The pair of horror homages directed by Fred Dekker in the 1980s proved inspirational for countless young fans who now populate the ranks of Internet movie criticism. (All the people who write for Ain’t It Cool News, for example, love THE MONSTER SQUAD. This makes Dekker a very powerful man. Hollywood, pay attention.) And some of these Dekker loyalists couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the director’s debut film NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and James Gunn’s recent SLITHER. Both feature alien space slugs that turn their hosts into shambling zombies and are chock full of namechecks of other fright-film personalities.
Dekker himself is quick to dispel rumors of copycatting, mostly because he feels NIGHT OF THE CREEPS wasn’t that novel to begin with. ”I don’t believe there’s anything particularly original about NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, except maybe the tone,” he tells Fango. “In terms of story elements, I was ripping off everything from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE to ALIEN to Romero’s DEAD films—even John Hughes comedies! So as far as I’m concerned, James Gunn is simply continuing a hallowed tradition.”
Besides, he’s been a victim of this argument before—in regard to MONSTER SQUAD, which he scripted with LETHAL WEAPON creator Shane Black. The same-titled NBC kids’ show starred Fred Grandy (Gopher on THE LOVE BOAT), who solved crimes with the help of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy. The series ran from 1976-1977, and although the series spawned a merchandising line (including a now-collectible boardgame), its short life doubtless saw it overlooked by many potential fans—including Dekker. “It’s funny—Gunn claims he never saw CREEPS before he made SLITHER, and I believe him,“ Dekker assures, ”because I never even heard of the MONSTER SQUAD TV show until years after I made the movie! As for the rights to the title, there was never an issue, so I have to assume somebody was asleep at the wheel.”
With older features constantly in ownership flux, it’s often hard to get a rerelease off the ground, and Dekker is not exactly hopeful when it comes to DVDs of CREEPS or MONSTER SQUAD. “I’ve had many overtures from DVD producers, but the people who control the rights to those movies [Sony and Spelling Entertainment, respectively] don’t have a clue that anybody cares,” Dekker says. ”It’s too bad, because I’d love to do a director’s cut of CREEPS that incorporates the original, real ending [which has turned up on some cable-TV airings]. And it’d be nice to see SQUAD in widescreen again, as it was meant to be.”
In 2001, Dekker started writing and producing for STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, and the same year associate-produced THE YELLOW SIGN, a short by Aaron Vanek—well-known to H.P. Lovecraft fans for his numerous (and comparatively successful) short adaptations of the reclusive author’s work. But Dekker admits that his association with the film was rather peripheral. “THE YELLOW SIGN was produced by one of my oldest friends, Ken Lobb,” says Dekker. “Ken and Aaron are total Lovecraft fanatics, and they just needed a few extra bucks to make the movie, so that was the extent of my involvement. I was glad to help, since Ken gave me one of my first breaks: a really terrible 16mm sci-fi/comedy short that we never finished. Its stars included Jim Isaac [director of JASON X and the upcoming SKINWALKERS], Ethan Wiley [scripter of HOUSE and writer/director of its sequel] and Leslie Hendrix, who plays the medical examiner on the LAW & ORDER shows.”
Dekker fans will be happy to note that he’s got a new, rather ambitious project in the works. ”I’ve been working on an end-of-the world sci-fi/horror/thriller which I’m writing and directing,” he explains. ”I developed it with James Cameron’s company for a few years, then briefly with the RESIDENT EVIL producers, but we’re still looking for production financing. It’s a very personal, Dogme 95 take on creating a George Romero-like mythology, so I’m really excited about it. If I can pull it off, it’ll be completely different from my other films, and hopefully unlike any film ever made.”
When this writer admits to often answering the phone with “Thrill me,” Tom Atkins’ CREEPS catchphrase, Dekker laughs. “In my opinion, the best thing about NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is Tom Atkins. I’d love to work with him again, and if he can play Detective Cameron again, that would be ever better!” (Ed. note: Both CREEPS and MONSTER SQUAD will be playing rare big-screen dates at Austin, TX’s Alamo Drafthouse Downtown location on, respectively, this Saturday, April 15—with Dekker in attendance—and Sunday, April 16—with Dekker and cast members; click on the Drafthouse link for details. LA-area fans can meet Dekker at our Burbank Weekend of Horrors June 2-4)