Transylvania twist

Scarin' up memories with the Monster Squad's Fred Dekker

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Director Fred Dekker on the set of his 1987 cult favorite The Monster Squad
PHOTO COURTESY OF FRED DEKKER

arts@sfbg.com

FILM For many devoted fans of horror films who grew up in the 1980s — especially those who were monster kids in spirit or became one in the ensuing years — the 1987 movie The Monster Squad has a special, firmly staked place in their hearts.

Paying tribute to the icons of the classic Universal monster pantheon while weaving a modern storyline into the mix, writer and director Fred Dekker created a now-cult favorite, a film that is scary and funny, entertaining and touching all at the same time.

Dekker, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Marin County, will appear for a post-screening Q&A after The Monster Squad unspools at the Castro Theatre, part of Midnites for Maniacs' "Heavy Metal Monster Mash" (the rest of the mash: 1981's Heavy Metal, 1984's This is Spinal Tap, 1986's Trick or Treat, and 1984's Monster Dog).

"I loved the Universal monster movies and would stay up on Saturday nights and watch those on TV, but I also loved The Little Rascals and Our Gang and Abbott and Costello," Dekker says. "The Monster Squad came out of my idea to kind of do a new take on Our Gang — kids with a club who all have their own lives apart from their parents and grown-ups — [mixed] with the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) approach, where they meet the classic Universal monsters. That was the genesis of it in a nutshell."

Although the film has finally gotten some of the recognition it deserves over the past several years, culminating in a two-disc 20th anniversary edition DVD release, along with several tributes and live events around the country, it was not considered a success at the box office when initially released.

"It was a little depressing for me because I had worked so hard on it and I felt like I hadn't connected, but I'm happy that we made the movie that we wanted to make," the director says. "We made a very peculiar kind of movie. We made it for ourselves, and a lot of the choices that seem a little politically incorrect now actually make the movie, I think, hold up better because we were true to the characters and our experience as kids. I think that people respond to that, the verisimilitude of it."

In addition to the bold, creative reimagining of the monsters and their design and characteristics, Dekker added another layer of depth to the story with the character referred to as "Scary German Guy." Viewers discover he's a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp when he tells the kids that he has dealt with "monsters" before, and the camera zooms in on his camp tattoo.

"I believe that genre stuff only really works if it's got some foot in reality that an audience can relate to," Dekker explains. "I think you have to imagine that the world you're seeing in the movie is the world you live in. It makes those fantastical elements more believable."

Dekker didn't realize that The Monster Squad had become such a beloved part of so many people's lives until a few years ago, when he was invited to a tribute event in Austin. These days, he enjoys attending screenings and events, and is looking forward to answering questions from local fans on Saturday.

"I found that the movie had this enormous following from the people who had grown up with it and taken it to heart because they saw themselves in it," he says. "It's been really gratifying in a weird way, because it did find its audience — it just took 20 years." 

MIDNITES FOR MANIACS: HEAVY METAL MONSTER MASH

Sat/16, 2:30 p.m. (Monster Squad, 4:45 p.m.)

$13 for all five films

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120