Fred Dekker Haunts My Youth
By Roland Wakefield, Movie and Film Expert at Bookmans Mesa
Disturbingly amused by how most of the things in my childhood relate to writer/director Fred Dekker, I feel compelled to share my thoughts in this post.
Like to read it? Here it go.
The article is organized by order of release date, as is, sadly enough, my DVD collection.
This is one of the first horror films I watched over and over and over. It isn’t scary because it has Bull from Night Court in it. It is goofy and funny — perfect for a 4-year-old spending the night at his Aunt Connie’s. She is the aunt who feeds you candy and Mountain Dew instead of food, then lets you stay up all night wired to watch the VHS movies she copied from TV.
In college Dekker wanted to come up with something to establish himself as a director. His parents owned an old Victorian home, so he wrote House because that’s what he had to shoot. Dekker’s college buddies, which include Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight, and director of the magical Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the “I think I like it” Iron Man 3), Steve Miner (Forever Young with little Frodo in it and a lot of Dawson’s Creek episodes) and Chris Matheson and Ed Soloman (the guys to lovingly blame for Bill and Ted). All people who he is connected to defined a good portion of my 32 year life.
Not only does this movie have one of the most recognizable VHS covers/posters ever, it’s one of my favorite horror films. I bought the soon-to-be out of print special edition DVD including a bonus disc of House 2 at Bookmans around 2000. House 2 is so good it has to be given away for anyone to accept it. It does have a sweet commentary track.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Also has an incredibly recognizable cover. Also relates to my Aunt Connie’s junk-food-doling house. I thought for the longest time this was a different movie, the TV movie The Midnight Hour, epic in its own right, but in no way as good as Creeps.
Back in the day, I bought my raggedy VHS copy of Creeps at Bookmans for $10. It skyrocketed to one of those $80 VHS tapes everyone wanted but couldn’t find. Eventually DVDs with their fancy bonus features vanquished demand for raggedy VHS tapes. Recently I swapped out my DVD for a blu-ray of Creeps. The epic circle of re-purchasing the same movie has been completed, for now.
Dekker wrote a short story with two characters in a college frat house. He later mixed that with an idea he had about a hard knocks detective performed by Tom Atkins so well it earned him a fairly cult T-shirt. When I locate my expendable income, that T-shirt is on the top of my list to attain.
Creeps involves 50s noir, zombies, brain-mastering slugs, a cryogenic frat boy, a psycho killer, a paraplegic sidekick with all the best lines, formal dresses and flame throwers — kind of everything you want in a movie. There is nothing like Creeps out there, sort of.
James Gunn, now known as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, made an opus called Slither. The similarities are incredible, including the fact that the characters and buildings in the movies are named after famous horror film directors. Incidentally, the fishing reel middle finger portrayed in Guardians by Starlord is in Night of the Creeps from almost 20 years earlier. Dekker is friends with Gunn, who never watched Creeps until after Slither came out. Dekker was and is a man ahead of his time.
The Monster Squad (1987)
This was the magical VHS tape that I repeatedly rented from the gas station by my house back when Circle K rented movies. Other kids had The Goonies; I had Monster Squad. The movie evokes memories of fighting with my friends on the playground of my Catholic school over who gets to be Rudy and making the kid we hate be Wolfman so we could kick him in the… you know.
Based on the script by Dekker and Shane Black, Dekker got The Monster Squad produced by Peter Hyams. Hyams is one of Dekker’s heroes, mostly due to the success of The Goonies and the studios loving bandwagons. I also love Hyams for giving me Timecop. The not-Universal monsters battling kids for a magic amulet, with possibly one of the best Draculas put on film and a slew of T-shirt lines, makes this another lost gem in the sea of IMDB titles. Stan Winston designed the monsters and this movie marks Tom Woodruff Jr.’s first time in a monster suit playing the Gillman. Tom would go on to be the guy in the alien suit for Alien 3 and subsequent sequels.
Dekker’s clout as a hot new director brought all these people together, the kids’ performances were brilliantly directed and the gleam of beauty that comes off of practically every shot in the movie made me fall in love with it all over again once I found out what cinematography is.
Once again I got my VHS copy at Bookmans, this time for a mere $8, a steal for a VHS at the time. The magic of 2-disc DVD set and later a Blu-ray complete my collection. The Blu-ray disappeared from the market only to be re-released without bonus features (lame).
Because Monster Squad didn’t make money for 20 years until the DVD release, Dekker wrote scripts for TV, including another embarrassing staple of my youth, If Looks Could Kill with Richard “why isn’t he actually cool?” Grieco, and Ricochet with Denzel. If Looks Could Kill turned into the magical mess I love, but Dekker’s script was a more serious action movie. At the time Dekker was slated to make a Johnny Quest movie and I think it somehow got turned into this hot bliss of Grieco. But what do I know? I eat the heads off fish.
I did not buy my DVD copy of If Looks from Bookmans. I, shamefully, purchased this from the Warner Archive along with Airborne because it was the only way to get it widescreen. I am a sad, sad man.
Ricochet has a strange place in my heart because in junior high the cool kids, of which I was not, hung out with me at a movie. That movie was Ricochet. I remember nothing more than being mesmerized by the opening sequence and John Lithgow being amazing. Dekker has since recognized scenes from his draft appearing in other movies the studio has made since then. I’m sure he’s proud that something he wrote worked its way into a Steven Seagal/DMX movie. I would be.
Dekker, also being connected to Joel Silver, had the idea to drive a car through the building in Lethal Weapon 4 and wrote five episodes of Tales from the Crypt, even directing one episode. Having watched horror television with my mother for our entire time together, Tales from the Crypt has a special place in my heart. I remember watching the episode Dekker directed with her. I doubt Dekker knew he would be the mnemonic device that spins me back to my childhood, and I doubt he would mind.
Robocop 3 (1993)
I’m a firm believer, since The Rocketeer, that everything is better with jet packs. This movie does not prove me wrong, though some disagree. Robocop 3 is the first movie I bootlegged from Showtime. Being the only thing that I had in my room for a stretch of time until I paid off my backed-up late fees at Movies-to-go, I absorbed this mother something fierce.
I understand the problems with the movie. The story is over in part 1. The studio strays from the edge Frank Miller gave the franchise. They wanted to sell toys and make it for a younger audience, no Peter Weller — all the things that make Batman and Robin the glorious train wreck it is today. Apparently, Warner didn’t pay attention to Robocop 3 either.
Dekker tried to make it as friendly as he could and still maintain the themes. Written from Dekker’s original script for part 3, he tried fusing Hong Kong action and robot Samurai, sweet pre-teen hacking (which I hate), CCH Pounder (which I love). The movie tries hard and plays out fine. It’s not the Robocop I want and not the Robocop Dekker would have wanted if left to his devices.
It has a pretty sweet jet pack sequence though, and a classy Shane Black cameo.
The New Predator (?)
Dekker and Black announced a remake/reboot/something-or-other of Predator. I trust Dekker and I trust Black, who is in the first Predator as the guy telling the magnificent Sonny Landham all the jokes about his girlfriend.
Praised by everyone who has worked for him as being a cool guy, an incredible visionary exploding with creative ideas, and an actors’ director. I’m happy to know that he is still working. He’s still writing and hopefully soon, still directing.
I haven’t seen a Fred Dekker directed feature in 20 years plus. I’m ready for him to start having an effect on my future that’s as strong as the effects he had on my past.
Go Monster Squad!
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