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Q&A – Director Fred Dekker Is King of the Creeps

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Night of the Creeps (1986) wasn’t an instant genre smash like The Evil Dead, but writer-director Fred Dekker’s horror-scifi-noir-comedy subsequently developed a devoted fan following. More than 20 years later, Dekker looks back on his first movie, the little fright flick that could.

Q: The DVD version of Night of the Creeps is the director’s cut. What’s new for fans?

A: The truth is that an actual director’s cut would probably involve me going back to all the original dailies and recutting from scratch. No disrespect to the editor, but there was a lot I didn’t know then. The difference is that this version of Creeps goes back to the original ending, which was never shown theatrically.

Q: How did Night of the Creeps find its audience?

A: The Internet. I’d sometimes search Night of the Creeps or The Monster Squad  [1987] and I was stunned by how many appreciative viewers there were out there. That’s what led to The Monster Squad
being released on DVD and I think that Sony, in their infinite wisdom,
realized that they had a title in the same genre by the same filmmaker,
and figured it was worth giving it a release.

Q: The Monster Squad‘s “Wolfman’s got nards!” line often comes up on Horror Hacker. I suspect that if I’d seen Monster Squad when I was twelve, I would have thought it was the best movie ever made.

A: I’ve talked to a lot of people who were twelve when they saw Monster Squad, and they do think it was the best movie ever made.

Q: Night of the Creeps has something for everyone: Horror, scifi, comedy, a film-noir detective and even a little romance. 

A: In retrospect, it was kind of suicidal, throwing all those genres into the mix. But I was a first time director, and when you make your first movie you want to do as much as you can in case you never get to do it again. I wanted to do a Raymond Chandler movie, but I also wanted to do a John Hughes movie and a George Romero movie… it wound up being a big stew. The key to making it work was tone. I honestly don’t know how I got the tone right, but on a gut level, I had a sense of when it was working and when it wasn’t.

Q: Night of the Creeps is 100 percent CGI free. It’s all practical effects.

A: Everything, goofy as it is, was staged in front of the camera. It’s funny: I had a very different concept for the little aliens you see in the first sequence, but I realize that not getting what I wanted was the best thing that ever happened to me. My initial idea was to get the tallest guy I could find put him in a scary alien costume. But if you had seen some Michael Jordan-type guy in some super scary costume, you’d have been like, “Oh crap! This is a flat-out scary movie!” Whereas as soon as those little aliens appear waddling down the corridor, the audience has permission to laugh. So when you get to the close up of the alien-infected dog — which, let’s face it, is not the highest achievement in the art of special effects — and the audience laughs, it’s affectionate laugh. It’s as though they think whatever flaw they see, I must have done it on purpose.

Q: What horror comedies are you a fan of?

A: American Werewolf in London, of course, because it’s genuinely funny and genuinely scary. And Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. As a kid, that was some seriously frightening stuff. And it’s canonical: Frankenstein’s monster is really the Universal Frankenstein’s monster. Dracula is really Dracula — that was the first time Bela Lugosi had played the role since 1931 — and wolf man was the wolf man. For a kid who loved Abbott and Costello and loved monster movies, it was perfection.

Q: Neither of those movies is a genre spoof.

A: A couple of years after Monster Squad, I was involved in developing a movie around the character Count Floyd from SCTV. My take was that it should be about a small-town TV reporter who really wanted to be a hard journalist, but he can’t get a toehold and ends up the host for the Saturday Night monster movie show. The important thing was it had to be about a character you cared about. For me, that’s the trouble with spoofs: You can do all the jokes and splatter you want, but if there aren’t characters who matter to you in some way, you don’t have a movie. You just have a bunch of skits.

Q: There’s a 2006 movie called Slither that strongly reminded me of Night of the Creeps.

A: I have to say, I kind
of liked the movie. [Writer-director] James [Gunn] and I are Facebook friends; we’ve talked about it and he says he never saw Night of the Creeps. At first I didn’t believe him, but then I realized that there was a television program from 1976 called Monster Squad that featured Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. And I never saw it. So I figured that if I never saw Monster Squad, I was going to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said he never saw Night of the Creeps.

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