R0BTRAIN’s Badass Cinema: Zombies, Aliens, and Maniacs Vs. Tom Atkins

So to be honest with you folks, I was really disappointed with how October went this past year when it came to getting the chance to watch and write about horror films. Whether it was an over abundance of work or personal issues keeping me busy, I just didn’t get to spend time with these movies the way that I usually get to, which really makes me sad because it’s the one time each year when I just like to revel in all the blood, guts and dead teenagers. The perfect October lets me watch films I haven’t seen before, revisit my favorites and enjoy so many of the film makers and actors who have made it their life’s goal to scare the crap out of people like me. Thankfully though, in a lot of ways I feel like Halloween and horror movie season got extended for another week this year, which at least let me cap off the season the way I would liked to.

The reason for this late comeback is because of Scarefest, the annual horror and paranormal convention here in Lexington, KY, which usually takes place in late September or early October, but just so happened to be postponed for scheduling reasons this year. Now, I realize this event isn’t on anyone’s radar, and it certainly isn’t Comic-con or Fantastic Fest, but for our little town it’s really nice to get to chat with some horror icons and get to bask in my personal geekery for a weekend. Living in the backwoods, you don’t get a lot of chances to chat up your heroes and shake hands with your favorite actors, but this past weekend that’s exactly what I got to do, and I couldn‘t have been happier about it.

Having attended this and other conventions in the past, it’s just nice to find out firsthand what these people are like in person, especially considering when you usually see them in the movies where they’re covered in viscera and or decapitating someone. People like Halloween‘s P.J. Soles, Candyman‘s Tony Todd, and Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree were all amazing people to meet in person at previous cons. I think I nearly had a seizure when I went up to meet Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Devil’s Rejects), due to some subconscious fear of him ripping my head off, but he couldn’t have been a sweeter person and was glad to chat and take a picture.

Perhaps there’s just some sort of connection between the stars of these films and their fans that’s just a little stronger than your normal mainstream celebrities. Then again, there is an inherent cultish nature to horror films that seems to form a significant bond within the ranks of its fans. It’s a special sort of culture that exists where fans continually try to seek out the coolest memorabilia or hard-to-find bootleg movies, and I think the stars and film makers know and respond to that devotion in kind, and Scarefest’s lineup this year was no exception.

Amongst the special guests this year were Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Swamp Thing, Creepshow), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4), the immortal George “The Animal” Steele (Ed Wood), Kane Hodder (Jason X, Hatchet), cast members from the original Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead, and even Machete himself, Danny Trejo. Everyone seemed friendly and hopefully were having a good time. On a personal note, I’d like to add that Adrienne Barbeau might be 65, but she’s still a ridiculously attractive woman. Just being around all cult icons was thrill enough, but two people in particular deserve special mention.

First is the amazing George Romero, who was in a jovial mood when I met him. The guy is a legend and had a giant line of admirers waiting for autographs, but still took the time to have a small conversation with me. He complimented me on my Suspiria shirt, which actually broke the ice enough that I was able to ask him about the rumored remake of Deep Red, which he immediately shot down. He told me that the rumor was started by Dario Argento’s brother, who sounded a bit unscrupulous, but that the idea was nixed by Dario himself pretty early on; which I think is very much for the best. Though I only got to speak to him for a few minutes, I can say that Romero makes a very big impression on you and it was an honor to meet him in person.

To be honest however, while it was a giant thrill to meet George Romero, if there was anyone at the convention that I’d like to personally thank, it would be Mr. Tom Atkins. Mr. Atkins perhaps wasn’t the biggest name at the convention this year, but for me he ended up making my time there the most unforgettable. The star of Night of the Creeps, The Fog, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Creepshow, Escape from New York, and dozens and dozens of other movies and TV shows, Atkins is a pillar of the horror genre, especially from that late ‘70s to early ‘80s golden age. The guy was able to do the tough everyman role in his sleep, but always managed to bring something unique and memorable to his characters.

Having just gotten to show Night of the Creeps to a friend of mine for the first time the evening before, it was a bit overwhelming to then meet Atkins the following day, and it was astonishing to see just how gracious the man was in person. As I said before, there’s a special feeling you get from meeting people you admire and finding out firsthand what terrific people they are, and Mr. Atkins exemplified that, happily signing autographs, and taking photos, and then when he saw us much later in the day, he remembered the names of not only me, but all my friends as well. So again, I’d like to publicly thank Mr. Atkins for just being awesome, and making the Scarefest experience this year a great one.

And with that, I can’t think of a better movie to look at this week than my favorite of Mr. Atkins’ many genre classics.

Night of the Creeps,Starring Tom Atkins, Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, and Jill Whitlow. Directed by Fred Dekker.

Now a lot of you may not have seen or even heard of Night of the Creeps, perhaps mostly due to a long period where the film was out of print, much like director Fred Dekker’s other 1980s cult classic, The Monster Squad. Only recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, if you’ve never seen it, Night of the Creeps is a movie that is well worth taking a chance on because deep down it’s a horror movie lover’s horror movie. A four way cross between an ‘80s comedy, a zombie film, ‘50s sci-fi cult picture, and a hard-boiled detective story, the movie offers so many joys for so many people and pretty much works on every level.

First off, you can totally see how Fred Dekker’s love for horror films can be seen in every aspect of the movie. A woman watches Plan 9 from Outer Space in one scene, the college the movie takes place in is named for Roger Corman, and even the last names for the movie’s characters are all references to Dekker’s cinematic heroes, getting a chuckle every time you hear a character is written as Cynthia Cronenberg or Sgt. Raimi. It’s that little bit of love that seems to permeate every frame of this picture, and helps make Night of the Creeps such an enjoyable experience.

What also helps is that every portion of the movie is pretty spot on. The black and white ‘50s opening feels legit, but the movie doesn’t skip a beat when it changes gear to its ‘80s time frame, capturing not the real Reagan-era but the movie version of that time period, complete with bleach blonde fraternity boys as villains and plucky geek heroes ready to save the day. Thankfully, the movie never over does it with its ‘80s-ness, making it kitschy and fun, but never irritating. I’m pretty sure only one person actually say “bogus” in the entire movie, and frankly, that‘s just enough.

The movie plays sort of like an ‘80s John Cusack movie, only instead of just winning his lady love‘s heart, the movie’s hero has to fend off a tidal wave of killer alien worms that turn people into zombies. Jason Lively is pretty likable too as the movie’s hero, Chris Romero, and has a really great chemistry with sidekick J.C. (Steve Marshall) and love interest Cynthia (Jill Whitlow); the bunch making for an awesome band of heroes to root for as the end of the world happens around them.

If you’re looking for a single reason to watch this film though, his name is Tom Atkins. Starring as Detective Ray Cameron, Atkins plays the role like Mike Hammer just walked onto the set of Dawn of the Dead. Tortured by his past, which causes him to drink like a fish, Atkins’ Cameron is equally adept at blowing away an undead jock as he is at spouting one-liners (“What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?”). Like Ash finally going to town with the chainsaw in Evil Dead 2, Cameron screaming “It’s Miller Time!” and then letting loose with his service revolver against some zombiefied fraternity boys is one of those great stand up and cheer horror moments that you only really see in the great one movies like this one.

Standing right there with An American Werewolf in London, Critters, and Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps is a gem of in the crown of 1980s horror comedies. With tons of energy, terrific gore, laughs, action, and style to burn, this movie should be a staple of any horror diet and absolutely deserves its cult classic status. If you long for a time when horror films were more fun, and you need a throwback burst of excitement, then Night of the Creeps should fit the bill just nicely.


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