WRITER/DIRECTOR FRED DEKKER!
Not sure about you, but we've always enjoyed the hell out of the work of Fred Dekker. Dude's an absolute 80s god of accessibly entertaining yet wildly wicked genre authorship. We're talking about movies that have not just withstood the test of time, but in a few instances, have become nothing short of cult-classics. Come on...NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and MONSTER SQUAD...the first two movies Dekker directed? Pure unvarnished gold, the kind of value that only appreciates with each passing year. But don't forget, those aren't the only flicks Dekker ought to be known for. Remember, before getting his name stamped across the back of a director's chair, old Freddy made his bones by hammering away at the typewriter keys. Flicks like HOUSE, IF LOOKS COULD KILL, RICOCHET, ROBOCOP 3, as well as a handful of Tales From the Crypt episodes in the late 80s and early 90s...they're all firmly etched under Dekker's 30 year big and small screen canon. Pretty good for a dude who got rejected by USC and UCLA film school back in the day!
And you know what? Freddy's not dead. In fact, Dekker's back! After going dark for nearly 15 years (since 2002), Freddy has made a torrid return to the world of entertainment. After penning a few Star Trek: Enterprise episodes back in 2001-2002, Dekker has recently announced his involvement with a planned PREDATOR retooling. More promising yet is how he's doing so with longtime writing pal and collaborator Shane Black (MONSTER SQUAD, EDGE).
Of course, we're just scratching the surface. The lower you go, the deeper we'll get in the Dissecting the illustrious genre career of one Fred Dekker!
Since he not only wrote, but also directed both, it'd be pretty feckless to argue against NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and MONSTER SQUAD being Dekker's most influentially entertaining of all his film credits. Real shite, these are not only sturdily durable pieces of 80s entertainment, but undeniably formative films for many children of the 80s, myself included. I can't tell you how many times I clocked both, particularly MONSTER SQUAD, on the continuous HBO loop in ran on back in the halcyon days of home entertainment. And every time it came on, you bet your wolfman nards we all checked the f*ck in!
But back to NIGHT OF THE CREEPS for a minute. Oh my, what a resoundingly pitch perfect echo of humor and horror...dark humor and even blacker horror. And by black we mean those nasty, slimy, brain-eating-alien-parasite-slugs that rapidly squirm about and attack scores of dare I say mindless teenagers. So damn great. The wry, laconic sense of humor displayed by genre vet Tom Atkins never fails to elicit a smile...just as that squeamishly icky bathroom scene in which an onslaught of black slugs slither their way into a stall and grossly invade a kid never fails to induce a wince. And notice the word slither used to describe such. No doubt about it, the 2006 movie SLITHER is nothing more than a glorified remake of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, despite what anyone says to the contrary.
More than that though, the genre-nodding, eye-winking self-awareness of the movie only adds to its depth and sophistication. Remember, every major character is named after a horror/sci-fi legend - Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Cronenberg, Raimi, etc. Hell, even hall of fame FX men Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero played zombie extras in the film. Add to that the memorably macabre sequences like that of the mutant sewer baby or the zombified cat and it's no wonder why, almost 30 years on, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS remains so damn watchable.
And speaking of replay value, good god MONSTER SQUAD is an undisputed classic. Shoot, I'm still quoting "Wolf Man Has Nards" any damn chance I get. Co-scripted by Dekker with Shane Black, never could you indict Fred as suffering a directorial sophomore slump. Actually, one could argue he on the whole upped his game from first feature to second. Really, having just revisited the film this past Halloween, MONSTER SQUAD is equally droll for adults as it is for targeted demographic, 10 to 12 year olds. It truly holds up in that regard. Of course, a lot of it starts on the page and the care taken to make such fully developed, three-dimensional kid characters - monster loving outcasts - totally relatable. Then there's the casting, which, despite the short-lived careers of most of the kids, couldn't be more chemically in sync. Their bond feels real, which goes a long way in wholeheartedly sympathizing with them and their cause.
Alas, to talk about MONSTER SQUAD, we must talk about the titular ghouls. Dracula, Wolfman, The Mummy, Frankenstein and Fish Man...a quintet of classic monster movie villains...were too perfectly cast in the film. The great Tom Noonan as Frankenstein's monster, the coldly debonair turn of Duncan Regher as Dracula...not to mention the wildly imaginative death scenes of each...well, they rightfully live in cinematic infamy. No question about it, Black and Dekker are impeccable craftsmen!
In an ostensible career ender (at least for two decades), ROBOCOP 3 might have been Dekker's ultimate undoing. At least, as director. The film, pretty much needless in every imaginable facet, despite the fact that Dekker co-wrote the script with famed graphic novelist Frank Miller. First off, the absence of Peter Weller as the titular half-man-half-robot vigilante does the film a great disservice. Good guy I'm sure, but Robert John Burke brought not even half of the intensity as the robot and acting chops as the human that Weller did in the first two films. More than that though, outside of a decent gentrification storyline, ROBOCOP 3 suffers from all the cynicism of most bad sequels...cheap, uninspired, venally out for profit and little else, etc. Dekker's voice, an original one if there ever was, therefore is dampened by the massive undertaking that is a studio sequel process. Worse yet, and perhaps most damming, is how the 3rd franchise entry watered itself all the way down to a cartoonish PG-13 rating, after two searing hard-R action joints by Paul Verhoeven and Irvin Kershner, respectively.
Outside of setting most of his stories around some kind of undead body or prominent police force, Dekker's ability to so deftly blend humor and horror, to my mind, is his most consistent calling card. We've dissected such in NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and MONSTER SQUAD above, and we'll do so below as well. But if one digs deeper than the directorial credits, a commonality of dark humor studding a horror story can be found. HOUSE, IF LOOKS COULD KILL, RICOCHET, The Thing From The Grave (and other authored Tales From The Crypt episodes), they all feature an irreverent, often self-referential sense of humor that backdrops the more sinister story beats. Of course, a lot of this may have to do with what can be construed another trademark in Dekker's work...his relationship with Shane Black. Black's films, too, have a knowing sense of playfulness in its humor that balances well the darker morsels of the material. Much harder than it looks!
With a modest 11 writing credits and 4 directing credits, it might seem silly to call anything in Dekker's belt hard to locate. That said, when your first two movies reach critical mass of cultural popularity (as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and certainly MONSTER SQUAD has), it does tend to become easier to overlook the rest of the man's filmography. So, it's with that we submit a pair of projects - one big screen and one small - as Fred Dekker's most subrosa. Of course, we're alluding to the wonderful 1986 haunted abode story, HOUSE, and his directorial stint of Tales From The Crypt, The Thing From The Grave.
Although he didn't pen the screenplay, story credit is given to Dekker for Steve Miner's post-FRIDAY THE 13TH horror joint, HOUSE. Ethan Wiley, who would go on to write and direct the playfully punned sequel, HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, wrote the script for the original while clearly maintaining the tone and temperament of Dekker's original conception. HOUSE is built on a sturdy foundation of horror and humor...fiercely funny as it is ferociously phantasmagorical. The story is a simple one. A weathered war-vet writer travels to a newly inherited home to pen his new novel, only to realize this place is heinously haunted. Really, if you happened to miss this one, it's totally worth seeking out and watching for sheer amount of fun it boasts. Hell, that one hanging scene where dude walks in on his aunt's feebly decrepit body swinging and swaying from her neck in the foreground...well, it was good enough to make our Top 10 Hanging scenes a ways back. It's that jarring! Interestingly, the film was inspired by and originally conceived by Dekker and pals to be a TWILIGHT ZONE-like anthology. However, when it all sort of fell apart, Dekker used what would have been his one segment as the basis for HOUSE's foundation.
Speaking of anthologies, how many of you knew that Dekker wrote what is arguably the best of all Tales From The Crypt episodes, All Through The House? Yup, that was Freddy. Hell, he also scripted an additional three or four episodes of the popular anthology series, even directing one such called The Thing From The Grave. Remember that one?
If not, you can relive that sucker right HERE! We urge you to do so, if for no other reason than to see the last piece of material Dekker both wrote and directed. Damn it's a doozy! The strand dangles around Teri Hatcher, who plays a sexy as sin model out to evade the abusive ways of her agent boyfriend Mitch (Miguel Ferrer). Her plan? Taking refuge in the abode of her photographer pal Devlin Cates (Kyle Secor). One problem. Mitch soon finds out about how cozy she's becoming with her colleague and spirals into a ferocious fit of homicidal rage. It's a really entertaining episode, peppered with equal parts sex appeal and abject terror to rank high among the annals of TFTC entries. Seriously, give her a gander if you haven't already!
If you've been plugged into the news outlets as of late, you might have read just a week ago that Fred Dekker has reteamed with his prolific 80s collaborator, Shane Black, to hand in a brand spanking new script for a standalone PREDATOR redux. That is, to our understanding, the film will not take place in the conjoined ALIENS/PREDATORS world, but will instead just focus on the dreadlocked, vagina-faced hunters. Peep what producer John Davis had to say about it:
“Shane shot a movie and he’s doing a pilot now, but I’ve read a lot of his script and I think it’s genius. I think it’s genius and I think it’s entertaining, and what it did is recreate a famous franchise in a different, interesting way; looking at it from a different light. He’s just an amazing writer-director. He’s got a way of looking at this that makes you excited again. I love this franchise. It was the first movie I ever did. I remember in being in the jungle with Arnold[Schwarzenegger] as a 28-year-old and going, ‘This is a fun business!’…Shane’s amazing. He’s an amazing storyteller.”
While no specific plot details we're divulged, Davis continued with this of the "inventive sequel:"
“Shane’s got a writing partner, Fred Dekker. They’ve been doing it together and Fred’s great. The two of them together, they’ve been in the business for a long time, but the writing is so fresh, the perspective is so fresh. I’m telling you you’re going to get something you don’t expect and you’re going to say, ‘This is the most entertaining way to reinvent a franchise.'”
Sounds pretty badass to us, particularly if, like the last Black and Dekker combo, Shane directs the flick himself. It'd be pretty damn cool to see him at the helm after having a bit role in the original 30 years prior.
As truly grateful as we all for Fred Dekker's unblemished 80s oeuvre, we're equally as excited for his return to the genre world in 2015 and beyond. It's a long overdue return to the place that gave way to all those memories 30 years ago. HOUSE, HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, MONSTER SQUAD, IF LOOKS COULD KILL, RICOCHET, ROBOCOP 3, the various stints of TALES FROM THE CRYPT...for the most part, they all ensure trust that the retooled PREDATOR of Black and Dekker will deliver industrious goods. Welcome back Freddy, we can't wait to see what you have in store!