Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Perfect 1986 Double Feature

by Alejandra Gonzalez
The year is 1986. People everywhere browse their favorite video stores to determine which movies will have the select honor of being rented for that Friday night’s perfect double feature. Most of them understand they need not look any further than the same shelf to find movies that are utterly compatible, but the secret has always been that the best movie matches are usually found across the store from each other.

1986 saw the release of two of my all time favorites: Pretty in Pink and Fred Dekker’s Night of The Creeps. In the realm of our video store, Pretty In Pink would surely be sitting proudly on the main display, shiny and bright next to other movies with beautiful, smiling people on their covers. It would be several aisles before we’d come across Night of The Creeps in the dregs of Horror, surrounded by terrifying covers that will scar any wandering child for life. The thing is, despite the obvious differences in their presentation, the films tell stories that are strikingly similar. Unlikely as they may be on the surface, when the two come together they are a match made in movie heaven.
Speaking of unexpected pairings, both films are concerned with unlikely couples of their own. Pretty in Pink tells the story of Andie and her budding relationship with a very wealthy Blaine that becomes complicated because of disapproving social groups and Andie’s lovable, quirky dweeb of a best friend, Duckie. This kind of best friend exists in Night of The Creeps too, but is conversely helping Chris, our hero, grab the attention of sorority girl Cynthia Cronenberg, accidentally releases slug-like aliens onto campus instead. One could imagine the bloody mayhem that ensues in Night of The Creeps once the slugs wreak havoc, but this is just a more literal way of portraying the horrors of teenaged love and the fear of rejection that Pretty in Pink is majorly about. To go a step further than mere similarities in plot, both films use updated versions of older story structures. Pretty in Pink obviously models itself after traditional two-worlds romances such as Romeo and Juliet, while Night of The Creeps is clearly inspired by monster movies of the ‘50s. Watching both films back to back would reveal interesting things about nostalgia and the admiration of the past while still acknowledging the importance of modernizing and change in the ‘80s.
Being the height of filmmakers like John Hughes (who wrote Pretty in Pink), there wasn’t exactly a shortage of movies that were about being a young person in 1986. Pretty in Pink and Night of The Creeps, however, both really focus on the rise of the teenager in particular. Both movies place their teenaged protagonists as equals to the adults in their life. Andie pretty much assumes the role of parent in Pretty In Pink within her small family. Most of her interactions with her father involve her asking him to get a full time job, to get out of bed, and reprimanding him when he doesn’t do these things. After a heartbreaking argument when Andie brings up her estranged mother, her father asks when kids started knowing more than their parents—a line of dialogue that would represent the attitudes held by a lot of John Hughes’ films. Her emotional maturity being so sharply contrasted with her father’s lack of acceptance speaks volumes about the way Pretty in Pink feels about youth. Less obviously, Night of The Creeps also seems to share this sentiment. Chris, hardly experienced in the field of alien slug extermination, and hardened Detective Cameron team up together in order to save the town. Even the scene where the two are counting down together as Cameron starts pouring gasoline around the basement seems inconsequential, but it furthers their synchronicity and the teamwork that is required between the young and the experienced in order to be effective. Both movies value the experience and insight of a younger generation, which is something that made me fall in love with both movies, even decades later as a teenager myself.

The place to look for the most obvious similarities, though, lies in the supporting characters and central climax of both films. While I am familiar with archetypes that were enforced in so many movies of the ‘80s, the eerie similarities between the bad guys and the sidekicks in Night of the Creeps and Pretty In Pink is undeniable. Pretty in Pink’s Steff does everything he can to enforce his superiority (especially financially) over those around him—including and especially to Blaine, his supposed best friend. He shows off his money because he knows it is the only thing he has to offer. (The part is played almost effortlessly by James Spader, which makes me worry about him.) He does whatever it takes to keep Andie and Blaine apart because he was not able to impress Andie himself when she denied his advances. Brad assumes a similar role in Night of the Creeps — a preppy jerk who tries too hard to assert his dominance, flaunting his social status and money in order to convince others that he is what guys like him would deem an Alpha male. It’s no coincidence that both guys are used as a vehicle by which our female protagonists can exercise their autonomy when they reject each one respectively.
That brings us to the charming and quirky best friend in both films: Duckie in Pretty in Pink and J.C. in Night of The Creeps. Both act as sidekicks to the protagonist, though assume the role slightly differently. In Pretty in Pink, Duckie seeks to protect Andie from the humiliation that Steff stops at nothing to put her through. He isn’t very supportive of her relationship with Blaine himself, adhering to and perpetuating the financial divide and tensions between both social groups, but still is protective of her dignity. This is most evident in the scene where he fights Steff after he tells Blaine that Andie “is, was, and will always be nada”. On the other hand, in Night of The Creeps, J.C. plays the role of wingman from the get go, doing what he can to help his friend impress the girl of his dreams. Both sidekicks serve as comic reliefs in the films and both have arguably the most memorable scenes in their respective movies: Duckie’s “Try a Little Tenderness” scene and J.C.’s confrontation with the slugs in the bathroom. I would go as far as to argue that both are also the best part of the movies they belong to, but that might be my bias towards a certain type speaking.
Finally, and perhaps even more notable than similarities between characters, is the parallel central climax of the stories. It is no coincidence that both reach the height of their tension at formal school dances. The filmmakers in the two productions made a clever and bold choice to use one of the most stressful, anxiety-inducing events in the teenage experience as the backdrop for such tense climactic scenes. The dance scene in Pretty in Pink is the moment where Andie and Blaine must face each other after their quarrel and the audience must ask themselves who she will choose. Will she give Blaine another chance? Will she leave with Duckie? Does everybody go home alone (the right choice)? In Night of The Creeps, the night of the formal dance happens to also literally be the titular night of the creeps. It is the scene in which our heroes must face and defeat the monsters that have been terrorizing the school...equipped with flamethrowers, no less. Both films use the formals as the setting for their climaxes because they recognize the severity of these social events in the lives of teenagers. They come with dread, anxiety for the night to go perfectly, and wild amounts of discomfort for so many of us, and both Pretty in Pink and Night of The Creeps utilize that perfectly to their advantage.

So, there you have it — 1986’s most perfect Friday night double feature. Both are telling similar stories about the horrors of young love, rejection, and growing up—albeit through very different means. Though our beloved hypothetical video store probably went out of business sometime in the early 2000s, I maintain the importance and joy of finding unlikely movie matches on opposite sides of the genre spectrum. After all, what you find may thrill you.


  1. Great read. Never thought about these two movies and their similarities. Going to have to do this double feature soon.

  2. At first I was skeptical, but by the end, I was like “Well, this makes perfect sense!” Haha. I really want to do this double now!

    Great article!!

  3. I still remember the first time I saw Night of the Creeps. I was enjoying it just fine - then it got to JC's recorded message to Chris. That one moment elevated the film and gave it an emotional heft I wasn't expecting.

  4. I love the parallels you draw here! Also your point about being a kid being able to wander a video store... I think that's something really important that has been a bit lost in this modern era (era) of hyper-curated content. It makes us forget the vast range of choices available when we're always getting choices tailored to us with "Because you liked XXXX, you might like YYY..." messages. Would one of those ever say "Because you liked 'Pretty in Pink', you might like 'Night of the Creeps'?" NO. But as you prove here, they should!!