Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Director Report Card: Fred Dekker (1986-1993)

1. Night of the Creeps
“Night of the Creeps” is one of the best, as far as obscure-o eighties horror goes. The film crosses a wide selection of subgenres. We start off with pure sci-fi, head into some retro fifties footage, before finding ourselves in an eighties buddy comedy. We get some minor slasher elements before exploding into the zombie infested finale. The tone never falters and the only people who won’t go along for the ride are stuck up ass wipes.

An important reason this one endures despite the lack of availability is the strong characterization and acting. Jason Lively is a little low-key in the lead but he ultimately invokes Chris with a wide-range of impressive emotions. Steve Marshall brings just the right mix of smart-alec and pathos to J.C., the best friend most of us wish we had. It’s the relationship between the two that gives the movie its heart. It’s a very real friendship, two misfits finding someone they can count on in each other, and something a lot of people can relate too. Jill Whitlow’s Cindy Cronenberg is sweet but tough too and far more assertive then most eighties scream queens. Of course, it’s Tom Atkins that steals the show. His Detective Cameron ranks right up there with Bruce Campbell’s Ash as a great horror bad ass. While the character is a fine hero, its his insecurities that really make him human; his suicide attempt, the flashbacks, the numerous mystery penny novels strewn around his apartment that seem to suggest his tough guy persona is just a put-on. It’s without a doubt the best performance in the much under-appreciated Atkin’s long line of character roles.
In addition to the great script, Fred Dekker does a solid job as a first-time director, handling the action and gore moments like an expert. The music, a mix of low synth score and fifties pop, adds to the mood. There’s a widely YouTubed alternate ending that wound up on the cutting room floor in favor of a more conventional ending. While the other is kind of sudden, I find the original conclusion maybe wraps things up too neatly.

The wide selection of in-jokes is another reason for “Creeps” popularity among fans. Most of the characters are named after famous directors. (Hell, even the cat is.) The whole premise is sort of a modern spin on “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” which is referenced and featured. There’s even a brief shout-out to Dekker’s next classic, “The Monster Squad” by way of some bathroom graffiti. The Little Rascals are referenced throughout too, which is funny considering “Monster Squad” was originally conceived as “The Little Rascals vs. The Universal Monsters.” The movie continues to influence fans, since it long predates many of the in-joke filled horror comedies of today and was a direct inspiration for James Gunn’s “Slither.”

Basically, if you love eighties’ horror movies and get a chance to see “Night of the Creeps” through one of its occasional cable showings, watch it! It’s an underrated classic!
[Grade: A]

2. The Monster Squad
People love “The Monster Squad.” Many young horror fans in the eighties were just the right age when it came out on video. It appeals to that young sensibility on several levels.

First off, most importantly, the cast of kids are all vivid, realistically created. Most of the fans were these kids growing up. The acting is very strong from all of the young boys, though the best are Andre Gower as the leader Sean and Ryan Lambert as the cool kid Rudy. My favorite, however, is the sadly deceased Brent Chalem as Horace AKA Fat Kid whom is actually the funniest of the group. And the kids are realistically portrayed, right down to some of the homophobic dialogue. Hey, it might be ugly, but ten year old boys talk like that.

The monster designs, courtesy of effects giant Stan Winston, are awesome reinvention of the classic concepts, just different enough to be unique but still recognizable. The Gill-man looks the best even if the suit is a bit stiff. The actors in the parts are pretty good, too. Tom Noonan is a fantastic Frankenstein’s monster, Jon Gries does the reluctant werewolf bit well, and Duncan Regehr plays Dracula like the bad guy in an eighties action movie which is surprisingly effective. The rest of the supporting cast is solid too. Ashley Bank is excellent considering her age, Leonardo Cimino never overdoes it as the Scary German Guy, and Stephen Macht is very good as the conflicted cop father.
The central concept is one of the reasons the film resonates with the young and the young at heart. Its kids, kids like you and me, getting together and kicking some monster ass, and not just any monster ass, but the asses of the classic Universal monsters! What’s not to love? More memorable then anything else is the dialogue, which is highly quoted even today. “Wolf Man’s got nards!” is just the most famous of many, many great, hilarious lines.

On the down side, not all the special effects work. Some of the animatronics are a little awkward and none of the vortex effects work at all. We really could have done without the eighties pop soundtrack. Though sweet, the subplot about Phoebe and the Frankenstein’s monster feels a little overly sincere. Flaws aside, “The Monster Squad” is a classic, a fan favorite, and just so irresistibly likable. Anybody who remembers how exciting being a kid was should love this.
[Grade: A-]

3. RoboCop 3
Only so much of “Robocop 3” can be blamed on Fred Dekker. In all actually, he did the best he could, given the circumstances. His strength for comedy comes out in a handful of funny scenes (but it’s not the kind of biting satire of the first) and we at least get one likable new character.

The film’s two biggest mistakes aren’t even his fault. Peter Weller’s absence is felt so strongly. Robert Burke does an okay job, I suppose, and he gets the body language right if nothing else. But he doesn’t have the depth Weller did and it just seems wrong to hear somebody else’s voice coming out of Robo’s mouth.

Then there’s the studio meddling. The second film suffered from it too but still managed to turn out okay. (Just okay.) Here, however, it really got out of control. First, almost all the violence, grit, and social satire, all crucial parts to the series’ success, are cut out because media watchdog groups apparently thought this R-rated franchise was for kids. I feel the muddled, awkwardly paced story, though credited to the director and comic superstar Frank Miller, can probably be laid at the interfering producers’ feet as well. Some of the retarded plot decisions that can be boiled down to small words include “jetpack,” “ninjas” or “cute kid sidekick with computer hacking skills.” Seriously. If Dekker is at fault for anything, it’s the underwhelming, guns-go-off-and-people-fall-down, action sequences.
I’ll give the movie some points. There’s some talent in the cast, like a young Jill Hennessy, Rip Torn and Mako. (Both of which are underused.) Nancy Allen seems pretty depressed to be here, though. The music is good and there is a seed of a good idea somewhere. All things considered, this is a pretty sad way for the franchise to go out. And it’s also a depressing note to end Fred Dekker’s directorial career on. [Grade: D]

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