In the beginning, there was George A. Romero, and he was good. Very good. So good in fact that he, perhaps serendipitously or perhaps inadvertently, created an entirely new subgenre unto itself and established himself as a preeminent master working within the ever-sophisticated milieu of horror cinema. Following his genre-defining 1969 classic, “Night of the Living Dead”, a whole undead revolution started and a veritable cavalcade of great and not-so-great imitations followed, making the 70’s and 80’s the first golden age of zombie horror. Careers were made, FX revolutionized, tropes established, and the Italians made a ton of the stuff(films, not money).
Fade back on in to 1986 when a small entry in the brain-chomper subgenre titled “Night of the Creeps”, written and directed by genre up-and-comer Fred Dekker becomes an instant cult classic with it’s black humor, meta in-jokes and subverting of genre conventions. The film is a great tilt on the old zombie formula and possesses what could be the best tagline of any eighties horror film: “The good news is, your date is here. The bad news is…he’s dead!!”. The basic plot outline is as follows: A capsule/probe containing some mean-spirited alien slugs is jettisoned by a few gnarly-looking, hairless space dwarves, enters our atmosphere and crashes into the woods where the slimy contents of the container…well…SLITHER out and begin making meaty hosts of a bunch of beefy chunk-heads from the local college, turning them into ravenous walking dead-types who go straight into your standard zombie horde destroy/eat/occupy/end humanity mode. Sound familiar? Indeed it should. That’s because this also almost exactly describes the plot for future “Guardians of the Galaxy” helmer James Gunn’s derivative, yet still quite enjoyable 2006 creature feature, “Slither”. ‘Nuff said on that count. And so with “Creeps”, Dekker had planted his foot firmly in the door with a great first film and knew that he needed to keep the momentum going. To make sure he didn’t let his 15 minutes run out too quickly, he immediately jumped into work on his follow-up feature. In fact, he actually went into pre-production while principal photography on “Creeps” was still underway. The result was another seminal cult classic and easily one of the best horror flicks of the 80’s, 1987’s “The Monster Squad”. All things were going great for the young storyteller, and he seemed destined for success.
But, sadly, ‘twas ne’er to be.
Instead, one small, yet ultimately horrible choice on the part of Dekker saw the promising filmmaker all but completely blacklisted in Hollywood, his promising career never fully recovering. That career ending move came in the form of the rarely-spoken-of-by-name, yet universally reviled(think Voldemort here) bit of celluloid trash called “ROBOCOP 3”. I cannot, in good conscience devote much time to description of the aforementioned mistake of a film. Suffice it to say…OUCH. OUCH A LOT.
You can really only put so much of this on Dekker, as he was working outside of the genre he knew and loved, and the screenplay was an atrocious mess from the outset. Production was reportedly no picnic, and while Nancy Allen returned with her always-somewhat-bland self, Peter Weller got while the getting was good and left the role behind, forcing us to try and buy into another stoic character actor in the role of our metal clad hero. How badly did this film flub and flounder? Let me count the ways…Or not. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about it and I’m not. What I WILL say is that Dekker’s career was totally derailed and he has done not much since. As ever with my cultural musings, you may be understandably asking yourself at this point, “Why should I care?” Here’s your answer…
When Dekker directed “The Monster Squad” back in ‘87, he did so from a script co-written by himself and another young screenwriter named Shane Black. Black, who was notable at that time laregly for his bit part as Hawkins, the glasses-wearing, dirty-joke spouting mercenary who got killed early on in 1980’sjungle sci fi romp “Predator”, went on to be a major player in Hollywood. Aside from writing “Lethal Weapon”, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and the first two “Iron Man” films, he also wrote and directed “Iron Man 3”. Recently, reports have surfaced that pre-production has begun on a “Predator” reboot. Insert eye roll? Sure, that likely would be the case if these tidings didn’t contain the happy news that none other than erstwhile writing duo, Dekker and Black would be re-teaming to produce the screenplay with Black himself due to return to the franchise in the directors chair. You gotta love an idustry that sees a dude going from throwaway fatality in the first film to the director of the sixth. Still, anything that has Dekker back in the arena he knows only too well is a welcome treat and we of The Face Eaters cannot wait to see how the finished product plays. At long last, DEKKER LIVES!!
KEEP IT CULT