Night of the Creeps: The Thrill of Fred Dekker’s B-Movie Stew

By Brian Keiper

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Credit: VHS Revival

I righted a terrible wrong recently and finally saw Fred Dekker’s great homage to all things B-science-fiction-horror, Night of the Creeps (1986). There is little that could have prepared me for what I was about to see, but the whole experience boils down to Detective Cameron’s great recurring line: “Thrill me.” It’s a dare posed by Cameron (Tom Atkins), as a proxy of the audience, toward the filmmakers themselves. “Hey, we’ve seen it all,” we say, “There’s nothing new, right? So come on, I dare you! Thrill me!”

According to Fred Dekker, the writer/director of Night of the Creeps, that’s where it all began. “The first thing that came to me for the movie was the line ‘thrill me,’” and everything else built from there.

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Writer-Director Fred Dekker on set in the 1980s.

Dekker is a self-described “monster kid” who got his first 8mm camera around age twelve and started shooting his own films. Because he had spent much of his childhood watching and loving science fiction, fantasy and horror movies on television, his tendency in filmmaking quickly gravitated in that direction. Eventually, he attended UCLA but was rejected by the film school, opting to pursue an English major instead.

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While at UCLA, he met several people who continued to be important to his film career including Shane Black, who co-wrote Dekker’s second film The Monster Squad (1987) and continued on to a prolific career of his own as a writer and director, primarily of action films. The two have recently worked together as co-writers with Black as director on The Predator (2018).

When the time came for Dekker to make his first film, these formative experiences did not go to waste. “I didn’t really…come up with the idea for this movie as much as let it sort of simmer. Because all of these science fiction and fantasy and, you know, bad B-movies, all this stuff was in my head for years…The real question is at what point did I sort of lift the lid on the stew pot and see what was there.”

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As a result, Night of the Creeps is very much a first feature with the attitude of many first features. The I-may-not-get-to-do-another-movie-so-I’m-going-to-do-everything-I-want-to-do-in-this-movie attitude. It’s an attitude that often backfires, but in this case, it’s exactly what makes Night of the Creeps so much fun!

The stew that resulted includes so much to thrill us: aliens, zombies, brain parasites, an escaped mental patient with an axe, frat guys, sorority girls, a hard-boiled detective straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel, a flamethrower, and Dick Miller! What more could audiences possibly want?

But for whatever reason, audiences stayed away in droves. There had been what Dekker describes as a “disastrous preview” that resulted in changes to the film. The first change was the garden shed sequence which adds a great action set piece to the third act as well as a zombie lawnmower kill that may have been an inspiration for Peter Jackson’s blood-soaked climax of Braindead (released in the U.S. as Dead-Alive in 1992). The other change was to drastically alter the ending. Instead of the understated original ending, involving the return of the alien ship from the opening of the film, the studio demanded what Dekker calls a “cheap scare ending,” which he delivered.

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The theatrical ending (L) versus the Director’s Cut ending (R). Credit: TriStar Pictures

Apparently, Tri-Star Pictures had no idea how to market the film. The slow, under-the-radar regional rollout to theaters did nothing to help matters. After all the love, blood, sweat, and tears poured into it, and even some good notices from The New York Times among other papers, it looked like Night of the Creeps would simply disappear.

However, a “Cult of the Creeps” slowly arose through home video and HBO showings. Fangoria magazine championed the film from the beginning, giving it a very favorable review in its Best & Bloodiest Horror Video #1 (1988) and including it in the fantastic book Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen (2003). Many television exhibitions of the show included Dekker’s original ending, giving rise to discussions of a director’s cut of the film. Eventually, that version appeared on DVD and Blu-ray, though in actuality, the only difference between it and the theatrical cut is the ending. Repertory theaters like the Alamo Draft House arranged revival screenings with cast and crew. And though it has been a slow-growing following, it is an enthusiastic one, nonetheless.

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Night of the Creeps reunion at the Alamo Drafhouse on June 13, 2009. Pictured (L to R): Steve Marshall (J.C.), Fred Dekker (writer/director), Jason Lively (Chris), Eric Vespe (film writer), Jill Whitlow (Cynthia) and Tom Atkins (Detective Ray Cameron). Credit: Sofa Dogs

Unfortunately, Dekker’s career as a director never picked up a great deal of traction. The disappointing box office of Creeps was followed by more low returns for the now equally beloved The Monster Squad (the next time you watch Night of the Creeps, keep an eye out for the ‘Go Monster Squad!’ graffiti on the wall in the bathroom scene). He was given one more shot at directing and helmed the ill-fated Robocop 3 (1993); apparently a horrible experience for him and one he rarely speaks of. His career as a writer, however, has continued and may yet lead to more directing opportunities. Or at least I hope so. Dekker has hinted in some interviews that he has an idea for a Creeps sequel.

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Writer-Director Fred Dekker on the set of RoboCop 3 (1993). Credit: Orion Pictures Corporation

If there is anything I have learned from recent repeat viewings of Night of the Creeps and a lifetime of repeat viewings of The Monster Squad, it’s that the world needs more Fred Dekker movies. So, I say, “Come on, Hollywood, give us what we want! That’s right, I dare you, I double-dare you. Thrill me!”

Sources

Darnton, Nina, “’Creeps,’ Horror Tale,” The New York Times, August 23, 1986

Kay, Glenn, Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, Chicago Review Press, Inc. 2008, 2012, electronic edition pp. 149–151

Lukeman, Adam and Fangoria Magazine, edited by Anthony Impone, Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen, Three Rivers Press, New York, New York, 2003, electronic edition Loc. 2399–2432

Post Mortem with Mick Garris, Fred Dekker Interview, August 1, 2018, Fangoria Podcast Network

Thrill Me! — The Making of Night of the Creeps, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Inc. 2009

Timpone, Anthony, Editor, Fangoria Presents Best & Bloodiest Horror Video #1, O’Quinn Studios, Inc. 1988 p.49

About the Author

Brian Keiper is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He’s also written film reviews for Ghastly Grinning and Dread Central. Follow him on Twitter @BrianDKeiper.

Follow Manor Vellum on Twitter @ManorVellum and Instagram @manorvellum.

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