Interview

Interview

Exclusive Interview with 'The Monster Squad' Director Fred Dekker

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God, I love The Monster Squad. So much, in fact, that the old VHS copy bought for me from a ramshackle jumble sale many years ago still has its place in my film collection, the cover worn and tattered, visible signs of the many house moves the damn thing has survived. Odd this obsession may be, but this almost forgotten "dud" from 1994 still has a plethora of fan sites loaded with petitions screaming for a sequel, with its director Fred Dekker at the helm. It's not total madness when you really think about it: that childlike, wide-eyed admiration for the truly old school cinematic macabre, the passion behind the article that you now see before you... Dekker's film is dripping with it.
 
Who better to put together a love letter to old school horror than a storyteller who cut his fangs on the classics? After concocting the idea for the Steve Miner's 1986 film House, Dekker's first directorial project shortly followed – the much beloved Night of the Creeps. This would be his first run at an homage to horror, a low-budget affair that was maybe a little too self-aware for its own good: nearly every character is named after an '80s horror maestro, and star Tom Atkins fires off lines like "What is this, a homicide or a bad B movie?"
 
1987 saw the eventful collaboration between Dekker and future Lethal Weapon scribe (now Iron Man 3 director) Shane Black for The Monster Squad. Black brought the smarts, while Dekker did his damndest to give the script its big beating heart that we all know and love. The result was a far more effective tip of the hat to the horror film. One of the more notable tributes for me was the scene where kid sister Phoebe catches her first glimpse of Frankenstein's monster, wonderfully played with tragic frailty by Tom Noonan. The moment is spookily reminiscent of the 1931 Frankenstein, where Boris Karloff's monster inadvertently kills the little girl Maria by throwing her into a lake, believing she will float like the flowers they were both tossing in moments earlier.
 
Regardless of Squad's reception during its initial run, Dekker must have done something right... because later he had the privilege of working with industry giants such as Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver and William Friedkin, to name but a few, directing an episode of the now legendary television series Tales From The Crypt.
 
Later Dekker would go on to scripting the 1991 Denzel Washington-starring cop thriller Ricochet, and thinking up the story behind Richard Greico's film debut If Looks Could Kill before given directing duties on Robocop 3. The shudder  that runs down my spine – and no doubt yours – by the sheer mention of this film is now all to familiar. Sure, it soiled many a childhood, but the less said about this one the better – a mantra that I'm sure Dekker and co-writer Frank Miller will agree with.
 
Aside from a brief gig directing Star Trek: Enterprise, that was the last most of us have heard from Dekker. Monster Squad aficionados have been both equally offended and excited at rumors of a remake to be helmed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious). These days Dekker is a hard man to pin down, but this Monster Squad fan managed to catch hold of him long enough to chat about his beloved creations... while not forgetting those he would much rather forget.
 
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FEARnet: I have to start with this one: how much truth is there to the Monster Squad remake rumors?
 
DEKKER: You know as much as I do.  Rob Cohen is apparently developing it at Paramount.
 
What are your feelings towards a potential remake? Would you consider directing it?
 
I think it’s a terrible idea. I fundamentally don’t believe in remakes unless the original film is horribly dated, or if it didn’t quite reach its potential. The Monster Squad may not have won any Oscars, but I think it absolutely succeeds at what it set out to do. In addition to which, numerous variations on kids fighting monsters have glutted the market in the intervening years (mostly on television), so even as a genre fan it feels incredibly "been-there-done-that" to me. As for directing, considering I’ve only made three pictures, the idea of remaking one of them makes me want to go for the razor blades... although I’d love another crack at Robocop 3!
 
How did you get the idea for the film? The Goonies had to be bit of an influence...?
 
The idea was very simple: The Little Rascals meet the Universal Monsters. Period. Not only was The Goonies not an influence, I didn’t even see it until much later.
 
How closely did you work with Shane Black on the script?
 
Very closely. We did a basic outline together, then he wrote the first draft by himself. I guided him through a few more drafts and did some re-writing myself, mostly for budgetary reasons and to make sure it had as much heart as possible.
 
Did you or Shane ever consider the possibility of a sequel? Were there any ideas for a story?
 
The only idea I ever had was that Eugene’s dad was a fighter pilot, and the sequel would be called The Monster Squad Vs. Godzilla...  and no, I’m not kidding. After all, we’d used up all the good monsters! Interestingly, an obvious sequel idea was touched on in the animated film Monsters Vs. Aliens, which revisited the monsters of the 1950s (The Fly, The Blob, The 50 Foot Woman, etc). In other words, the natural follow-up would be to pit the squad against the next generation of “atomic-age” monsters.
 
How happy are you with the finished film? Much there you'd like to change?
 
I wish there was a different song for the montage, and I wish we could have done it at Universal and used the original Jack Pierce makeup designs and done the opening in 1:33 aspect ratio black-and-white. But mostly, I think it works pretty well, particularly the last two reels, and the relationship between Phoebe and Frank.
 
What was behind the choice to lean towards classic Universal Monsters?
 
Well, I had grown up on those films, watching them on TV late on Saturday nights, so they were near and dear to my heart. Revisiting them was the key motivation for writing the movie in the first place.
 
It must have been amazing to get [FX artist] Stan Winston on board. Any fond memories?
 
As it turned out, Stan was also a “monster kid,” so he was as excited as I was getting to re-imagine the classic monsters. He was an amazing talent - a real innovator – as well as a wonderful guy. I miss him very much.
 
What's your opinion on the ever-increasing reliance on CGI today? Any good examples out there that stood out to you?
 
CGI is like any tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal – it can be used well, or poorly. Unfortunately, I think Hollywood leans on it a little too much as you suggest, and a kind of sameness has crept into the big FX films. I watch something like Clash of the Titans or the Hulk movies and my eyes glaze over. I keep thinking, "Where's my Playstation controller?" Also, a lot of the younger people at the work stations have grown up on video games and FX software, and have never built a miniature or photographed it in the real world, so a lot of CGI effects look fake to me... even some of the good ones. I think an audience knows subconsciously when they’re looking at something real, and it makes an enormous difference. That said, the key is to blend whatever technique works best for the individual shot.  That’s why, for instance, the first two Jurassic Park movies have what I consider the best use of CGI ever – because one shot is animatronic (Stan Winston again) and the next CGI, seamlessly blended so it’s about telling the story and not saying, “Look at me!  I’m an effect!” The moment it feels like it’s about the effects, you’re dead.
 
Did the production experience differ much from Night of the Creeps and Robocop 3?
 
Absolutely. For one thing, I feel like I knew what I was doing a lot more on the latter (not in the script-writing department, but that’s another story). Also, obviously, Robocop 3 was a much larger, more ambitious production (the budget difference was roughly $20 million). Plus, Creeps was shot close to home in L.A., whereas Robocop 3 was shot in Atlanta, Georgia, so I was uprooted for a year.
 
Would you like to work in horror more? Do any particular horror movies stand out for you?
 
To be honest, I kind of lost interest in horror in the ‘80s. Every once in a while, something will come along that knocks me out – but interestingly, it’s the no-budgeters more than the FX-heavy bigger films. I loved The Blair Witch Project and the REC and Paranormal Activity movies, so maybe it takes a “found footage” approach to keep me interested. Any time there are too many loud, cheap “jump scares,” or I hear the music trying too hard, or see too many CGI effects, it takes me right out of the movie. I want it to feel real, not manufactured or overblown.
 
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The Monster Squad has developed a strong cult following. Did this surprise you? How is the fan reaction today? Does it differ much from the reception on release?
 
Understand something: this movie tanked. It came and went in three weeks. It was a disaster. Obviously, when you pour your heart and soul into something and it dies that ignoble a death, it’s devastating. I was very depressed, which is why its resurrection is so wonderfully gratifying. To learn that it’s developed this massive following over the years takes the sting out of its original failure a little bit…  but it sure would have been nice for it to have done well enough that I could have had more opportunities, and a larger body of work.
 
Finally: which do you prefer, writing or directing, and why?
 
I hate writing. It’s lonely and insular and you never know if it’s working. Directing is the exact opposite: you’re surrounded by people, you’re always being given new and different challenges (artistic, personality, financial), but more important, you can see what you’ve imagined come to life right before your eyes and know instantly if it’s working or not.  I prefer directing by a wide margin; it’s night and day. 
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