Fred Dekker Interview

Andre Gower - Sean
Robbie Kiger - Patrick
Stephen Macht - Del
Duncan Regehr - Dracula
Tom Noonan - Frankenstein
Brent Chalem - Horace
Ryan Lambert - Rudy
Michael Faustino - Eugene
Ashley Bank - Phoebe
Leonardo Cimino - Scary German Guy
Mary Ellen Trainor - Emily
Stan Shaw - Detective Sapir
Lisa Fuller - Patrick's Sister

Fred Dekker - Director/Writer
Shane Black - Writer
Jonathan A. Zimbert - Producer
Peter Hyams - Exec. Producer
Rob Cohen - Exec. Producer

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Est. 9th December 2001

Welcome to S31 - The Monster Squad (Fred Dekker Interview)

Interview with Fred Dekker

[The following is an excerpt from an interview between Fred Dekker and Tony Brownfield of]

Everybody here at Shotgun Reviews loves The Monster Squad. In fact, it's kind of hard to figure out a way into the topic. How did that project originate with you and Shane Black?

Any discussion of The Monster Squad has to start with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (hereafter “A&CMF”). As a boyhood fan of both Abbott and Costello and the Universal monster series, this was probably the Holy Grail of my pre-teen years. Only later did I come to appreciate how difficult it is to pull off a “comedy/horror” film (obviously, it’s the genre I explored with mixed results in Night of the Creeps). A&CMF is an exception; a movie that is genuinely hilarious and scary at the same time. An American Werewolf in London would be another, coincidentally made by another A&CMF fan, John Landis. But I’d have to say there are only a handful of other films that have pulled off this difficult balancing act (I’m not a fan of Fright Night or the Scream movies).

As a kid, l also loved the Little Rascals shorts that ran on local TV (my favorites are the first talkies through to 1936 or ’37). After Creeps, the idea of an “Our Gang” meeting the classic Universal monsters seemed appealing to me; an obvious tribute to my misspent youth in front of the television. Shane was a college buddy and we shared a love of many things, including A&CMF. He had just started writing, which meant I could still afford him. So I asked him to take a crack at a first draft of Monster Squad based on a story we concocted together. It ended up being a 50/50 collaboration, to the point where I honestly can’t remember who wrote what. The 100-Year-Old-Amulet-That-Can-Tip-The-Scales-Between-Good-And-Evil is pretty much every episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” but I can’t remember where we got it, although Shane may have read Lovecraft at some point since he’s as voracious a reader as I am a film buff.

I showed the script to producer Jonathan Zimbert who was then partnered with director/writer/cinematographer Peter Hyams, a hero of mine for films like Capricorn One and Hanover Street. Although Peter was not crazy about Night of the Creeps, he did like the Monster Squad script and agreed to produce the movie. We made a deal with a company called Taft/Barrish, whose bigshots Keith Barrish and Rob Cohen (also a director and a great guy) executive produced.

Obviously, my first preference was to do the picture at Universal, which would allow us to resurrect the classic Jack Pierce make-ups. In their infinite wisdom, Universal passed (look at the mileage they get out of those monsters NOW! Again, ahead of our time, I guess). So the great Stan Winston designed our monsters, all in the spirit of Universal without crossing the copyright line. I was particularly happy with the Creature… sorry, “Gill Man” (played by FX genius Tom Woodruff) and the mummy, who I decided was probably a boy prince when he was mummified. I wondered why mummies were always depicted as big and lumbering. Besides, we already had a big lumbering guy.

The shoot was a baptism-by-fire. My hero Peter Hyams turned out to be a stern father figure, who sometimes wanted things done his way or the highway. Much of the time, we agreed, but when we didn’t, it got sticky. To make matters worse, the crew was made up of people he’d worked with before, so if there were sides to pick, they mostly picked his. Peter’s input was mostly in casting and shooting style. Creeps had been an aesthetic I like: moving camera, bright colors, wide lenses; Peter’s is more smoky and classic, earth tones, long lens master shots, that kind of thing. Our styles clashed a bit (I think Rob Cohen kept Peter from firing me) until he finally decided I knew what I was doing. For this reason, the last third of the movie -- I think the best part -– I was left totally alone. It was great shooting in wide-screen (Panavision), and I loved working with cinematographer Bradford May, now a highly paid TV director. Oh, and the kids were all terrific.

I had also loved Bruce Broughton’s music for Silverado -- its playful combination of pastiche, emotion and rousing adventure -- so I asked him to score the movie before we even started shooting. I think the score is one of his best, and added immeasurably to the feel of the movie. Peter subsequently hired Bruce for several of his films, so he must have thought I was doing something right.

In the final analysis, I can’t decide if the movie’s box office failure was the studio’s fault, or the audience’s (I’ll take the fall for RoboCop 3). Tri-Star did the best they could with something that straddled kid’s movie, comedy, and horror, and this was years before these elements became mainstream (Goosebumps, Harry Potter, etc.) I think parents were afraid their kids would be scared, and teens and adults thought it was a kids’ film, so we ended up with, essentially, no audience.

Until the magic of home video, of course.

Speaking of which: all Monster Squad fans should unite and write your favorite home video company requesting a new, remastered, widescreen DVD (with director audio commentary, of course!). I don’t want to be self-serving by starting the ball rolling, but you guys can -- Just pretend it was your idea! A letter-writing campaign will have more effect than a phone call from a sniveling director. Those pan-scanned VHS tapes must be banished into the vortex!

Here's a really specific question about The Monster Squad: when Rudy is fighting the monsters toward the end, we definitely see him kill two of Dracula's brides. However, to my recollection, the third is never shown as being slain onscreen. Could you explain that bit?

I learned many valuable lessons from editor Jim Mitchell, and one thing he taught me was cheating. Next time you look at the movie, check out the kids in the scary mansion being stalked by the monsters while Sean tries to figure how to spring the trap door. In one shot, Eugene’s holding Pete the dog. In the next, Pete’s on the ground. In the next, he’s back in Eugene’s hands. And so on. Jim would say, “If the audience is watching the dog while the kids are about to be killed by monsters, we’re in big trouble.” In other words, editing is cheating. The trick is not to get caught. (At the end of the movie, as the vortex recedes, Phoebe repositions herself behind a bench, then – in a reaction shot – is back where she started. That always drove me crazy, but we never fixed it.) As for the vampire brides (two of them played by college crushes of mine, the third by a stuntwoman), my eye was on getting to the next story beat: Dracula/Bat, Sean’s Dad arrives, Wolfman, etc. I figured, “We know Rudy’s killing the brides, so let’s move on.” In other words, I cheated on the third bride. You just caught me, that’s all. (Here’s a question: where do the vampire brides’ bodies go when the sheriffs’ cars drive up to battle the Wolfman and the Creature? Also, why is Frank sucked into the vortex when he’s one of the good guys? Damn! Maybe I should look at this movie again.)

Why do you think that movie (The Monster Squad) resonates so strongly with the viewers who saw it in their teens?

Truly, I have no idea, but I’ll take a crack at it. It’s the same reason Harry Potter and “Buffy” and Nickelodeon are all so popular now. Two words: Teen Empowerment. John Hughes aside, how many movies were made in the ‘80s that didn’t depict kids as cliches (horny, jocky, nerdy, stupid)? Answer: not a lot. Here was a movie with a simple premise: Grown-ups don’t get it. It featured teens who are smart and resourceful, who form a club based on mutual interest, who tease but do not rebuke each other, who do not let their personal problems get in the way of friendship, and finally, most importantly, have enough simple, pure IMAGINATION to solve a problem in an unconventional way. In other words, smart teens who save the world: How could that not resonate with teen viewers? Of course, that’s just my theory.