Long before mixing horror/Sci Fi with comedy became a trend, we had films like The Return of the Living Dead, House, Killer KlownsFrom Outer Space, and, one the earliest examples of its kind, Night of the Creeps. All of these films were inventive in their own unique ways, and are worth not only remembering, but a fair bit of analyzing as well.
Originally released on August 22, 1986, and directed by Fred Dekker (who also co-wrote the previously mentioned House, and would go on to direct The Monster Squad a year later), Night of the Creeps paired a stellar cast that included newcomers Jason Lively (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and Jill Whitlow (Weird Science) with veterans like Tom Atkins (Halloween III: Season of the Witch). And to add an extra homage of nostalgia to the proceedings, most of the characters were each given surnames of other classic horror movie staples. For example; there’s a Romero, a Cronenberg, a Carpenter, etc…
The plot is really nothing revolutionary; alien slugs from another planet inhibit the bodies of people and turn them into zombies. Our heroes of course have to fight off these monsters in a college campus setting, navigating everything from sorority parties, to killer poodles. It never takes itself too seriously, yet maintains an unmistakable level of artistic creativity throughout the whole time. And while it failed to find an audience at the box office, it has since become a cult classic (rightfully so).
I first came across the film late one sleepless night in either middle or high school, and instantly loved it. Although it’s been sometime now since I last viewed the film, I still love its campy, midnight movie appeal. And it was all the more thrilling to actually meet Detective Ray Cameron himself, actor Tom Atkins, earlier this month at Fantasm Orlando, who is just as amazing as one would think (see photo below).
There’s many reasons why the films of yesteryear are remembered with such fondness; not only was the quality of the work itself better overall, flimmakers at the time were not hell-bent on getting across some biased agendas/opinions of theirs in the material (kind of like that garbage remake of Candyman). As with Night of the Creeps, what you saw is simply what you got….just a good old-fashioned, fun gorefest. There was nothing wrong with it then, and there’s still nothing wrong with it now in my book.
Many will likely always point to such staple George A. Romero films like Night of the Living Dead or even it’s follow up, Dawn of theDead, as their idea of the definitive zombie flick. But for my money (and I mean no disrespect to Romero, whose films I also hold in high regards), the cream of the crop will always be 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead. Prior to my first time seeing it, the closest thing to a zombie film I can even recall seeing was Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, so to say it holds a special place in my heart would be an understatement.
Originally released on August 16, 1985, the film brilliantly paired veteran actors Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Calfa alongside a host of then-young hotshots, including Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley, Miguel A Nunez, Jr., and Jewel Sheppard (among others). And directed by Dan O’Bannon and based on an original story by John Russo (who also co-wrote Romero’s original 1968 opus), the film even rather slyly references it’s own source material, explaining early on the events of Night…to be based on actual facts.
The plot was simple enough; after a gas leaks out of an old military canister stored in a medical supply building, the dead begin to rise at a cemetery across the street from it, where a group of local punks happened to be gathered to party. All hell quickly breaks loose, with plenty of carnage and chaos along the way.
The film introduced several new concepts for the zombie film at the time; not only were they able to move fast as opposed to earlier films that see them just slowly shuffle along, they can also talk. And rather than just eating flesh, they seem particular to one delicacy; brains. This concept would be used in many other films since.
Linneas Quigley, who played the punk rock stripping Trash in the film, recently lent her thoughts on Return… to Rewind It Magazine; “I think it holds up really well! I’m always surprised, I get new people at conventions and shows all the time that love that movie, like it’s a brand new movie! But it doesn’t age, which I think is really cool. We should’ve known then (late director) Dan O’Bannon was a man to be reckoned with!”
The film sparked it’s first sequel, the very admirable (and equally fun) Return of the Living Dead Part II in 1988. Like the original, it also boosted a soundtrack of metal and punk bands, and actors Thom Matthews and James Karen also returned in new (albeit very similar) roles as well. Three more less-successful, made for video sequels would eventually follow.
In his August 19, 1985 review of the original film, critic Roger Ebert stated, “It’s kind of a sensation machine, made out of the usual ingredients, and the real question is whether it’s done in style. It is.” And how right he was. The film was a modest success, grossing just over $14 million in the U.S. But more than thirty-five years later, it’s still regarded by many as one of the quintessential zombie films ever made; there’s a good chance it will likely stay that way for a long, long time.
Scream queens are hardly anything new for us here at Rewind It Magazine; as some of you may recall, we recently spoke with the likes of Dee Wallace and Deborah Voorhees. Linnea Quigley was not only a force to be reckoned with back in her ’80s heyday, she’s still at the top of the line in the B-movie world to this very day. She’s currently working on a documentary about film extras (which we’ll get into shortly), and she’s still a big advocate for animals, which was evidenced in our recent phone conversation last week, which was just slightly delayed in part to one of her many dogs running off outside of her California home (something I could hardly get upset over, being a pet parent myself!).
Being that our conversation took place so close to Christmas, one of the first things we spoke about was her appearance in the 1984 holiday slasher, Silent Night Deadly Night. Looking back on it, she reflected to me; “I thought it was great! I loved how everyone was so up in arms over it, and Siskel & Ebert were plugging it even though they thought it was horrible! Everyone was saying how terrible it was, which of course made people only want to see it more (Laughs)!” I also inquired if she was a fan of the horror genre prior to such early roles, to which she said;”I grew up on horror! I think I was drawn to it, and it was drawn to me, so it was like, a match made in hell, right?!”
One specific thing I had always wondered about her scene in Silent Night…, was whether or not she was actually exposed directly to the frigid elements of the Utah winter it was filmed in (when she answers the door wearing, well…next to nothing). She tells me; “Oh yeah, I was completely exposed, and it was really, really cold! I was from the valley, which is not very cold at all, so I was like…freezing (laughs)! And then (in the next scene) where they put me up on the antlers, the door had been broken open, so I was still exposed! It wasn’t like, contained or anything where they actually have heaters or something, like they would probably have now. Nobody’s asked that before though, so that’s a good question!”
Silent Night… was merely the first of several films Quigley appeared in that would later go on to spawn franchises (no doubt due to her being a good luck charm, an observation she more than approved of), including her follow up film, the now-cult classic 1985 horror/comedy, The Return ofthe Living Dead. With the zombie market just a tad oversaturated these days, I asked Quigley how she felt it holds up in comparison today. She replied; “I think it holds up really well! I’m always surprised, I get new people at conventions and shows all the time that love that movie, like it’s a brand new movie! But it doesn’t age, which I think is really cool. We should’ve known then (late director) Dan O’Bannon was a man to be reckoned with!”
With films like Return… and Night of the Demons largely sporting metal and punk soundtracks, I wondered how much of a fan of that music Quigley was herself. She states; “Oh yeah, I loved all the punk bands and rock n’ roll stuff at the time. I was a big fan of music, I think that’s why I got into it. But I didn’t want to be a groupie, I wanted to be IN the band! (laughs).” And indeed Quigley would, putting together an all girl-group, The Skirts, back in the day. With very little information available on the band, I asked her to tell me a little about them. She says; “The Skirts were a band of girls I formed; I played guitar, sang, and wrote songs in it. We played a lot of venues, and we even recorded some. A lot of my music was actually used in the movies I did, or movies other people did.”
Aside from horror, Quigley has done the occasional comedy, including the 1981 Cheech & Chong stoner romp, Nice Dreams. Of course I had to know how this transpired. She informed me; “My agent at the time sent me to go in for an audition for a Cheech & Chong film. So I went in, and Cheech was actually in there! I was making him laugh, playing guitar, and he said to play him something. So I played like two notes and said it was the Charlie’s Angels theme, and he hired the whole band right then and there. We were so excited!”
I also wanted to know how her (brief) appearance in 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The DreamMaster, came about. She explains; “My then-fiance was the special effects guy on the film, and he brought it up to them to have me in that scene in Freddy’s chest for that short little, basically “cameo” scene. That same day he actually brought the ring out and proposed to me after I came out of Freddy’s chest!”
Quigley assured me she has plenty in the works for 2021, stating; “I’m working on a lot of stuff on my YouTube channel, like a reality show. And I’m doing a documentary right now called Extras…which will be all about, well, movie extras! Hopefully that will be out by February; I’ve been lucky to have been staying so busy all year, even with Covid.”