Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Fans of '80s creature features know of the great Fred Dekker due to his penning and direction of cult classics Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad. A writer and director for film and television, Mr. Dekker has won the hearts of horror and sci-fi fans everywhere, and we're honored to host this interview with him on Retro Injection.
Please tell us about your experience serving as a consulting producer on Star Trek: Enterprise. A consulting producer generally helps the production via their experience with the source material. What issues on this show required your expertise?
“Consulting Producer,” in this case, was just a gussied up way of saying, “Staff Writer Who Has Some Feature Credits.” I would have loved to “consult” more, but the producers weren’t much interested in my opinions.
I loved the cast and crew – and made some close friends on the writing staff – but by and large, I felt at sea. Had I had any kind of real creative input, I’m sure it would have been more fulfilling, but the premise of the show – the FIRST warp ship – was not really explored, and it quickly fell into the trap of trotting out many of the aliens and storylines we’d seen on previous TREKs. A missed opportunity, if you ask me, but I had a (mostly) wonderful time there.
You wrote and directed for TV's Tales from the Crypt. This was a natural fit, given your love of comic books and the show being an adaptation of the classic EC horror comics of the same name. Which original Tales from the Crypt stories had the biggest impact on you?
Honestly, one of the greatest tales (also filmed for the 1970s Amicus film version) was the story we started the series with -- “…And All Through the House, “ directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by yours truly.
When they asked me to direct one, I immediately felt the prototypical “Crypt” would be a jealous lover/murder/zombie plot – which I quickly found in the story, “The Thing From The Grave,” where I got to work with the late, great Miguel Ferrer.
What films have you seen recently that made your jaw drop with inventive and exciting film making?
Very few, I’m sorry to say. I’ll certainly go see anything by Spielberg, Scorsese, George Miller, Michael Mann, The Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, Damian Chazelle… but in all honesty, I’ve gravitated to television for the cinematic thrills I used to get in movie theaters.
“Breaking Bad” rocked my world, and since that series, and “Mad Men,” there have been numerous ones (mostly pay and basic cable) that have knocked me out, including “Top of the Lake,” “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” “Patrick Melrose,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Black Mirror.”
Presently, CGI is a cornerstone to most horror, fantasy and science fiction films. While the leap in technology offers much in the way of visual opportunity, many feel realism has been lost along the way by nixing or diminishing the integration of practical effects. Would you describe your opinion on CGI versus traditional practical effects?
CGI is a wonderful tool but I believe it’s mostly mis-used. Or maybe more to the point: OVER-used. I truly believe we have a little chip in our head that subconsciously tells us when something we’re seeing isn’t real… and therein lies the danger of CGI.
I would always opt for practical effects if possible, but it’s become sadly obsolete in many cases, even though at its best (John Carpenter’s THE THING and John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON come to mind – and hundreds of matte paintings in classic movies like THE WIZARD OF OZ), practical effects feel real because they’re tactile; they’re something somebody made by hand and photographed in the real world. Because no matter how beautifully conceived or rendered or executed, CG is all pixels that only exist in a binary, digital format, inside a computer. There’s nothing real, only imitation.
To me, the best approach is to use the technique that fits the specific shot. The first JURASSIC PARK is maybe the best example: in close-up, the T-Rex is a full sized animatronic head (supervised by Stan Winston), but when he’s running full out, it’s CG animation.
An added bonus is that mixing up practical and CGI shot-to-shot, the mind is tricked into thinking it’s all real! JURASSIC PARK is the perfect blend, but everybody learned the wrong lesson: that CGI can do anything.
As kids, we were in awe of how effectively terrifying the parasitic aliens were in Night of the Creeps, and the staggeringly-brilliant makeup of Stan Winston in The Monster Squad. Which of your films required the most expansive use of practical effects?
Probably SQUAD, since we had four monsters, two zombies, two transformations, three or four stakings, and one flying beagle. Although in truth, ROBOCOP 3 would probably come in second with its stop motion shots (by Phil Tippett), fire gags, matte paintings, full-size ED-209, and Rob Bottin’s amazing Ninja robots (puppet heads and full size animatronic bodies).
How would you feel about any of your films getting remade?
They tried with MONSTER SQUAD but admitted defeat, which made me very happy.
As for CREEPS, I’ve had people tell me SLITHER is a remake, but I like and respect James Gunn too much to call him on it (anyway, it feels more like a rip-off of THE FLY!) The short answer to your question is, “No, thanks.”
What's next on your creative plate?
Shane Black and I are developing a cable TV reboot of the 1960s British spy show, “The Avengers,” which I’m very excited about, and an action movie based on the old Destroyer adventure novels.
I’m also actively trying to find something that would put me back in the director’s chair – that’s really my priority right now.
We're grateful to Mr. Dekker for talking with us. Both The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps feature heavily in Retro Injection's movie rotation, and are touchstones of our early cinematic experiences. It was truly a thrill to interview the architect behind two of our all-time favorite films. Be sure to check out our review of The Monster Squad.
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