Few Gen-Xers walked away from the 80s without knowing and loving The Monster Squad. It was a film for our generation and it endures to this day. Director Fred Dekker tapped into childhood fears in a way which was both scary and exciting and along with Spielberg, Lucas and Dante he helped build a generation of resilient and adventurous kids. In addition to Monster Squad Fred also brought us the classic Night of the Creeps and the ill fated (yet audacious) Robocop 3. He is also responsible for some of the best episodes of Tales from the Crypt, including The Thing From The Grave. With writing credits on Star Trek Enterprise also under his belt, Fred Dekker is a respected and sought after cult figure with fans flocking to conventions and screenings just to shake his hand. His work has certainly influenced my life and I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to pick his brain. What a guy!
What was your favourite movie as a kid?
A few come to mind, but let's go with the original KING KONG which was huge for me (no play on words intended). I probably saw it 50 times.
What lit the fire and your passion for film?
My dad was a movie buff from way back, and he'd point out the character actors from old black-and-white war films on TV. He took me to the drive-in, where I'd wear my pajamas and bundle up in a sleeping bag in the back of our family station wagon to watch films like PLANET OF THE APES and WHERE EAGLES DARE. His influence was formative.
How did you first get into the industry and what was your first job in it?
My first gig was writing the script for Steve Miner's planned 3D GODZILLA film. It was never made, but it was a wonderful experience and Steve rallied some amazing artists to design and storyboard -- people like William Stout, Dave Stevens, and Doug Wildey who created "Jonny Quest."
How did the movie “House” come about? You are credited for it’s story but not it’s script.
HOUSE was an idea I wanted to direct. I intended it to be shot at my parent's Victorian house in Northern California -- one character, very low budget, very run-and-gun. When other things came up (like writing NIGHT OF THE CREEPS), I handed script duties to my pal and college roommate Ethan Wiley. Then Steve Miner loved it and got Sean Cunningham to produce. The movie they made was a lot different in tone from what I had intended, but I'm glad people liked it.
Night of the Creeps was released that same year. As a first time director it must have been a scary prospect. Can you tell us how you came to direct the movie?
I wrote the the script in about three weeks then gave it to my agent and said, "I want to direct this." I had an unfinished 16mm short film, which we showed the studio to prove I knew where to aim a camera. Next thing you know, I was in charge of a $6 million movie. It was sudden and terrifying.
Your next movie, Monster Squad, drew influences from the classic Universal Monster pictures. Given that Tristar produced your film, what difficulties did you face recreating the Universal Monsters.
As you can guess, the Universal make-ups are copyrighted, so it was a tightrope walk to make them recognizable while not treading on the copyrighted elements. Luckily, we had the great Stan Winston and his team designing the monsters, so it was kind of hard to go wrong. And I'm on record in thinking our Creature is one of the three best monster costumes ever made for movies (the others are ALIEN and the original Creature).
Both of these movies have gained huge cult followings over the years and continue to screen around the world. Has their longevity amazed you?
Another movie you wrote was Ricochet, starring Denzel Washington. This was directed by Russell Mulcahy who has a highly stylised approach to cinema. Did this movie turn out the way you had envisioned it?
I had actually written RICOCHET as a Dirty Harry movie. When Clint Eastwood deemed it "too grim" (which is funny if you've seen a Dirty Harry movie), the producer Joel Silver took in a different direction. I met Kurt Russell about starring in it with me directing, but eventually it became the movie you know. I counted seven things of mine left in the finished product. Great cast though, and Russell is a Facebook friend.
One of my favourite movies growing up was If Looks Could Kill. Again you are only credited for “story only”. Were you involved at all and did the final cut bare any resemblance to what you had originally written?
This was an original script I'd written called TEEN AGENT, which was my attempt to blend the Anthony Michael Hall character from John Hughes' films with a James Bond adventure. The final product is not at all what I envisioned, not the least reason being they cast a "cool" guy to play the nerdy lead, which kind of defeats the comedy. I'm not a fan, but the movie has its moments. (Trivia: the female lead was named "Mariska" after my college friend Mariska Hargitay -- who went on to star in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit")
You directed Robocop 3. Can you tell us a bit about how this came to you and what it was like to work with the legendary Frank Miller?
I was a huge fan of Frank's comics work, particularly his take on Batman (which redefined the character and influenced every incarnation since -- including the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films). Frank had written ROBOCOP 2 with Walon Green, and when I came aboard #3 I learned he had written a draft for that one, too. Rather than toss it, I fought to keep as much unused material as possible from both of his ROBOCOP scripts. The fact that the studio wanted a PG-13 made things tricky, since Frank's voice as a writer is not exactly "family friendly." I'm sure he thinks I destroyed his vision, but a lot of ROBOCOP 3 is his -- especially the Japanese/samurai element and the notion of a corporate, fascist police force. I loved working with him, and I loved making him laugh.
I couldn’t ask you questions without mentioning Tales From The Crypt. What a show! Your episodes were among the series best. How did you become involved?
I was thrilled to be asked to write the first one by Robert Zemeckis, and continued to hang around for the first season. Each episode was a little movie, and I got to work with my heroes, Like Bob Z., Dick Donner, Walter Hill, etc., etc. It was a dream.
What have been your highest and lowest moments in the industry?
Highest would be the one-two punch of making CREEPS and SQUAD back-to-back. Lowest would be the critical reaction to ROBOCOP 3.
You haven't produced much over the past few years; will you return to the directors or writers chair?
Believe me, we writers scribble a lot of scripts that are never shot, so I've actually never gotten OUT of the writer's chair! As for directing, I'm definitely available but the phone doesn't ring like it used to.
What defines good “genre”, to you?
I think when a fantastical idea is treated seriously and with realism. The second you start making fun of the genre you're in, you're entering "camp" territory and that's something I just have no taste for. Good genre is work that has integrity and is true to itself. I'm also tired of remakes and reboots. More originals, please.
If you could have written one film in the history of cinema, which would it be?
Great question. I'd love to have my name on THE TERMINATOR or BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Do you have a favourite film?
What inspires you?
Great movies, great television. Sometimes music and art. Right now I'm in total awe of "Breaking Bad."
I feel like I've never known how to write for television, and Vince Gilligan has kind of shown me how it's done.
Who have been some of your favourite filmmakers of the past few years?
Honestly, my heroes are mostly old school (or dead). But apart from Spielberg, Kubrick, Peckinpah, Coppola, guys like that, I'd say more recently: Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, The Coen Brothers, Lars Von Trier, Rian Johnson. I admire Shane Carruth, but I can't begin to decipher his films. There's also an English director I've discovered recently named Andrea Arnold, whose work is sensational. Oh and Alfonso Cuaron. CHILDREN OF MEN was amazing, and GRAVITY looks even better!
What is a question you have never been asked in an interview?
"What's the great, unmade Fred Dekker film?"
Would you care to answer it now?
Thought you'd never ask. The feature film of JOHNNY QUEST, based on the 1960s animated series. I had a deal to make it in the 80s, then later wrote a script for Warner Brothers, but it was never made.
I am based in Australia and a question I ask most of my guests is whether they have any favourite Australian films. Do you?
I'm afraid my answer is going to be rather predictable: THE ROAD WARRIOR. George Miller is god.