blood used in modern monster movies. Not only that, but if a head splits open to spill a bunch of space slugs onto the ground, isn’t it better when we can hear them plop satisfyingly to the earth? Only horror fans can truly appreciate FX from the team of makeup artists including Howard Berger (Day of the Dead, Evil Dead II, Misery), Robert Kurtzman (The Walking Dead), and David B. Miller (A Nightmare on Elm Street). When the blood flies in this one, you can almost feel it sprinkle across your face. Close up shots of zombie Frat boy faces cracking in two while viscous fluids (Likely corn syrup and K-Y Jelly, standards of the Horror FX toolbox.) stretch between the dividing cranium, slimy slugs dripping with more gross liquids slither across tile floors at breakneck speeds (Sure, you can see the pull wire in a lot of the shots, but that’s just part of the charm.), and skeletal axe murderers on the prowl are just part of the practical FX that all horror fans seek. Zombie dogs causing major bus accidents are just the icing on the gore covered cake.
2: It’s a Bonified Walter Paisley Movie:
When I was around 14, I was reading a Fangoria article about the Corman produced, Wynorski helmed cult classic, Chopping Mall. In it, they casually mentioned Dick Smith “once again appearing as Walter Paisley.” It caught my eye. What did they mean by “once again?” That’s when I found out about the oddity that is Walter Paisley. In the days before Google, I dug through old periodicals in our small-town library looking for any references to Corman movies, and particularly to Walter Paisley. Eventually, finding articles from underground newspapers in exotic locales like Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco that friends would mail to me. Piecing it together, I found five movies in which he appeared as Walter Paisley, a number that would go up by one when I saw NotC in the theaters as a teen, and by one more when the World Wide Web opened: The aforementioned CM, A Bucket of Blood, Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Shake, Rattle And Rock! (TV), and the movie that this article is about. None of the characters were similar in anything but name, and one occasion of career overlap. (He plays WP as a cop in both Shake and NotC.) It was such a bizarre notion to me, that it became one of my favorite things about the entire genre. Horror doesn’t just push our sensory boundaries; it also bucks the norms of narrative storytelling. You’ll never see a Walter Paisley in a rom-com, no matter how much we all want it.
Knowing much of this before NotC was released made seeing it in the theater that much richer for me. When Tom Atkins, JL in tow, go to the police equipment room and call out a hello to Walter, then we see a close up on Dick Miller sporting a nametag that said, “Offc. Paisley,” I was in on the joke. I immediately leaned across my friends, attempting to explain why I had laughed, only to quickly see that they didn’t care. So, it was my own little joke, and my heart grew three sizes that day, all thanks to this movie.
1: It’s Tom FREAKING Atkins:
It’s Tom FREAKING Atkins.