Fred Dekker Revisits The Night of the Creeps

The most elusive cult creeper ever made finally makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray October 27th!

Night of the Creeps has become one of the most sought after late night cult creepers ever made. After hitting the video store circuit in the mid-80s on VHS tape (and VHS alone), the film quickly disappeared. It would later crawl out from late night cable television on that rare occasion, like some long dormant creature hungry for flesh. It's never been re-released on any medium, and has only made a handful of appearances at the local midnight theater. Despite that fact, Fred Dekker's amazing 1986 ode to aliens, zombies, and high school romps has developed a rabid following over the years. Revolving around squirmy black leeches that possess a town full of teenagers and treats them like puppets on prom night, it's a hard film to shake. And the fact that it hasn't been widely distributed makes it even more special. Now, twenty-three years later, the most elusive Drive-In kicker of all time is finally being released on DVD and Blu-ray. To celebrate this momentous Halloween occasion, we caught up with the acclaimed Mr. Dekker, who not only wrote and directed this chilling feast for the eyes, but is also the man responsible for Monster Squad and the much maligned RoboCop 3. Here is what Mr. Dekker had to say for himself in light of this truly remarkable occasion:

I am relieved Night of the Creeps is finally coming to DVD. Do you know how hard this was to keep on my DVR since 2003, when I last came across it on HBO? Why did it take so long for this amazing movie to find its way back into the marketplace?

Fred Dekker: (Laughs) It sure has been a long process. Mostly its because it took twenty years for a fan base to build. People would see it on cable, or late night TV, or pick up the VHS tape at a garage sale. And they'd fall in love with it. Generally, these were young kids that don't rule the marketplace. Suddenly, they all came of age and realized, "Oh, we don't have a real, good, solid version of this great movie." Its up coming release has a lot to do with them.

Before we get too deep into the film, can you settle a long standing bet for me? Jason Lively, the star of Night of the Creeps. Is he, or is he not, the real Rusty Griswold? All the others were imposters, right?

Fred Dekker: I think Anthony Michael Hall was the real Rusty Griswold. But you know what, that's a good question for someone else. I am going to leave that to the real hardcore Vacation fans. I don't want to get in a feud.

Fair enough. We like to give DVDs out to trick or treaters. How happy or disappointed would you have been to get Night of the Creeps in your pumpkin at Halloween time? Do you think it's a good gift to hand out this year?

Fred Dekker: I would love to get this DVD in my pumpkin. Oh, my god! The whole package is great. The film looks beautiful. The documentary is great. All of the special features are great. We had a ball putting this new set together. As long as you're in your teens, it's a great treat for Halloween. If you're eight, it might not be the best thing in the world to watch while you're eating candy.

I saw it around the age of eight, and I loved it.

Fred Dekker: You know what? You are probably right. But I don't want to get a bunch of parents mad at me. (Laughs)

What do you have to say to the hardcore fans that were a little upset about it finally being made available to a wider audience. I saw at Comic Con that some of these guys are more than a little upset. Its like you are stealing their baby away and giving it to an angry mob that won't appreciate it, feed it, or water it.

Fred Dekker: More power to them! I can see their viewpoint. But this also harkens back to your first question. People are so hot for this title because it hasn't been available in more than a decade. The truth is, the picture and sound are so vastly superior to that old disentigrating VHS tape that, even if you feel like its being stolen away from its cult audience, it is well worth it.

The original poster artwork for Night of the Creeps is so iconic. The hand coming through the window. I remember it used to freak me out in the video store when I was a kid. I was immediately drawn to it. Why did you guys abandoned that for the DVD?

Fred Dekker: I tip my hat to Sony. They have their own marketing logic, it's not my job. They have some very specific rules to follow. One of the things is that they did try to get some of the original artwork, but it wasn't available. People have a Pavlovian response to that old poster. Sure, but Sony knows that fans will buy the title no matter what it looks like. It has been many years since the film last came out on any format. Sony knows that people are familiar with the old artwork from the VHS box, or buying a poster at Comic Con, or whatever it is. But they also want to attract new fans to it. I think they did a wonderful job with it.

You named all of your Detectives after big name horror directors. First of all, that started a trend that continues to play today. But second of all, none of these guys were the iconic auteurs they are now. Raimi, Hooper, and especially Cameron, were just getting started when this hit theaters. Did you know their names would have more resonance today than they did back in 1986?

Fred Dekker: I had no idea that I was picking all A list guys from the following decade. I knew Jim Cameron very briefly because we had dinner once. It was about me working on the script for Aliens when he was too busy finishing The Terminator. I was a huge fan of Cameron's because of The Terminator. His first movie had been Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. He was an icon to me, yet had not become an icon to everyone else. That's why I named Detective Cameron after him. It was all based on the fact that I was making my first movie, and that it was a horror movie. I based all of my characters' names on people who had specifically started out making horror movies themselves. It was my tip of the hat to the guys that had come just before me.

Why was the girl named Cronenberg? Did you have the biggest film crush on him at the time?

Fred Dekker: You know? No, not really. My favorite Cronenberg movie came out after I made Night of the Creeps. That would have been The Fly. I didn't have any physical attraction to David either (laughs). I think all of all of my characters' namesakes were a strong influence on me.

What do you think about Cronenberg's recent stuff? He has kind of swayed away from horror, but he's still turning out some amazing work.

Fred Dekker: I was a big fan of Crash. The most recent ones I haven't paid too much attention too. Though, I may have seen them. I think it's cool that all of these guys who started out making horror movies have branched out. That's something I would love to do. I have grown a little tired of the horror, and the comedy horror genre. Though, I recently saw [Rec] and Paranormal Activity. I thought both films were absolutely terrific. As long as it isn't torture porn. As long as there are people to root for, and it's genuinely scary, and not just people killing each other. I am getting a renewed interest in some of the newer horror films. Because some of them are really good.

Is Paranormal Activity as scary as everyone says it is? I haven't seen it yet.

Fred Dekker: I thought it was fantastic. I am a really big fan of filmmakers who don't wait around to get through the studio system. They go out and make a little movie in the woods. This was literally made in this guy's house with just three characters. I really, really admire that.

I can't wait to watch it! Now, back to Night of the Creeps, its one of the few films to ever feature a central character, J.C., who is both physically impaired and one of the main heroes. How did you come to develop this character, and in your own words, why do you think he is important to the history of horror cinema?

Fred Dekker: I can't speak to what place he holds without a certain amount of ego. The fact that he's handicapped was a decision that came about because I wanted these guys to be true underdogs. And because that was something I hadn't seen. There are a lot of people out there who have certain impediments, or who are in the very extreme minority. I want to celebrate that, because I am a big fan of putting them in a movie, and not addressing the impediment necessarily. He is a normal kid. And that was intentional. I didn't want it to be a key plot point.

When you were shooting the film, did you realize that the entire body of the film was going to resonate with later audiences in the same way that the opening monologue resonated with audiences that saw it in 1986?

Fred Dekker: No, but I am a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. One of the reasons Kubrick's films stand the test of time is that he seemed to be more interested in stories that took place in the past or the future. And they weren't so tied to a contemporary reality. It is inevitable that when you make a movie, some aspects of it are gong to age because of the fashions. Because of the hairstyles. I was very conscious of the 80s. I was conscious of them because of Madonna and the Go-Gos. Miami Vice. The color palates. All of that stuff. I was aware at the time that the 80s were going to be iconographic in the future. I knew people would laugh at some of it. That's why I specifically put that credit, "1986", in there. So people could look back at it and see that it definitely was taking place in 1986.

The effects still stand-up in this day and age. How does that speak to what you guys were doing at the time, and how a film such as Night of the Creeps just wouldn't be as special had it been enveloped in a CGI sheen?

Fred Dekker: I agree completely, and I appreciate you saying that. You also have to remember that this movie was made before CGI ever existed. We had to be creative and come up with a lot of this stuff. I am a big fan of handmade effects. I think Rob Bottin's The Thing is something that you can't top. The Alien in Ridley Scott's first Alien. Even the creature in Creature from the Black Lagoon. This thing is from the 50s. Its one of the best monster suits of all time. If you find the right people, and you do it for real, I think it's inestimable better than anything you could ever do with a computer.

It has a tangible weight to it. Its real, its there. With films like Where the Wild Things Are, we see filmmakers actually going back to that.

Fred Dekker: Those are all real suits. On the flipside of the coin, I heard Ruben Fleischer on Cinemagic saying that all of the blood in Zombieland was added afterward. It's important. I think an audience knows subconsciously if they are seeing something real or not. Even though there are some shots in Night of the Creeps that I cringe to look at, I think it looks real. Good, bad, or indifferent, you are seeing something we actually staged in front of the camera. Not something we added later in post.

Dialogue is another key ingredient that still makes both Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps work. We've become so PC about certain things, the film has almost an Archie Bunker like edge to it. Back when you made the film, did you ever think that you'd be considered cutting edge in 2009?

Fred Dekker: No. It absolutely blows my mind. I was just doing what I thought was funny and interesting. I was very young. I wanted to like my characters. I wanted them to have a nice little banter. It was my attempt to do the Howard Hawkes buddy movie of the 80s. I am thrilled that it has held up.

Do you think that's why fans cling to this movie a little bit more than some of the other, older films out there? Because it's certainly different than the stuff we are being fed in this current age of cinema. It is more real feeling. It's just...Better.

Fred Dekker: I appreciate you saying it, and with Night of the Creeps it really comes down to the relationship between these two guys. There is this notion of making a movie where you actually have some sort of an investment in the characters. I am absolutely convinced that's what works in a movie. If you don't care. If it's just about the gore, and the goo, and the monster, you don't stand a chance with an audience. If you throw a character in there that you relate to, or you like, it makes everything work.

What about remakes. They remake everything. Is Night of the Creeps or Monster Squad any closer to seeing a movie theater screen again?

Fred Dekker: Rob Cohen is talking about doing a remake of The Monster Squad. Which I think is a catastrophic idea. Night of the Creeps? No one has talked about it. I would love to sell enough DVDs and Blu-rays to make a follow-up. I have spoken with Tom Atkins about it. I have spoken to the kids about it. I do have a notion of doing a sequel. It would be a very real, low budget sequel that takes place twenty years later. The movie is already a remake and a rip-off of so many other things. Making a remake of a rip-off is just plain ridiculous.

I wouldn't call your film a rip-off. It's more of an homage, as it were. It has its own very distinct feel to it. But if a sequel went into production, you'd direct it?

Fred Dekker: Yes. There is an attempt to introduce new audiences to old ideas by simply redoing them. I think that is really misguided. Very rarely is a remake better than the original film. Look at James Gunn, God bless him. He is a Facebook friend of mine, but Slither didn't necessarily knock the box office on its ass. I think there is an argument to be made that audiences don't want to see movies about zombies with slugs in their heads.

I know you've talked about Slither before, but is there any direct reference to you in that film? I was looking at the references he has running throughout it, and he doesn't have any nods to Night at the Creeps in there.

Fred Dekker: James professes to have never seen the film. I took that with a grain of salt when I heard it. Then I realized there was a TV series in the 70s called Monster Squad featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. I never saw it. Now, you are talking to a guy that would get up at three o'clock in the morning when he was a kid to watch the Mummy fight the Wolfman on TV. The fact that I didn't know there was a TV show called Monster Squad, and then made a movie called The Monster Squad makes me believe that James never saw Night of the Creeps.

What's weird is, I don't know anyone that has seen that TV show. I saw it came out on DVD, and thought I somehow missed the fact that they'd made a TV show based on your movie.

Fred Dekker: It is very, very different from my movie. It is as close to the original as the live-action Ghostbusters TV show is to the movie. The one with the ape and the two guys in the safari outfits (laughs).

You shot two endings for this movie. Do we get to see both endings here, and why were these changes made?

Fred Dekker: The Director's Cut on the DVD is called The Director's Cut because it is the first time the movie has existed in the form I intended way back in 1986. When you talk about two endings, there was the ending that was meant for the film, and there was a compromised ending that resulted from a little disagreement between myself and the studio. The compromised ending was the one that went to theaters back in 1986. It's the one that was released on VHS. It is the one that played on cable. The real ending is one I was able to put back on the end of the film when it played on broadcast TV. Because I was involved in putting that together. The rest of the TV version, which contains other scenes that are now seen in the deleted portion of the DVD, was pretty bad. There is a reason you cut scenes out of a movie. Its because they are bad. But I am so grateful to Sony, because when I found out they were doing this DVD, I asked if I could put the original ending back on it. And they said, "Sure!" What you will see in The Director's Cut is the original theatrical version, but supped up. It looks great. It sounds great. It's got a 5.1 mix. But at the end, you will see the original ending as I always intended. It has only ever been seen on the TV version. But now its back where it is supposed to be.

I seriously can't wait to see it. As far as the other special features go, you went all out on this release. What are some of your favorite aspects of the discs? And how much hard work was it to compile all of this material?

Fred Dekker: This was a very hard set to put together. There was only an IP of the actual film. But thanks to digital technology, it looks really fantastic. The ending, if you look very carefully, has a slight shift in quality. That's because it came from a ¾ inch videotape. We had to augment the color, and adjust it a little bit. We tried to make it match. The special features are chockablock. I had a great time doing the commentary. Obviously, it has been a long time coming. So I sound like Martin Scorsese, pointing out every single interesting fact, "Well, we have this, and there's that!" I was talking a mile a minute. That was really a lot of fun. It was great seeing the cast. I hadn't talked with them in many, many years. They are on tape as well. The documentary is great. It was made by Michael Felcher, who also did the one for The Monster Squad. It is a couple chapters long. He is a master. He just won a lifetime achievement award for his work on DVD special features, and I truly believe that Creeps is one of his best.

What is Jason Lively up to? I haven't seen him in a long while.

Fred Dekker: Jason lives in Utah. He lives near Park City. He has a family. He was directing exercise videos for a while. I'm not sure what he is doing at the moment. I actually owe him a call. Once I know, I will let you know.

While I have you on the phone, I have to ask you about Robocop 3, cause I love the character, but your film is probably the most maligned of the three features. How did you become attached to that film, and did it accomplish everything you'd hoped?

Fred Dekker: I loved the Verhoeven film. I was in the right place, at the right time. I was offered the opportunity to make the film. As a fan of it, and being a fan of movies in general, and especially being a fan of comic books, I couldn't say no. I took it on. I think it has some of my best work as a director. I had an absolute ball making the movie. I know there were a couple of key mistakes that I made. One? I didn't fully realize how important the tone of the first film was to the audience that loved it. Orion Pictures, which is no longer in business, was very supportive of me. The thing is, they were having success with the toys and the animated series. I think they misguidedly believed that Robocop was a character who could be tailored to younger people. The truth is, I think the Verhoeven film is a very dark, anarchic, satirical film that became a strange, hard-edged comic book for adults. Trying to water it down was a huge mistake. I also think the story I chose to tell, which was actually Frank Miller's story, and I am a huge fan of Frank Miller, was a little too political. It was very left wing. The movie is very well made, but we ran out of money. It doesn't deliver the bang for the buck. Especially at a time when Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgement Day were both coming out. I think if it had been funnier and more balls out, it would have been a big hit.

This was the first time Frank Miller worked within the Hollywood system, and he was so disgusted with the experience, he didn't come back until Sin City. What was your experience like working with him?

Fred Dekker: It was great working with Frank. I think "The Dark Knight Returns" was one of the most seminal moments in comic book history. I thought he was a brilliant guy. He was very much cowed by Hollywood. He was asking, "Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?" He needed to be disgruntled by that, and then get away from it. That allowed him to come back and do what he really wanted to do. But I loved working with the man. He was a great guy.

What do you have to say to the hardcore Robocop fans that are still pissed about the hand-holding scene?

Fred Dekker: That one I will stand by. There is a long history in culture and movies, going back from the Gollum and Frankenstein, up until the The Iron Giant and the Tin Man with Dorothy, where there was this subtext. It was in Robocop, where the little girl actually calls Murphy "Tin Man". They replaced a valve in him that is called his "heart". And the little girl asks, "How is your new heart?" That was very specifically supposed to be a direct reference to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Just for me, personally, I think there is something really, tremendously touching about The Monster Squad, where we have a giant, resurrected dead guy that is mostly mechanical parts and this sweet little innocent girl having a bond. To me, that is really touching. And what we see in RoboCop 3 is really an offshoot of the Frankenstein and Phoebe relationship we created in The Monster Squad. The other thing that connects those two films is this idea of the family unit being taken apart, and then put back together again. In RoboCop 3, the little girl is separated from her parents in a big ode to Empire of the Sun, where she is shipped to all the rehabs. Then at the end, although her parents are dead, she has this new surrogate-type family. There is some really good stuff in that movie. I wish it had done better. I wish I had pushed harder to make it great. The reason I don't talk about it too much is the fact that no one likes it.

I like Robocop in anything. I even like the TV shows.

Fred Dekker: He is a cool character. But he's not the kind of character that lends himself to multiple viewings. He is not like James Bond or Batman. There's not a lot he can do. Except maybe clank around and shoot at people.

I've read that you are working on a scary end-of-the-world thriller. Can you enlighten on the advancement of that?

Fred Dekker: I would love to talk about that. Unfortunately, it is no longer alive. It was called the Invaded Man, and I first developed it with Jim Cameron at Lighstorm. Then I developed it with producers Paul Anderson and Jeremy Bolt. Then I developed it at Gold Circle with producer Eric Newman. Ultimately, it was my attempt to do I Am Legend with a different antagonist. Because I loved the Matheson novel. In the final analysis, we just didn't get it up and running before the Will Smith movie came out. It was just ultimately too similar. No one would be able to look at it and not say, "Oh, I haven't seen this movie before." But it was good. I was really pleased with the script. There were no vampires and there were no zombies.

Do you think its something you'd come back to in five years, when people have forgotten about I Am Legend?

Fred Dekker: Sure. Absolutely. But your lips to God's ears.

What are you working on, then? Are you solely concentrating on doing A Night of the Creeps 2?

Fred Dekker: Certainly if that opportunity arose, I wouldn't say no. But I have been trying to reinvent myself for many years. There is a documentary film that is a complete left turn from comedy and horror. It is called The Loss of Nameless Things, and it was directed by Bill Rose. I have been asked to write and direct a narrative feature version of this. It is a really touching story about a playwright. He was a very charismatic playwright in the 60s that started this own theater company, and he created this commune of theater workers. And he was doing really great work. Then he fell off a bridge and suffered brain damage. The movie is about him trying to resurrect himself. The documentary is really good, and I think the script is the best thing I have ever done.

Night of the Creeps finally hits DVD and Blu-ray on October 27th. Don't miss your chance to own one of the most amazing cult movies of all time. This one's a creeper!

B. Alan Orange