Saturday, July 30, 2011

REVIEW: Night of the Creeps & The Monster Squad

Fred Dekker is somewhat of an enigma in the cinema world, seeing that he made two classic genre films in just two years only to fall off the face of the earth or cinema landscape so to speak. After directing his last film, Robocop 3 in 1993, Dekker opted to move on to producing films rather then directing them, leaving many of his fans to wonder what other genre gems he could have churned out if given the opportunity. 

I figured I'd review two of his most acclaimed and loved creations, Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad,  at the same time seeing that the fun factor in both films are through the roof. Now just sit back, relax, and prepare to be Double Dekker'd.

Night of the Creeps
Director: Fred Dekker
Year 1986

Night of the Creeps is one of the best 80's comedy horror hybrids to ever come out of the era. Combining the gross out effects of previous fright flicks and the attitude and style of the generation, Creeps is one hell of a fun ride that knows how to entertain.

The story of Night of the Creeps is rather simple, yet is visually complex because of the blending of genres that Dekker throws into the mix. The film opens in 1959 as an alien experiment crash lands on earth, infecting a nearby inhabitant of a sleepy college town. The infected youth is cryogenically frozen and stored at the University lab, that is until two unpopular college kids in the mid 80's break into the lab to pull off a prank in order to get into the university's top fraternity. They need a corpse, so who better then the alien infected stiff from the 50's. Of course, in typical genre fashion, the suspended corpse unleashes a plague of alien slugs onto the campus, transforming their victims into brain starved zombies. Can the geeks stop the spread of walking dead coeds and more importantly, can our main nerd Chris get the girl of his dreams? Of course.... it's the 80's.

It's night time and there are the creeps.

Tom Atkins is the man.

The genre jumping in this film is outstanding, throwing us from science fiction, to horror, and then into comedy territory. There's even a nice bit of generational jumping when presented with the two time periods of the 50's and 80's. This motley assortment of elements gives the film a feeling of originality, making it come off as unique and fresh when compared to the slashers and other films of the era. What makes it really work though is the fun factor of the film. It never takes itself too seriously and there's always a nice wink to the audience every so often, so as to give away the film's playful nature and light hearted story.

Surprisingly though there are a lot of morbid overtones and serious moments, provided by the genre legend Tom Atkins. His character has been haunted by the murder of his high school sweetheart, shown getting the ax in the black and white prologue, and we watch him struggle with these memories throughout the film. His recollections are harsh and personal, but they never steer the film off course from its rather fun fare and entertaining elements. These moments only serve to fill out his character, while bridging the generational gap that spans the 50's scenes from the 80's ones. It works and through this cinematic mechanism, we can see Atkins' character grow from a fearful man who is haunted by his past to the ass kicking mustache wearing bad ass that he turns into by the end of the film. MUSTACHE!

It's one of those perverted peeping zombies.

Man, can't a guy shit in peace?

Aside from Atkins and his amazing mustache, the film is brimming with lively and memorable characters. First and foremost are the two geeky college kids that set this whole sordid tale into motion. Chris the tall, lanky, and love struck dreamer played by Jason Lively, wants nothing more then to date the girl of his dreams Cynthia, but his bashful nature and social retardedness holds him at bay. On the other hand, J.C. played by Steve Marshall, has no problem in social situations and can act rather charming when the situation calls for it, but his handicap holds him back in pursuing his own Chris sized dreams. Together they make a formidable team, allowing Chris to get closer and closer to his goal of asking Cynthia out on a date.

Their friendship is excellently displayed, providing some interesting moments of banter and hilarious situations that result from the unleashing of the zombie horde. There's even some sympathetic and saddening moments when J.C. succumbs to a slug attack, leaving Chris to battle the undead all alone. There's a little bro-mance in the air, but nothing as lame as we find in present day comedies.

Shit! Our dates are dead!

This film is a scorcher!

Let's talk zombie shop. These slug filled bad boys are remarkably simple but highly original, sporting cracked and cratered faces, peeled back skin, and drained of life complexions. There's not many in the film, but when they show up they really make an impression. The special effects across the board for this film are top notch, showcasing tons of shots of exploding heads, scorched faces, and slimy slugs a plenty. Even a few four legged friends get into the mix, when a zombiefied cat and dog show us a few new tricks. It's really something to see a crazy demonic puppy, cause a bus full of douchebag jocks to crash in a ball of flames only to vomit out slugs to occupy their broken bodies. Yeah, that happens and surprisingly it feels so right.

The tongue and cheek nature of this film isn't reserved exclusively for outrageous moments like that one. They're also injected into the dialogue of the film. If you're desperately seeking for a film that has Tom Atkins letting one liners fly like there's no tomorrow, well then sir I think you have found what you've been looking for. Watching Atkin's turn to a room full of dolled up college coeds to say, "I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here." The bad news you ask? I'll let Tom answer, "Their dead." There's some priceless stuff including the reoccurring catch phrase of "Thrill me", recited by Atkins on a regular basis throughout the film. Out of all of Atkins' films, I'd say that this is the one that really allows him to shine.

Any of you girls want to thrill me?

The Formal Dance night wasn't the best time to have a bad face day.

The movie is an enjoyable romp, but what really takes the cake is the closing scenes of the film. Pitted against a zombie horde, Atkins, Chris, and Cynthia, must hold up at the sorority house and fight off the reanimated bodies of their dead classmates. It's a thrilling conclusion that offers some very original executions and death blows to the zombie masses. Armed with a shotgun, Chris explodes skulls sending slugs skyward for Cynthia to torch with her flame thrower. Atkins, with pistol in hand, goes ape shit on a large group of zombies inside the sorority house after seeing a picture of his dead sweetheart in a frame from classes past. Dekker spins with Atkins as he goes ballistic firing his pistol past the camera and screaming like a madman. It's just excellent.

The direction is tight and creative, forcing the film onward towards its explosive conclusion. It's a great ride, that spares no expense when it comes to creative visuals to bombard the audience with. It almost makes you wish that a full on zombie apocalypse would have struck during your college years, so you could reap the benefits of fighting side by side with Tom Atkins and his marvelous mustache.

It's Tom Atkins' crazy carousel of pain!

How romantic.

Night of the Creeps is just one hell of a fun ride from beginning to end. With its colorful characters and unforgettable plot, it really is the epitome of 80's comedy horror. Streamlined to perfection and headlined by one of the greats of the genre, Night of the Creeps is a night to remember and a great time to dismember with a few friends. All I have to say is that it thrilled me to death. I highly recommend this film to anyone that wants to have a bloody good time.

5 out of 5 stars      A Fun & Classic Zombie Film With a Mustache!

The Monster Squad
Director: Fred Dekker
Year 1987

The Monster Squad is a superb and highly entertaining follow up to Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps. Borrowing a number of themes and central elements from 1985's The Goonies, Dekker creates a world where creatures from the Universal Monsters line-up run rampant in a small suburban town. A group of friends who call themselves The Monster Squad, rally together to take on the evil menace and save the town from their inevitable takeover. Brought vividly to life, Dekker hits another one out of the park creating a film that surpasses the nostalgia factor and falls within the realms of a timeless masterpiece portraying the fanciful days of being a child, hanging with friends, and taking on the world. The blend of  kids film and horror is pitch perfect, so lets not waste any more time and dive right into this fun flick.

The members of the Monster Squad weren't the most popular kids in the neighborhood.

The whole gang was there for Frankenstein's coming out party.

First and foremost the kid actors that make up The Monster Squad are amazing. Every last one of the young actors feel authentic and none of their performances feel forced or fabricated to fit a certain mold. It almost feels as if we are intruding into the lives of these real and ordinary kids as they go about their business saving the world. Echoing the overall feel that Richard Donner was able to accomplish in The Goonies, Dekker provides a great line-up of child actors to authenticate this tight-nit group of monster slayers.

Leading the pack is young Sean, played by Andre Gower, whose able to tackle this demanding role without projecting an age that is far flung from his characters origins. There are many times when a child actor is playing the part, or the part is written for them, to act well beyond their years, but for the character of Sean he is a grounded yet naive kid who revels in all things horror. Gower pulls it off perfectly and you never think for one second that he's in front of a camera performing, instead of playing.

And the Worst Father of the Year Award goes to....... This shithead!

Frankenstein's daycare service.

Aside from Sean, we're given an astounding cast of players from Patrick, Sean's best friend and partner in crime, Horace the overweight yet loyal straggler of the group, Rudy the rebel and bad ass muscle of the monster slayers, plus the two youngest members of the group Eugene and Phoebe. Their personalities are as diverse as their looks and each person is given a role to play throughout the film.

The chemistry that each character has with one another is astounding, relaying the overwhelming notion that this group coexists on a plain far beyond the celluloid frame. It really is wonderful when a filmmaker can bring together the right elements to make something so believable and fun to watch. With The Monster Squad we're given a crew of kids that seem natural and that helps the film out in so many ways, especially if it's dealing with such fantastic elements as vampires, werewolves, and things that go bump in the night.

These kids are scared shitless!

One of my favorite moments of the film.

The creatures in The Monster Squad are wonderfully imagined, inspired by some iconic imagery based off of the Universal Monsters main heavy hitters and brought to vivid life by Stan Winston Studios. These creatures are decrepit in detail and wholly frightening if viewed outside of the context of this film. The werewolf alone could give any unsuspecting viewer a few nightmares, let alone a few kids stumbling across its path inside a rundown mansion, nards or not. The designs for each main creature is just breathtaking and well thought out. The film really comes off as a homage to the monster movies of old, while at the same time showcasing what those black and white films might have looked like if injected with some color and colorful kids.

It's also amazing how Dekker balances all of these creatures along with the different mythos that each carries along with it. Vampires and their wooden stake and holy water aversions, werewolves and their hatred for silver especially in bullet form, and fishmen and their vulnerability to fat kids with pump action  shotguns. Well that last one only applies to this film, but Dekker brings all of this monster lore to the table and it never gets jumbled or lost in the mix. He's even able to play with the different theories in monster slaying, having the squad banter about what kills what as they lay down their plans to take down the monster plague. It's a great mixture that works on all levels.

This Wolfman's got nards!

Man that is one bad ass fat kid.

Simply put, The Monster Squad is just plain, down and dirty fun. The dialogue between the young actors feels fresh, never stooping to the cliche trappings of the genre or delving into eye rolling territory. The dynamics between the different characters works, even between the older characters of the cast. The creepy German guy, played by Leonardo Cimino, gives a great performance amid the younger actors giving an old world approach to his character, thus establishing many of the rules that the crew first assimilated earlier in the film. His interaction with Patrick and his sister as they read the ancient, virgin essential, lines that are meant to send the evil away, is priceless. There's also a nice heartwarming moment as he assists little Phoebe in speaking the words, against the oppressive advances of a pissed of Dracula.

One of my favorite characters is the cool as shit Rudy, whose badassary knows no bounds. Well at least I thought so when I was a kid. He still comes off as a kick ass hero twenty some odd years later and his lines are still as cool as I perceived them back then. One of my favorite moments is when the brides of Dracula are slowly walking down the street towards our heroes and Rudy steps out of line and approaches the ghouls. Patrick says, "Rudy, where are you going? Rudy keeps on walking with cigarette in mouth as he reaches for his bow and arrow saying, "I'm in the goddamn club aren't I?" He lets an arrow fly as it crashes into the chest of the first female vamp, compelling Patrick to say something like 'Oh shit'. Loved that scene and how it really seemed to sink in for the characters that they were going to have to do some killing or be killed. All in all this film is a classic that has stood the test of time and came out the other end the better for it.

Scaring a little girl? You're a naughty Dracula.

The Monster Squad is the shit.

The Monster Squad is one part The Goonies the other part a Universal Monsters showcase. It represents the best of both worlds and blends it together, forming something of a remarkable classic. Time has been kind to this film thanks to the impeccable creature effects and casting decisions made in the selection of all of the young actors. The chemistry between the entire cast is felt throughout the film and I can't imagine anyone filling the shoes of such an unexperienced yet wholly natural cast of monster slayers.

Whether for nostalgic purposes or for a fun filled movie experience, you really can't go wrong with The Monster Squad. Its got all the right elements and is directed with such a perfect sensibility by Fred Dekker, that you'd be hard pressed to not have a good time with this one. Throw this bad boy on and rock until you drop.

5 out of 5 stars     A Classic Kids Film With Wolfman Sized Nards!

Friday, July 22, 2011

IMAGES: The Warriors