Night of the Creeps (1986)
by Steve Habrat
If you happen to be a horror nostalgia nut and are looking to relive the glory days of the genre, you most certainly have heard of or seen Fred Dekker’s 1986 nod to 50s science fiction, zombie flicks, and B-movies Night of the Creeps. Basically a Heinz 57 mash-up of everything including zombies, the slasher genre, the hardboiled detective, 50s alien flicks, and Ed Wood’s schlocky classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Creeps is a fairly satisfying, if a bit flawed, tribute to the horror genre. Wearing its influences on its bloody sleeves (the characters are all named after legendary horror directors), if you’re a diehard fan of horror (or 80s movies), you’re going to find plenty to chuckle over for 90 minutes. Night of the Creeps puts quite a bit of emphasis on its zombie angle and Dekker knows how to deliver the zombie action, but in places, the film appears to be juggling too many references and some fall flat. Still, Night of the Creeps stands as one of the stronger efforts in the zombie genre, and it also gets by on its nifty black and white opening sequences and some truly memorable performances from Steve Marshall as the handicapped J.C. and Tom Atkins as the heartbroken detective Ray Cameron who shouts “Thrill me” when he arrives at a crime scene.
Night of the Creeps begins in 1959, with a deadly alien experiment accidentally being unleashed from a UFO and crashing to earth. Meanwhile, a young college man picks up his date and the two head to a local make out spot to gaze at the stars despite warnings of an escaped homicidal maniac roaming the woods. As the two stare off into space, they spot an unusually bright shooting star that crashes into the woods. The young man dashes into the woods to investigate and leaves his date alone in the car. Naturally, the homicidal maniac stumbles upon the girl and hacks her up with an axe and the boy is exposed to strange alien-like slugs that attack him. 28 years later, nerdy college students Chris Romero (Played by Jason Lively) and James Carpenter “J.C.” Hooper (Played by Steve Marshall) are prowling Corman University’s campus searching for girls. Chris sets his sights on cool girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Played by Jill Whitlow), a sorority sister who seems to only be interested in fraternity guys. To impress Cynthia, Chris and J.C. decide to join a fraternity. As part of their pledge, Chris and J.C. are forced to steal a cadaver from the university medical center and leave it on the steps of Cynthia’s sorority house. While snooping around the medical center, Chris and J.C. stumble upon a mysterious cadaver that has been frozen and sealed off in a top-secret room. Chris and J.C. attempt to steal the body but they are scared off when the cadaver wakes up and tries to grab them. As Chris and J.C. rethink how to impress Cynthia, the mysterious cadaver begins prowling the campus and unleashing the alien worms, which infect the students and turn them into zombies. Meanwhile, Detective Ray Cameron (Played by Tom Atkins) investigates gruesome deaths around the campus, slowly realizing that he may be battling the walking dead.
As a tip of the hat to horror subgenres, Night of the Creeps is pretty solid but some of the tributes don’t gel like they should. The film attempts to work in a slasher angle that seems glaringly out of place and it is sort of left dangling at the end. However, when Dekker remains in the science fiction/zombie realm, the film is really a lot of fun. Being mostly a zombie movie, you naturally expect the violence to be cranked up to eleven but Night of the Creeps never gets too out of hand with its carnage. The zombies have some nasty wounds and there are a few glimpses of dead bodies with their heads split open, but Dekker never embraces Romero or Fulci levels of zombie violence. Still, that doesn’t mean that Dekker is soft on the viewer and doesn’t deliver the zombie mayhem. There is a fun little siege on a sorority house that finds Atkins storming in and announcing, “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.” It is morbid little gems of dialogue like this that really make up for the lack of gut munching and blood slurping. The lack of overly elaborate special effects has helped Night of the Creeps age a bit more gracefully than some 80s horror movies but the film does shoot itself in the foot when it tosses in a few zombie pets. Sure, the viewer is supposed to take them with a wink and a big slice of cheese, but they certainly are not convincing. At least Dekker uses a zombified kitty to pay respect to Lucio Fulci’s blood-soaked classic Zombie.
As far as the acting goes, Night of the Creeps turns out to be a mixed body bag. Atkins does most of the heavy lifting as the massively entertaining Ray Cameron but his character does suffer a bit because he is linked to the slasher side story. It adds depth to his character and it allows him to connect with Lively’s Chris, but it still seemed unnecessary. Marshall is also a stand out of the sarcastic J.C., the handicapped best bud who does everything in his power to get his best buddy laid. He gets in a number of good jabs at the obnoxious fraternity brothers that torment them. Lively tries his best to hang with Marshall but his Chris is lacking the feisty personality that J.C. possesses. Still, he gets by and we do sort of root for him to pull the girl. Perhaps the worst of the main players is Whitlow’s Cynthia, a pretty girl who just can’t seem to stop flirting with beer chugging goofballs and flashing her boobs. Her character seemed a bit too whiny at times and there simply for eye candy, but she does step up in the final stretch of the film. I suppose a flamethrower can make anyone look cool. Alan Kayser also shows up as the ultimate bully douche bag, Brad, who enjoys tormenting poor Chris and J.C. He shines as the dimwitted oaf and he is even better as a cloudy-eyed zombie who shows up at Cynthia’s door.
While Night of the Creeps is never very scary, the movie does have more than enough raunchy teen comedy to go around. The exchanges between Chris and J.C. are pretty great and Atkins is hilariously over the top as the hardboiled detective. There are a few tense moments here and there, especially when Chris and Cynthia get trapped in a garden shed as zombies attempt to get in from every side. Fans of 50s science fiction will also be giddy during the marvelous black and white opening sequence. Every horror fan will also have a blast with the names of the characters and spotting references to their favorite classic horror film. Make sure you stay alert for references to George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), James Cameron (Aliens), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), David Cronenberg (The Fly), and Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2). Overall, Night of the Creeps is more of a big college party than an all out horror fest and there are plenty of surprises to keep you hooked, but some shaky acting and clunky tributes prevent the film from reaching a classic status. It doesn’t matter though, because you’ll keep coming back and screaming “thrill me” right along with Atkins.
Night of the Creeps is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
American Wedding (2003)
by Steve Habrat
American Wedding, the third installment of the American Pie franchise, should have been the most mature entry in the series. The film, after all, is about our horny hero Jim marrying kinky band geek Michelle and living happily ever after. Our little man is all grown up and embracing adulthood! Instead, American Wedding turns out to be the most immature of all of the films. Director Jesse Dylan and screenwriter Adam Herz basically edge Jim out of the frame every chance they get and replace him with the abrasive Steve Stifler, who hogs most of the spotlight in this warmed over installment. There are still a few laughs to be had in American Wedding and the inclusion of some new faces is a welcome break, but half the original cast missing takes quite a bit of the fun out of the festivities. Seriously, what did Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid, and Natasha Lyonne have to do that was more important than the franchise that was keeping money in their bank accounts? At least Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas had the good sense to say yes this project.
American Wedding picks up with Jim (Played by Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan) dining at a fancy restaurant where Jim plans to pop the big question. Naturally, Jim gets himself into a humiliating situation and makes a complete ass of himself, but the red headed Michelle says yes to becoming his bride. Then, the planning for the big day begins. Jim frets over the big day while his best buds Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) continuously reassure him everything will turn out okay. Jim’s fears become reality when Steve Stifler (Played by Seann William Scott) crashes the couple’s engagement party and insists that he be included in the wedding party. In return, he will teach Jim how to dance, something Jim is far from good at. Jim reluctantly accepts Stifler’s offer and allows him into the wedding party. Naturally, Stifler begins destroying the wedding and things go from bad to even worse when Finch and Stifler begin fighting over Michelle’s younger sister Cadence (Played by January Jones). Meanwhile, Jim finds his own embarrassing situations to get himself in, continuously making himself look bad in front of Michelle’s parents (Played by Fred Willard and Deborah Rush), making them begin to question if he is fit to take their delicate daughter’s hand.
American Wedding is the most lavish looking American Pie installment yet, one that is obviously a big Hollywood production and rich with Michael Bay-esque lighting. I’m stunned there weren’t a few explosions thrown in for the hell of it. For as good as everything looks, it can’t make up for the fact that the jokes are hitting rock bottom. Things really get desperate when Stifler has to eat a dog turd just to get a few belly laughs out of the audience. Don’t get me wrong, there are some jokes that land and sequences that play out smoothly, but they all just seem so grandiose for a film about a bunch of hornball teenagers. It’s borderline cartoonish at points and a bit hard to wrap your head around. An impromptu bachelor party is smooth and chuckle worthy but ends up going a bit too far the longer it plays out. Another sequence in a gay bar, where Stifler finds himself in a dance-off with another man, is just plain nonsensical and wholly unfunny. Even the awkward moments that Jim finds himself in are getting a bit thin, especially when Michelle darts under a table in the middle of a fancy restaurant to perform fellatio on him when suddenly, his dear old dad arrives and sits down in the middle of it.
While Biggs and Scott used to share the laugh spotlight, American Wedding sees Biggs taking a backseat to Scott. This is Scott’s film from start to finish, even if Biggs has been our hero of the franchise since that beginning. In this film, Herz forces Stifler to learn some hard life lessons, especially leaving his party boy ways in the dust. The film does make the clever move of asking Finch and Stifler to switch personalities to win the affection of Cadence, hysterical because Finch and Stifler are mortal enemies. The personality switch is by far my favorite part of American Wedding and I did enjoy Stifler’s transformation, but I wish we had stuck more with Jim than Stifler and the side characters. Another gripe I have with American Wedding is that the film does absolutely nothing with the character of Kevin, who stays in the background for the most part. It’s almost like they just stuck him in to reassure us he was still around and that Nicholas said yes to attempt to hold on to some aspect of fame.
American Wedding is never a terrible film and there are some moments that are rambunctious fun. There is, however, a lot wrong with American Wedding, some of which could have been resolved by giving the franchise a little bit of a break. They didn’t need to dump this thing out as quickly as they did. My advice would have been to wait a little longer and try to work in the rest of the original cast. At times you can tell the film was rushed into production, as some aspects of it seem under developed, weak, and more than a little desperate. The end result is a mixed bag, one minute you are wrapped up in the film and the next minute you are checking your watching, wondering how much more you have to endure. It is no surprise that the series went straight to DVD after this installment because, lets be honest here, there was nothing else left to elaborate on other than making Stifler grow up. Like a slice of apple pie that has been nuked in the microwave, this piece is a little soggy, stale, and warm only in places, but is still edible.
American Wedding is now available on DVD.
American Pie 2 (2001)
by Steve Habrat
While American Pie is beginning to show its crow’s feet, 2001’s American Pie 2 hasn’t aged nearly as bad as the 1999 original. It may be blasphemous to say but I have always found American Pie 2 to be slightly better than the original film, both in story and laughs. Maybe it is the fact that the film is a nonstop party, a beer stained snapshot of these character’s glory days. In the end, I think I like American Pie 2 better because it shows us how these characters have evolved (or stayed the same) and it tackles how people change between high school and college. You are always eager to get back after your first year without parental supervision and trade war stories with your high school pals. Much like the original, the underlying content has found staying power, especially with a younger audience, but I too enjoy watching American Pie 2 and being reminded about the first summer back from pouring over books, cramming for exams, and constant parties. It made me reminisce about a time when I didn’t have a care in the world. American Pie 2 smartly bottles up that electric enthusiasm to see how those who were close to you have changed for the better or the worse.
American Pie 2 picks up with the old gang, showing us their last few days of their freshman year of college. The gang heads home to their hometown of East Great Falls, eager to start sharing their new experiences with one another, most of these experiences having to do with sex. Jim (Played by Jason Biggs), Oz (Played by Chris Klein), Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) head to their old haunts and look forward to summer sipping beers at party guy Steve Stifler’s (Played by Seann William Scott) house. At Stifler’s party, they bump into their old female chums from their high school days, Vicky (Played by Tara Reid) and Jessica (Played by Natasha Lyonne). After a few embellished stories about college, the cops break up Stifler’s party, leaving the gang with no other place to get drunk over the summer. The gang soon finds themselves traveling to Grand Harbor, Michigan to shack up in a beach house for the summer. Jim also learns that foreign exchange student Nadia (Played by Shannon Elizabeth) will be returning home at the end of summer and she is very eager to spark up an old romance with him, leaving Jim turning to the only person he has ever been intimate with, band geek Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan), to help him tweak his sexual sills.
The major handicap of American Pie was the shaky acting from the young leads, mostly from the awful Chris Klein, who has slightly improved between the original and the sequel. Klein still lacks chemistry with his goody-goody girlfriend Heather (Played by Mena Suvari) and it really wounds the film. Suvari certainly tries to coax some out of him, but he is a lost cause. Seann William Scott’s Stifler gets a bit more room to shine in the second helping of Pie, checking in a more obnoxious performance than he did in the first time around. While he remained largely on the outside when the gang was simply trying to loose their virginity, he is part of their inner circle here and for those who hated him the first time, well, you’re going to loathe this beach house bonanza. Biggs gets even better, finding himself in more gauche situations than he did the first time around, even worse because he found out he was horrible at sex and now he has lost the little confidence he once possesed. His chemistry with Hannigan’s Michelle, which wasn’t fully developed the first time, is front and center here. They have some truly wonderful exchanges as she helps shape Jim into an irresistible stud for the gorgeous Nadia. Also a standout is the returning Eugene Levy as Jim’s unassuming father, who tries to give him words of wisdom every time he embarrasses himself.
American Pie 2 fairs better from improved direction and writing, which allows the cast to be a bit more believable. Screenwriter Adam Herz does up at the ante on the sex gags that are sprinkled throughout and he does cook up a few tasty sequences. One scene involving the boys and two girls they believe are lesbians is pretty sharp and full of surprises. It mirrors the Internet broadcast sequence in the original. Another scene involving Jim trying to watch porn and mistaking superglue for lubricant is another winner. Biggs helps the scene by wearing aghast facial expressions, especially when his situation goes from horrible to dire. It is also a bit obvious that American Pie 2 has a bit of a larger budget than the original film, having a much more polished look to it. It seems like the production company didn’t gamble much on the original film, especially since the original is riddled with so many mistakes (the tainted beer cup, the opening sequence that is supposedly taking place at night when we can clearly see sun shining through the windows).
American Pie 2 isn’t any deeper than the original, actually possessing less depth than the original did. The film is more concerned with extended party sequences, trying to squeeze in as much nudity as it possible can, and devising ways to put Shannon Elizabeth in a bikini. There aren’t even any missed opportunities for saying something profound. In a way, this may be why I like the film a bit more than the original. It doesn’t try to be anything else than a party movie that just wants to get laid. Sure it gets the feeling of meeting up with your old friends correct, an aspect that completely saves the film from being irrelevant and disposable. The real saving grace is that the actors are much more comfortable in their character’s skins, making them feel much more real than they did when they were just lowly high school students. It’s the same old debauchery, just a little bit wiser, more scantily clad girls, and with a higher alcohol tolerance.
American Pie 2 is now available on DVD.
21 Jump Street (2012)
by Steve Habrat
How good it is to have the buddy cop movie back in action, brushing off the cobwebs that have formed over the tired genre all these years. Maybe it’s the odd couple pairing of funny guy Jonah Hill and chiseled Channing Tatum that gives the buddy cop genre fresh life and sends 21 Jump Street to soaring heights that I would have never thought possible! This revamped take on the 80’s television series gorges on pop culture references and classic action flicks all while leaving its own mark with its raunchy, rambunctious personality. At this party, anything goes, ranging from perfectly placed cameos, high speed action, and more toilet humor than you can shake a shot off penis at! 21 Jump Street’s keep-the-party-going mentality does get a bit exhausting at a few points, but the fatigue is quickly shaken by the uncertainty over what the film will throw at us next.
21 Jump Street picks up in 2005 where we meet nerdy Schmidt (Played by Jonah Hill), who looks like a slouchy Eminem without the rage and the jock bully Jenko (Played by Channing Tatum) as they near the end of their high school careers. Jenko can’t keep his grades up and therefore can’t attend the school prom. Schmidt, meanwhile, is trying to work up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams to the prom, only to be coldly shot down and laughed at. The film speeds ahead to present day, where Schmidt and Jenko are currently attending a police academy and earning their badges. The two bump into each other and strike up a friendship despite the fact that Jenko bullied Schmidt in high school. They aid each other through the police academy and finally earn their badges, but after botching a drug bust, they are sent to 21 Jump Street. It is here that they meet their new scowling boss Captain Dickson (Played by Ice Cube) and learn they are going undercover at a local high school to bust up a drug ring. The two begin trying to infiltrate the group of kids they believe to be dealing the drugs, but they soon find themselves losing sight of their mission and get caught up reliving their glory days.
There is plenty of Hill’s trademark off-the-cuff adlibs to keep the audience in stitches through much of 21 Jump Street and the surprisingly funny Tatum matches Hill every step of the way. They are absolutely hysterical together watching their opposite personalities clash was a riot. Their chemistry keeps the audience giddy through much of the film and they are always making sure that you have a smile slapped across your face. It is clearly their show and everyone else makes sure that they don’t step on their toes, especially an insanely likable Ice Cube, who finally gets to release a few bellowing F-bombs that he has been bottling up inside while he has been starring in kiddie flicks. Then there is the supporting cast that is made up of Ellie Kemper as the tongue tied science teacher Ms. Giggs, who has the hots for Jenko, Nick Offerman as straight shooting Deputy Chief Hardy, Chris Parnell as ostentatious theater teacher Mr. Gordon, and Rob Riggle as the wacky motor-mouth coach Mr. Walters. The beauty is that every guest comedian gets a moment to shine, a chance to be center stage and leave his or her own mark in 21 Jump Street.
Much of 21 Jump Street plays around with the idea of reliving your glory days, when you didn’t have a care in the world. Schmidt suffers from never having taken a risk and never having much confidence in himself. When he goes undercover at the high school, he quickly works his way in with the cool kids and begins living the popular kid dream. Jenko, on the other hand, had way too much fun on his first run and now finds himself spending his evenings with the nerdy crowd, people he would have laughed at and tormented when he was in school. It is a knee slapping role reversal and it consistently works. Seeing Tatum play nerd is comedic gold but it is Hill who really turns up the funny, slowly finding himself infatuated with instant messenger and texting. He even gets a run at popular girl Molly (Played by Brie Larson), which adds a bubbly if a bit creepy romance aspect to the film.
Director’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller both keep 21 Jump Street zipping along making the finished product feel like a crazy party rather than a movie. It is ripe with nostalgia for rollicking action films and outrageously coarse teen comedies. They keep the film moving at a brisk pace, but at times, 21 Jump Street would hit a bump in the road that stalls the momentum the film naturally builds up. There are a few spots where the comedy isn’t as sharp as it was a few minutes earlier or even worse, a joke falls flat. Part of the problem is that both the directors and our leads fire off jokes so rapidly, it is hard to keep up and they begin getting lost in each other. This isn’t constant in 21 Jump Street and what a relief that is, but part of the problem may also lie in the fact that the film is a bit too long. An extended party sequence could have used a little trimming, as could a scene where Schmidt hangs out with teenage drug dealer Eric (Played by Dave Franco) at his home. But the film balances out with scenes like the uproariously funny car chase where our heroes, both wearing outrageous getups and zooming along in a driving school car, battle to be in control of the chase. It’s absolutely awesome, right down to the string of failed explosions that leave our heroes disappointed with each dud.
21 Jump Street may have a few dry spots but the film never looses our interest. You will be consistently entertained by it and you are left eager to see where they will take Schmidt and Jenko next, as I’m sure there will be another 21 Jump Street. The film also has an awesome cameo from original 21 Jump Street cast members Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, a sequence that almost steals all the thunder from Hill and Tatum. Be warned that 21 Jump Street is a ball of energy that will leave you choking on its dust if you are unable to keep up with it. I can’t say that you will walk away a better person when the credits roll on 21 Jump Street, but like the morning after a good party, you will stumble away breathless and energized, a little drained and dazed, raring to do it all again. That, my friends, is never a bad thing.