Thursday, January 29, 2015

Night of the Creeps (1986, USA)

Directed by: Fred Dekker
Produced by: Charles Gordon
Written by: Fred Dekker
Starring: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Allan Kayser, Wally Taylor
Music by: Barry De Vorzon, Stan Ridgway
Cinematography: Robert C. New
Editing by: Michael N. Knue
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures, HBO/Cannon Video
Release dates: August 22, 1986
Running time: 88 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $5 million
Box office: $591,366
Plot: In 1959, an alien experiment crashes to earth and infects a fraternity member. They freeze the body, but in the modern day, two geeks pledging a fraternity accidentally thaw the corpse, which proceeds to infect the campus with parasites that transform their hosts into killer zombies. 
Info: Night of the Creeps is a 1986 American comedy horror written and directed by Fred Dekker, starring Tom Atkins, Jason Lively, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow. The film is an earnest attempt at a B movie and a homage to the genre. While the main plot of the film is related to zombies, the film also mixes in takes on slashers and alien invasion films. Night of the Creeps did not perform well at the box office, but it developed a cult following.

Director Fred Dekker originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white. He included every B movie cliche he could think of and insisted on directing the script himself. The script was written in a week. Night of the Creeps was released August 22, 1986. The domestic gross was $591,366 across 70 theaters. The film was released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1986 by HBO/Cannon Video. Some of these feature the theatrical ending only. The DVD and Blu-ray was released on October 27, 2009, by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and contain the original ending along with some special features.

Though not shown theatrically upon its original release, the original ending showed Chris and Cynthia standing in front of the burning sorority house, then moved to the street where police cars race down the street. The charred and 'zombified' Cameron is shuffling down the street when he suddenly stops and falls to the ground. His head explodes and the slugs scamper out and head into a cemetery, as the spaceship from the beginning of the film has returned with the aliens intending to retrieve their experiment, proposing a sequel.

Night of the Creeps original 1986 trailer.

Unfortunately, a sequel was never made. But, however a remake is in the talks. This original ending is on the official DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, and can be seen in some television broadcast versions of the film, some US VHS copies, and on bootleg DVD copies. The soundtrack album, featuring Barry DeVorzon's score for the film (except tracks 22-26), was issued in 2009 by La-La Land Records.

Reception: Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 69% of 13 critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 6.5/10. Nina Darnton wrote that the film, though derivative, "shows a fair ability to create suspense, build tension and achieve respectable performances." Nigel Floyd of Time Out London wrote that the direction and special effects are poor, but the film is still "enjoyable enough in a ramshackle sort of way." Michael Gingold of Fangoria rated it 3.5/4 stars and called it "one of the year's most surprisingly entertaining fright features, one that homaged practically every subgenre imaginable, yet kept a sure hand on its tone and never descended into spoofery."

Steve Barton of Dread Central rated it 5/5 stars and called it "a classic in every sense of the word." Christopher Monfette of IGN rated it 7/10 and wrote that the film "shows its age" but is scary, gory, and has plenty of quotable lines." Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club rated it C+ and wrote, "Night of the Creeps has all the ingredients of a top-notch cult movie, yet Dekker too often ends up recycling clichés rather than subverting or spoofing them." Scott Weinberg of Fearnet wrote that the film is not for everyone, but it is "horror nerd nirvana". Eric Profancik of DVD Verdict called it "a great flick that deserves its cult status".

Night of the Creeps 1986 VHS distributed by HBO/Cannon Video.

Film Facts: All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner - The Janitor). The characters are homages to horror directors.

"Corman University" is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman. The "Corman Clarion" newspaper, along with the university name, is a reference to Roger Corman.

The college football team the Bulldogs was named in tribute to writer/director Fred Dekker's high school football team.

Gordon the Cat was named after film producer Gordon Carroll.

Graffiti on the wall of the men's room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, "Go Monster Squad!". The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.

A fair share of the film was shot in an old Woolworth's department store that was converted into a makeshift studio.

Night of the Creeps 1986 VHS distributed by Mayco Har De Gode Filmene (German Release).

The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this particular sequence was added to the movie.

According to director Fred Dekker the prominent "Stryper Rules" graffiti visible in the bathroom scene appeared due to makeup artist Kyle Sweet's (1956-2009) relationship with future husband, 'Stryper' frontman Michael Sweet.

Tom Atkins came up with the idea to have Detective Ray Cameron stop and smell a rose in one particular scene.

Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins) says "Thrill me" 5 times. Chris says it once.

Night of the Creeps is Tom Atkins favorite movie of his own.

Jason Lively also auditioned for the role of J.C.

The characters of Chris and J.C. were also featured in an early short film made by writer/director Fred Dekker.

Night of the Creeps 'Creep/Slug' action figure by Retroband (left). Night of the Creeps comic by Beyond Horror Design (right).

The movie the house mother is watching on TV is Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).

Allan Kayser had his hair dyed blonde to play Brad in the movie.

Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger play Zombie extras.

Director and writer Fred Dekker, who has had a lamentably short career as a helmer, wrote Night of the Creeps in seven days. He told himself that if he did not get to the end of the script by that self-imposed deadline, the whole thing would go into the garbage. If this is what one can come up with in such a flurry, maybe more scripts should have time limits. We should also be glad that he sold the script with a caveat: if he wasn't allowed to helm the film, he wasn't going to sell it. He's said that he didn't care if it sold or not at the time.

Why Dekker has received so little recognition and respect in the industry is difficult to say. Night of the Creeps didn't have the wide release and promotion that it deserved, especially given its $5 million budget (it's curious that TriStar didn't push more to make its money back). Both this film and Dekker's 1987 effort, The Monster Squad, are currently only available on bootleg DVDs in the U.S.

Night of the Creeps 1986 press promotional (left). Night of the Creeps newspaper advertisement (right).

Night of the Creeps is one of the better horror/comedies of the 1980s. The script is clever, paying homage to everything from 1950s sci-fi horror to the zombie craze started by George Romero to 1980s slasher films and even John Hughes. Just in case one couldn't catch the homage angle, Dekker has a lot of character and place names that are tributes to various genre directors. Dekker's dialogue is witty and memorable--there are a few classic diatribes in the film that would be worthwhile and a lot of fun to memorize.

Dekker's writing is self-conscious and self-mocking, predating Scream (1996) by 10 years (there is actually a whole class of 1980s and early 1990s flicks that were doing everything Scream was credited with revolutionizing). Dekker is not afraid to be joyously silly, as with genre character actor favorite Tom Atkins' response when asked if he's Detective Cameron--"No, Bozo the Clown". Dekker even gives us the 1980s high school classic of the hand-cranked middle finger.

But, Night of the Creeps isn't just a comedy. The serious horror aspects of Night of the Creeps are extremely well done. The film is suspenseful, the effects are good, and there is plenty of gore for fans. Dekker could have easily made an effective retro horror film--most of the first five minutes are set in the 1950s, shot in black and white, and have an authentic feel, with just a dash of tongue in its cheek. He smoothly transitions from The Blob (1958) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)-styled sci-fi (with heavy Alien (1979) touches) to early 1980s slasher material, then to a more complex and fantastic collage of zombies, slugs and detectives seeking revenge.

Night of the Creeps 1986 German original theatrical poster.

While the film isn't likely to be appreciated by those who dislike mixing their horror with comedy, and especially won't be appreciated by viewers who don't even realize that it's supposed to also be a comedy, neither type is very likely to watch it in the first place--at least not for long. For those with the appropriate mindset and love of horror (it's a lot more fun if one is familiar with everything being referenced), Night of the Creeps is a gem that deserves better recognition.

Whether you’re a seasoned zombie fan or are beginning to suffer from burn-out on Hollywood’s current monster du-jour, this one remains a gem worth checking out from the decade when teen horror ruled. Distinguished by some memorable performances and a quirky sense of humor, the film was released in 1986 to surprisingly disappointing box office returns. Written in under a week and directed by future ‘Tales From The Crypt’ alumnus Fred Dekker, perhaps best known for the much-loved ‘Monster Squad’, ‘Night Of The Creeps’ is imbued with the same kind of knowing nods to – and clear affection for – the classic chillers of the 1950′s.

From the high quality of the effects and impressive and spacious sets, it’s clear that despite its B-Movie aspirations, Night of the Creeps had a not-inconsiderable budget, which if anything makes its lack of promotion and recognition even more of a mystery. Despite never having been a big hit Night of the Creeps is a wildly entertaining ride that should find a place in the heart of any 80′s horror fan. If you loved ‘Fright Night’, ‘Creepozoids’ or ‘Monster Squad’ and this one has slipped by your radar, consider giving it a shot the next time you’re reaching for one of your well-worn favorites. You’ll be in for a real treat and a nostalgia trip back to the days when movie’s were all about fun.

Amazon: Night of the Creeps [Director's Cut] (Sony Pictures) - $8.99 (DVD)
Amazon: Night of the Creeps [Director's Cut] (Sony Pictures) - $10.99 (BLU-RAY)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Popcorn (1991, USA)

Directed by: Mark Herrier, Alan Ormsby
Produced by: Ashok Amritraj, Howard Hurst, Torben Johnke, Sophie Hurst, Bob Clark
Written by: Mitchell Smith
Screenplay: Tod Hackett
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Tony Roberts, Ray Walston, Derek Rydall
Music by: Paul Zaza
Cinematography: Ronnie Taylor
Editing by: Stan Cole
Distributed by: Studio Three Film Corporation, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, Europa Home Vídeo e, Penthouse Films
Release dates: February 1, 1991
Running time: 97 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: Unknown
Box office: $4,205,000
Plot: A "Leatherface" type murderer who wears other people's faces, kills at an all-night horrorthon at an old theatre put on by a bunch of film students. Maggie, the lead character, believes it's really Lanyard Gates, a crazed film maker who killed his family live on stage, fifteen years ago. And now he's back to kill his daughter, Sara, who is believed to be really Maggie.

Info: Popcorn is a 1991 American horror film directed by Mark Herrier and written by Alan Ormsby. Ormsby is credited with directing all three of the main films within a film, while Herrier is credited with filming the present-day portions of the film. Popcorn was filmed entirely in Kingston, Jamaica. Alan Ormsby was originally the film's director. Ormsby was replaced by Porky's actor Mark Herrier a few weeks into filming. The original lead Amy O'Neill was replaced by Jill Schoelen at this time as well.

According to John Kenneth Muir, the title reflects a trend in the horror films of the 1990s. There were few colorful titles, none as flamboyant as examples of previous decades such as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Instead most film titles were generic and simple. Besides Popcorn, he cites titles such as The Guardian (1990), The Crush (1993), The Temp (1993), Hideaway (1995), and Scream (1996). He believes this trend was a result of the studio desire for generic, wide-appeal films.

Muir believes the film itself was part of another trend of the time. Horror films which were both postmodernist films and self-reflective. Popcorn took inspiration from the history of the horror films, from the 1950s onwards. While Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995) used metafiction as one of their themes. Muir found the films-within-a-film to be more interesting than the frame story. He found them to be a realistic homage to the low-budget horror film of the 1950s and to the gimmicks of William Castle.

Popcorn original 1991 trailer.

Mosquito has similarities to the films of Jack Arnold. Nuclear weapons testing has caused desert mosquitoes to grow into giant monsters, in a plot resembling Them! (1954) and The Deadly Mantis (1957). The film includes stock characters and situations, such a dedicated lady scientist and the military insisting on using a nuclear weapon to annihilate the monster. The gimmick accompanying Mosquito is a life-sized version of the giant mosquito which slides down a rope above the heads of the film audience. This is a tribute to Emergo, the Castle-devised gimmick accompanying House on Haunted Hill (1959). The original gimmick featured a glowing skeleton sliding down a rope.

The title of The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man seems to be a homage to The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), while the visual style of this film is similar to the works of William Cameron Menzies. It includes influences from German Expressionism, with "exaggerated shadows and menacing low-angles". The accompanying gimmick, "Shock-o-Scope", seems to be a rename of Percepto, the electric gimmick which accompanied The Tingler (1959).

The Stench is fashioned after Japanese film, imported and dubbed for the American market. Its accompanying gimmick is an obvious variation of Smell-O-Vision, the gimmick used in Scent of Mystery (1960). Stranger than them is the Possessor. It features extreme close-ups, and functions as a mix between a snuff film and a product of Psychedelia. Its protagonist Lanyard Gates has similarities to cult leader Charles Manson.

Popcorn 1991 VHS distributed by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video.

The frame story is instead a rather typical slasher film. The killer impersonates his victims through use of masks, and his goal is the performance of a snuff-show in front of a live audience. His motivation lies in a crime of the past which scarred him for life. Maggie serves at the final girl of the film, accompanied by a heroic boyfriend. As to the identity of the killer, the film employs a suitable red herring for misdirection.

Muir observes, however, that the film does not use slasher film themselves as part of its self-reflecting depiction of the horror genre. The characters don't seem aware of the relevant tropes, nor do they seem aware of their presence in a slasher film-like situation. Unlike their counterparts in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).

The film includes a scene hinting at supernatural horror, which seems out-of-place in this film and is never properly explained. Suzanne, Maggie's mother, arrives at Dreamland to confront Lanyard Gates, gun in hand. As in response, the letters of the movie threater's marquee fall on the ground and in their place appears a new sign: Possessor. Actually no character in this film, including the killer has the ability to do something like this.

Popcorn featurette Mosquito. The famous blood sucking scene.

Release: The film was not a box office success. Popcorn was initially released on home video in June 1991. Variety reported in 1993 that home video sales equaled $2,043,179. Elite Entertainment released a DVD edition of Popcorn in 2001. Special features include theatrical trailers, TV spots and promotional footage. The DVD was discontinued as of January 4, 2010 and is considered OOP (out of print). A domestic Blu-ray release is planned for release through Synapse Films.

Reception: Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 29% of 17 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.4/10. John Kenneth Muir identified two distinct films in Popcorn: one is a smart, postmodern film that "self-reflexively gazes back at genre conventions and gimmickry", and the other a rather derivative revival of 1980s slashers that lacks the self-awareness and intelligence of the more postmodern half. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the best spoof of its kind since Alligator." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it an "ingenious and spoofy little shocker".

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it B and wrote, "Though it isn't even trying to scare you, this is a very nifty black-comic horror movie, one of the rare entries in the genre with some genuine wit and affection." Richard Harrington of The Washington Post wrote that it "has several good ideas that, unfortunately, go unrealized." Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun wrote, "Popcorn isn't too clever by half, but only by seven-sixteenths. It's so busy being droll and ironic it forgets to be any good."

Popcorn 1991 VHS distributed by  CNR Video (German Release).

Chris Hicks of the Deseret News wrote, "On the whole, "Popcorn" is so amateurish in its development, with pseudo-hip dialogue that drops movie references every few lines, it winds up being neither scary nor funny." Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote that the film spoofs were inspired, but the rest of the film is much worse. Reviewing the 2001 DVD release, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk called it "a wildly entertaining movie", and Patrick Naugle of DVD Verdict called it "a fun little flick."

Film Facts: The title "Popcorn" was linked to an element in the story. This element was removed before the final cut. The producers and distributor liked the title so it was kept.

This was such a box office disappointment in the United States that in many markets it bypassed first run cinemas and was booked directly into second run/discount cinemas.

First feature film for Movie Partners. Director Alan Ormsby was replaced after three weeks of principal photography by Mark Herrier.

The character of "Lanvard Gates" was very loosely inspired by eccentric Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins.

Popcorn 1991 German original theatrical poster. 

After three weeks of shooting, Amy O'Neill was replaced by Jill Schoelen. Schoelen has said that she did not have much interaction with the cast since many of the scenes had already been filmed with O'Neill and in most cases just needed to make quick re-shoots with Schoelen.

The reason that the teenagers listen only to reggae music is that this film was actually shot in Jamaica.

The "Dreamland Theatre" shown in the film is actually The Ward Theatre in Kingston, Jamaica.

Some of the movies advertised in the theatre lobby are The Tingler (1959), The Incredible Melting Man (1977) and Sólo con tu pareja (1991).

It doesn't get much better than going to the movies. It's been one of man's favorite pass times for decades. There have even been films paying tribute to this experience, like Joe Dante's Matinee. Two years earlier, a low budget Horror film similar to that one was released, but flopped. There are some signs of the troubles during production, but the end result is hardly a failure. Instead, it's a fun and occasionally scary romp that pays homage to cinema.

Popcorn Fright Rags t-shirt. No longer available.

Pros: Dynamite concept. Well acted. Eerie score. Provides a few chuckles. Superb effects. Full of neat ideas. A few really chilling scenes. Quick paced.

Cons: Some of the characters are too underdeveloped. Concept not taken to full potential. Tone a tad uneven.

Final thoughts: It's a shame this film wasn't a bigger success. It's not perfect, but it is a small gem. You can tell the people in front of and behind the camera were into their jobs. Lovers of Horror and film in general should give it a shot.

My rating: 3.5/5

Released by Elite Entertainment. This DVD is considered RARE and OOP (out of print).

Amazon: Popcorn (Elite Entertainment) - $39.88 (DVD)