“Making a good movie is like catching lightning in a bottle.”
That quote by Fred Dekker, director of the classic 1986 B-movie Night of the Creeps, stuck out during my conversation with him about the release of Creeps on DVD and Blu-ray this week. Although Dekker is not a household name (his biggest and last film being RoboCop 3) he has a huge cult following thanks to Creeps and his other ’80s hit The Monster Squad. By today’s standards most would denounce Creeps as bad, and wonder how Dekker actually thinks he “caught lightning” when he made it. It has aliens, zombies, frat boys, intentionally bad acting and enough one-liners to fill a book on one-liners. But, if you’re like me, you cherish it for what it is and get off on its cheesy brilliance.
I’ve been a fan of the movie ever since I bought a used copy on VHS in the early ’90s from Jumbo Video. I’ve introduced it to many friends who have in return gone on to introduce it to people who have never heard of it. It’s one of those crazy movies that you want to show people, not to mention watch over and over again. When I tried to upgrade my VHS copy a few years ago I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t out on DVD (even in a quick cheap release). About once a year I would check to see the status of it with no sign of its arrival on the horizon. That all changed earlier this year when the official announcement came that it would be getting a special director’s cut release on DVD AND Blu-ray. Fans were overjoyed and Dekker was excited to put it all together. So why the wait?
“The movie did not do particularly well when it was released. It found its fans here and there – in Germany it had quite a big fan base. But it was not a mainstream success per se. In fact it slowly found its audience through home video, television and cable. I think that the fandom reached a head in the last few years largely due to the internet,” Dekker explains over the phone from his office in Los Angeles.
With the success of The Monster Squad on DVD a few years ago Sony took notice of Dekker and Creeps, which they own the rights to as well. They allowed him to put his original ending back in the film and gave him the go-ahead for a director’s cut release.
“It’s really great to be able to put [the original ending] back on because it’s like I finally finished the movie after 20 years,” he happily notes. “The studio and I had a disagreement at the time the film was made,” he continues. “It was my fault because I presented the finale to them with an unfinished optical effect and it was frankly confusing to look at. I would explain to them to read the script again and once we get the optical finished it’s going to look great. This was also the ’80s when it was [in fashion] to end horror movies with cheap scares. Brian De Palma had done it very successfully in Carrie and then Sean Cunningham ripped him off in Friday the 13th. I finally cried uncle and did the zombie dog ending that everyone who’s seen the film is familiar with.”
Dekker was also quite young and green when he made Creeps. “I was 26 when I started making it so it was a real trial-by-fire and every day was a challenge. I think the stuff I like the most in the movie…came out of my ignorance and inexperience,” he says.
Creeps has influenced many young filmmakers including James Gunn, who made the 2006 film Slither which indirectly borrows the slimy creatures from Creeps (Dekker admits he likes Slither quite a bit and is also Facebook friends with Gunn). When Dekker was making it he was inspired by filmmakers like Ed Wood and John Hughes, and all the B-movies he watched as a kid.
“My head was just full of imagery and snippets of plot and dialogue from all the bad B-movies I’d stayed up on Saturday night to watch,” he recalls. “It was kind of an attempt to do an early version of what we call a mash-up now. Take all those things and throw them into a big blender and see if I can make a coherent story. When you have the opportunity to make your first film you want to throw in the kitchen sink because you may not get a chance to make another film. I wanted to do a romance and a film noir and a space alien movie and a zombie movie and a John Hughes comedy – this film [Night of the Creeps] is all of those things at the same time.”
Technology has drastically changed since 1986, and formats and distribution methods, such as Blu-ray and iTunes, were not even on the radar when Creeps was in production. What does Dekker think of it all?
“I’m a big fan of the film look and I’m equally suspicious of digital technology when it’s misused — particularly in bad CGI special effects. But when you have a solid negative of a movie from yesteryear like this, the digital tools are amazing at getting it to look and sound fantastic,” he points out. “I’m not a fan of re-mixing old films, especially films that we love because they have their warts-and-all sound and that’s the sound for the movie…when you change the sound you’re basically re-doing the movie. I love Steven Spielberg and George Lucas but I think when they’re re-doing certain effects in their films, they’re not doing damage but they are changing the film. I was very cautious about not doing that with the Dolby [audio] tweak for Creeps.”
Speaking about the Blu-ray release specifically his voice changes to that of amazement. “It looks fantastic. I could not be more pleased,” he enthuses.
Will Creeps be remade by a Hollywood studio anytime soon? “It’s a terrible idea. I think there’s an argument to be made that there really is no reason to make a remake of Night of the Creeps,” Dekker scoffs.
So no on a remake — how about a sequel?
“I would be interested in doing a sequel as long as it was really true to the original film, didn’t cost too much money and I could use the original cast,” the director offers.
While on the topic of the Creeps cast, which includes the amazing Tom Atkins, I ask him how it was getting back together with them to record the audio commentaries for the discs.
“It was a real reunion for us. Having some distance from the film and from not having seen them in a couple of years I realized that one of the things that makes the film work is the camaraderie and relationship of the cast. We had a great time in Austin, Texas showing the director’s cut and then doing the two commentaries.”
Although Dekker hasn’t directed a film since the 1993 bomb RoboCop 3, he has worked in television as a consulting producer for Star Trek: Enterprise (he also wrote three episodes of it) and he just turned in the script for a Cliffhanger sequel that he won’t direct but says is “fun.” His next big project is a low-budget drama called The Loss of Nameless Things and it’s a complete 180 for him.
“It’s based on a documentary about a young playwright in the ’70s named Oakley Hall III who was starting a theatre company in upstate New York. He was a very charismatic brilliant guy and he suffered a head trauma. The movie is about his seeking some kind of redemption and figuring out what his life is going to be now that he can’t be what he was going to be. I’m really excited about it. There’s no zombies, no explosions, no cyborgs or monsters. Total change of pace for me.”
It might be a change of pace but if he puts as much care and love into it as he did Night of the Creeps, it will be another gift to his audience.
Night of the Creeps is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.