Judge Eric Profancik recently had the pleasure of interviewing the director of Night of the Creeps, Fred Dekker. Back in 1986, Fred wrote the script and was able to convince people that, even though he was young and inexperienced, he was the man to direct the movie. And so he did. While the film never attracted widespread box office attention, it has become a cult classic, fully loaded with all the quirky qualities you would expect from the '80s. Fred would later go on to direct another horror favorite, The Monster Squad, Robocop 3, and worked as a writer/producer on Star Trek: Enterprise... a topic Eric (our resident Trek guru) found very hard not to discuss. We commend his restraint.
Please note: For those who have not yet seen Night of the Creeps, there are spoilers contained within this discussion. Consider yourself warned.
Judge Eric Profancik: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about Night of the Creeps.
Fred Dekker: My pleasure.
EP: I'll tell you briefly, I am a fan of the movie. I stumbled across it in the '90s. Had the VHS for years, watched it all the time, until my VCR went the way of the dodo. So I was excited to hear it was coming to DVD and Blu-ray.
FD: It's been a long time coming.
EP: I had a chance to sit down and watch it this week, after not seeing it for quite a few years, and the movie was better than I remembered. I recall this silly little horror film, but looking at it now I see a good movie. It's still campy, but for your first time out, you had a style ahead of its time. I would even say it transcends its humble roots.
FD: Thank you very much.
EP: How or when did you realize the film had developed a cult following?
FD: Only in the last couple of years, really. The rise of the internet has created a global community that's very different from the old days. When I was a comic book fan and a movie fan, when I was growing up in the '70s, you had to go to comic conventions to really see a whole bunch of other people that thought the way you do. Comic conventions weren't then what they are now. There were some high school movie clubs and whatnot but mostly it was you and your friends. And now you realize there's all these people all over the place, pockets literally the whole worldwide who share these feelings about these things. So I started finding lots of hits about the movie on the internet, and people praising it or saying it was a favorite of theirs. I did a double-bill of Night of the Creeps and Monster Squad recently in Los Angeles and it was really fun, and we had a Q&A. In between the two films, I asked how many of them were there to see Monster Squad and the roof caved in; it was very nice and very sweet. And then how many people were here to see Creeps and it was even a bigger response. I realized that whereas Monster Squad appeals, I think, to a very kind of... I wouldn't say more youthful... it's a little bit more of a mainstream movie. Creeps has a slightly punk quality to it and that there are a lot of people out there that appreciate it, that kind of slightly darker tongue-in-cheek approach. That's really when it hit me that there was a groundswell.
EP: What's it like having cult hits? I presume you'd rather have a mainstream hit.
FD: You know, yeah but, there's something... I love movies, and there are movies that are very important. I think ultimately, cult or mainstream, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it's a movie that people love. There are a lot of films and a lot of filmmakers who have done better than I have in terms of output, awards, recognition, money, and all that stuff. To have this movie that people have really taken to their heart, you can't buy that.
EP: That's true. Have you had a big cult moment where "this" wouldn't have happened with a mainstream movie?
FD: I've been really gratified and even moved by the response I've had at screenings of my films. The last time we showed, actually it was the world premiere of the director's cut of Night of the Creeps, was in Austin, Texas, at the Alamo Drafthouse. I was introduced, came out, and the response from the audience made me feel like a rock star. I think that's the moment. There's another moment at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. They had a 24-hour horror movie marathon and they showed Monster Squad, and I came out and I felt like Mick Jagger. I wish this translated into Hollywood calling and offering me movies, but that's not the way it works.
EP: I was surprised. You have great imagination and talent, it's sad to see you haven't had a chance to do more.
FD: Hollywood really only has one thing on its mind and that's making money. Night of the Creeps did not do well when it opened and the following film, Monster Squad, also did not do well. It took many years for them to find their audience. But unless it translates into box office, it's very a tough road.
EP: Why did it take so long for this movie to make it to DVD?
FD: Because the fan base took a while to take hold. It had its fans when it opened, but because it was not hugely successful, because the release pattern was not... Nowadays a movie comes out and Zombieland is on 4,000 screens. Well, back then, there just weren't that many screens and it didn't work that way. What happened was people discovered it like you did -- on cable or late night TV or picking it up at the local video rental store. And it began to acquire this fan base that began to grow and grow. Ultimately Sony saw the writing on the wall and a lot of people really want this, maybe we should pony up.
EP: With all the other, lesser films out there, it's funny they would hold anything back at this point.
FD: It's all about somebody in a room in some building in Los Angeles. Can we make money by pressing x-number of this particular title?
EP: I hope you're vindicated and get a whole lot of sales in a couple of weeks.
FD: Thank you. Thank you very much. I hope so too.
EP: I watched the Blu-ray and I must say the movie looks and sounds great. I was surprised at how much it jumps off the screen. Your commentary track with...
FD: ...Michael Felsher
EP:...was very entertaining. It's a very good track. You share a lot of technical stuff and gossip; and your honesty is a refreshing change of pace. [Fred chuckles.] Did you have any input on the Blu-ray?
FD: Yes. There's a guy by the name of Bill who supervised the transfer and he had me come in two or three times. We very meticulously went through the film and made sure I was happy with the color correction, with the density, and the black and the contrast. It was really like re-timing the movie, so it was really a lot of fun to be back and give it a new life. We also did a 5.1 [audio] tweak; not really a remix, a tweak. And I'm very wary of...like my favorite movie of all time is Jaws; and I bought a DVD of Jaws years ago and it had been remastered and re-mixed for 5.1. As soon as the movie started something felt wrong about it, and I immediately decided that if my films were to be put out on DVD that the original mix has to be available on there somewhere because tweaking it just changes the movie. But I have to say that the changes we did are very subtle. Only I and the sound team really know where they are; and I think it does add a little bit more, particularly if you have a good system.
EP: Did you have any say on the extras?
FD: The biggest triumph for me with this DVD is that it's the director's cut, and I put the original ending back on the movie where it belongs. That was the most important thing for me. The special features were supervised by Michael Felsher, who does the commentary with me, and he's a master. He also did Monster Squad for Lionsgate. He really is a fan of the movie and talked to all the people that made it, and there's a real affection in all this stuff. I think it's a great package.
EP: There's a lot of good stuff, like the hour-long retrospective. You mentioned this in the commentary, but I think you're a bit hard on yourself, that you want to change the pacing and speed it up. I would respectfully disagree [Fred laughs], and I think you have a very good pace and it unfolds well. You've changed the ending; were there any other changes you would like to have made?
FD: If I had my druthers, that puppet zombie dog drives me crazy. But what's funny is that it gets a laugh. I think I say this in the commentary so I may be repeating myself. I found a valuable lesson in those little aliens in the beginning because I knew I wanted them to seem alien, so what if I get little people? It didn't occur to me that it would get a laugh, and it always does. As soon as the aliens show up, it gets a laugh. And even though I didn't intend for there to be a laugh there, it allows the audience to collectively realize that it's OK for you to laugh at the movie. What it does, it let's me off the hook for the rest of the movie. And, in fact, the surprising moments now are the serious ones. You're not surprised when there's something funny but you are surprised when something becomes really emotional and serious.
EP: It's funny with the aliens, as I watched the sequence, it looks like they were from the Star Wars stormtrooper academy. They can't shoot straight down a corridor and stop this guy.
FD: [He laughs] It's a very small corridor and you've got to give them a bit of leeway.
EP: I got a vibe from the beginning of the movie with Jason Lively and Steve Marshall -- they have a great chemistry -- and right off the bat I was thinking they remind me of the guys from Weird Science. I was wondering, did you think that way?
FD: No, not Weird Science particularly. But John Hughes was a big influence on me, in some ways subconsciously, because I saw all his movies at that time when they came out. I think that certainly [Anthony] Michael Hall and John Cusack and the kids in Sixteen Candles... I think that Hughes was a big influence on this movie without realizing it at the time. But not specifically Weird Science.
EP: Are there any autobiographical influences in those guys?
FD: Oh definitely. Chris [Jason Lively] is very much me: the kind of college guy, his heart is on his sleeve, looking for pretty girls and hoping to fall in love. And that was very much me. And [I was] kind of a nerd.
EP: The zombie dog, let's circle back to that. You're right, it is a bit cheesy looking, but I was wondering how could you kill the cat? I mean, nobody kills the cat in a movie. I didn't notice, but how did Gordon (the cat) die and who buried him?
FD: That's actually a question you will find answered in the special features in the DVD. There's a scene where the girls allude to the fact that something's happened to Gordon. But in the deleted scenes you'll find a brief shot of the grave outside. So presumably he was creeped. There's creeps all outside, inside the sorority anyway so the cat probably was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we never shot a scene where Gordon the cat gets creeped.
EP: That's true. And as you said in the features, those creeps really do work well as simple as they are on their little motors or being pulled on the monofilaments. Very effective. Just think all the work CGI people today would go to do that.
FD: Yeah. Less is more.
EP: Now I'm nitpicking... How could J.C. [Stephen Marshall] be dead, yet cognizant enough to make that tape?
FD: Well... [Fred takes a deep breath]... I think J.C. is very special. I think that he has certain traits that enable him to overcome in that moment, over that period of time, to overcome whatever it is to leave that last message for Chris. That's the only thing I can think of.
EP: The power of friendship.
FD: Exactly. Well put.
EP: We have Chris approaching the big battle at the fraternity house. He shows up with the shotgun and the flamethrower and he hands Cindy the shotgun. But in the next scene she's wearing the flamethrower and he's freaking out, "Use the flamethrower."
FD: So your question is why didn't he just let her shoot the shotgun and why didn't he wear the flamethrower?
EP: Yes, if he's going to freak out like that.
FD: The answer to that is very simple. First of all there's a nice little joke in handing her the gun, "Here hold this you'll feel better." And that always get a huge laugh. So that's why he hands it to her. So we can have that little moment. And then for my money you can't beat the visual of this beautiful girl in a ball gown with a f---ing flamethrower. You can't beat that. It wouldn't be as interesting if just Chris were just wearing that.
EP: She looks really good at the end. I mean not only being pretty but just being ready to kick ass.
FD: That was the same year as Aliens but that wasn't as common as it is now. Babes kicking ass was relatively fresh and new. I also like she's relatively small and really, really cute and that it makes it work all the more because she's blowing heads off.
EP: When's the sequel coming?
FD: If you tell everyone in this piece to buy two copies of the DVD or Blu-ray, the more we sell the more Sony will be interested in funding the sequel.
EP: You have to have something written down, some ideas jotted or at least something started, right?
FD: I'm noodling something, but, again, unless our sales are through the roof they won't be interested. But Chuck Gordon and I have discussed it, I've talked with the cast about it, and it's something that I think we all would really be interested in doing if only to spend more time together.
EP: I honestly don't know anything about this topic and I haven't Googled it, and I wasn't sure how to take your reaction in the audio commentary, but Beal Carrotes...
FD: [He whispers] Oh Jesus.
EP: There we go.
FD: No comment.
EP: OK, I'll have to Google this. I'm lost but I think I have an idea.
FD: No comment.
EP: Interesting. Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to share?
FD: Not at all. Just, I'm thrilled that it's finally available and hope everybody goes out and buys it.
Take a moment to check out Eric's review of Night of the Creeps (Blu-ray) and, as Fred requested, go out and buy two copies of the movie.