Fred Dekker

Roger Cobb's House

Interviews House Creator Fred Dekker

HouseFRED DEKKER was born and raised in the San Francisco bay area, where he began making amateur films at the age of 12. He later attended UCLA and became friends with a small group of Hollywood hopefuls that dubbed themselves "the Pad O' Guys" in reference to their bachelor lifestyle and the dingy Los Angeles house many of them shared during the 1980s. This group included Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Ryan Rowe (Charlie's Angels), Jim Herzfeld (Meet The Parents), David Silverman ("The Simpsons"), Greg Widen (Backdraft) and Ethan Wiley (the House movies).

In the mid-80s, Dekker's first unproduced screenplay, The Forever Factor, paved the way for a career which includes -- as writer and director -- Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad, the "Tales From The Crypt" TV series, and RoboCop 3. He also contributed (uncredited) to films like Ricochet, Titan A.E. and Lethal Weapon 4. Dekker wrote the screenplay for the feature version of Jonny Quest for Warner Bros. and more recently, created and wrote the pilot script for "Rocket City" a proposed television series for Columbia/TriStar. In 1997, Fred married writer Moira Kirland Dekker, now a writer and story editor for the James Cameron/Fox series "Dark Angel".

- As the creator of the House franchise, can you tell us about the conception of the original idea and how it evolved?

My college pals and I wanted to be filmmakers. Between beers (or because of them), we decided to embark on a group endeavor inspired by Twilight Zone: The Movie. Each of us would direct our own segment of a video anthology (only two stories were actually filmed -- by Chris Maes and James Cappe). Although I shot a wraparound segment about a writer's word processor developing a mind of its own to create the stories we see (the segment starred Ethan Wiley as the hapless writer and it was filmed in Steve Miner's Santa Monica office), my actual segment for the omnibus was never realized.

Big Ben MaskI did concoct a script, however. It concerned a Vietnam vet haunted by a skirmish with the enemy in which one of his platoon was mortally wounded. When his agonized screams threatened to give away their position, our protagonist killed his friend -- an act that continues to haunt him years after he has returned home from the war. Seeking counsel, our protagonist meets a beautiful young VA psychologist and, naturally, romance blooms. As he grows closer to the woman, he begins to experience visions of his dead, rotting war buddy who appears to have returned from the grave to sabotage the relationship. These visions increase in intensity, finally resulting in our hero's violent death. We are left to wonder, was he the victim of his dead friend's vengeful ghost? Or is it his own guilt -- indeed, America's lingering guilt about the war -- playing tricks on his mind and causing him to commit suicide?

It was a pretentious, Rod Serling-esque allegory as well as an excuse to do rotting zombie effects (Shane Black would pick up this thread for his first screenplay, Shadow Company; a script about a zombie platoon that he and I later tailored for John Carpenter). But at least my story was about something; a horror yarn in the grand tradition of Serling or Roald Dahl or even -- Gasp! Choke! -- the classic EC Comics that would later put money in my pocket.

At this same time, I was mulling how to break into directing professionally. Thanks to people like Steve, Sean Cunningham and Carpenter (all of whom I eventually had the privilege of working with) horror films were very big then, and a low-budget horror flick was pretty much a no-brainer as an entré into the business (the same way 'violent-wise-cracking-criminals-with-guns' is the now-boring, post-Tarantino choice).

HouseMy initial idea for a directorial debut was this: A guy goes into a house at the beginning... at the end, he comes out... and in-between is the scariest shit I could possibly think of! It would be a straightforward haunted house movie, and I would film it in my parents' hundred year-old Victorian in Marin County, California. But for some reason, I was putting off actually writing the screenplay. This might have been laziness... or fear of tackling a politically dicey, thematically ambitious premise. Or maybe I was just too busy with my day job: writing Steve Miner's Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3D. Steve had negotiated with Toho for the rights to the big green guy, and had passed over many better-known (and better) writers to give me my first big break in the Hollywood salt mines. At some point, it occurred to me: what if my Twilight Zone-ette and my scary haunted house movie were one and the same? What if my protagonist is the Vietnam vet, and the reason he's going into the house is to exorcise his personal demons once and for all?? The heck with my "Pad O'Guys" anthology video -- I had a real movie idea now!

House  MontageEnter Ethan Wiley. Ethan was my college roommate and remains one of my best friends. We had written plays together in college, had often collaborated, and after I pitched my idea for House (yes, the title is mine), his response was immediate and enthusiastic: "Sounds great! Let me take a crack at it!" He finished a script in roughly the time it takes me to go to the bathroom.

Cue ethical dilemma. Here my buddy had done what I had been too lazy to do: he actually sat down and wrote the damn thing! Now I had a script and a house to shoot in, all I needed was financing.

There was one problem (not counting the getting-the-financing business) -- it was not that I didn't like the script, only that it veered from my initial vision in a rather dramatic way: It was a comedy. What I had conceived as a gritty, black-and-white, William Friedkin-style character-study-cum-ball's-out-horror-film was now a tongue-in-cheek, Mad magazine-style, effects-heavy hootenanny with goofy neighbors and comical monsters. I had a decision to make. Should I tell Ethan I wanted to make a different kind of movie and endanger the friendship?

Steve  Miner and FriendI decided to seek another opinion, preferably a professional one. I chose my boss, Steve Miner, who loved House at first sight and as it turns out (in the wake of difficulties getting Godzilla up-and-running), was looking for something of his own to direct. He showed the script to Sean Cunningham who -- it seems -- had access to that pesky ol' financing. So, with the understanding that Steve and Sean would support me directing something else in the future, I let my baby be adopted and raised by others, if you'll pardon the ridiculous analogy. Thus House was built. Two ironic footnotes: The film that ended up being my directorial debut (Night of the Creeps) was a tongue-in-cheek, Mad magazine-style comic/horror film. And its talented Second Unit Director...? Some guy named Steve Miner.

- Does the original 15 page story still exist?

Ask Ethan, but I think the mysterious 15 pages may be an urban legend. I wrote some notes, but never a full story. 15 pages is the approximate length of my original Twilight Zone script, so maybe that's where the idea got started.

- As it progressed, how did the rest of the creative team get involved?

Sean and Steve had collaborated on the Friday the 13th films, so a few of the House team came from there -- including composer Harry Manfredini and stunt coordinator Kane ("Jason" himself!) Hodder. A stand-out contributor to House and House II: The Second Story was the production designer, the late Gregg Fonseca, who would go on to design Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Wayne's World.

Roger Cobb- Were you involved in the making of the movie? Did you ever visit the set?

I may have solved a few last-minute script problems, but mostly I was a grinning by-stander. For my first big-screen credit, it was pretty awesome to walk onto the stages at Raleigh Studios (across the street from my current office at Paramount Pictures) where Gregg Fonseca had built the entire interior of Roger Cobb's house as well as a fetid, hilly Vietnam jungle. I watched them shoot several of Big Ben's scenes (both before and after his demise), and it was all very exciting considering just two years earlier, I was still a measly college student. House II was even more fun since Ethan and I were shooting at the same time at the Culver Studios in Culver City. I was doing The Monster Squad, and it was like college all over again; if I had a few spare moments, I'd nip over and watch Arye Gross battling a gun slinging zombie, then Ethan would follow me to my soundstage and watch us blow up the Wolfman. It was a time I remember with great fondness.

Marlin- Do you have any memorabilia or props from House? Or indeed, any of your movies?

I have the Monster Squad amulet, which can tip the scales between good and evil (although it couldn't prevent George W. Bush from being elected President). I also have a Kyle Secor zombie head from my "Tales From The Crypt" episode designed and built by the Kevin Yagher Studio. And on my desk, a RoboCop statuette painted for me by Rob Bottin's actual "RoboTeam." And, of course, lots of paperwork and storyboards (including some by Doug Wildey and Dave Stevens for Godzilla). I might even have that 15-page script, but you'll have to hire Lara Croft or Indiana Jones to find it.

- When did you get to see the movie and what was your opinion of it?

I assume I was invited to the premiere, but I don't remember; I think I was too busy chasing girls. I do remember looking at scenes in the cutting room with editor Michael Knue, and shortly thereafter asking him to edit Night of the Creeps. Which he did (among many other films including Rocky 5, Spawn and Highlander: Endgame).

Chimney Ghoul- Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

As stated, my version of House was very different than the one they made. But in the final analysis, I'm not sure mine would have been as successful. What Ethan and Steve brought to the project was a sense of fun, whereas I wanted to do something dour and unrelenting and probably kind of a bummer. So it probably worked out best in the end. Except, of course, for Sean Cunningham not paying me, the cheap bastard. (Just kidding, Sean!).

- Do you still have contact with anyone else who worked on House?

As I said, Ethan and I remain buddies, even though we're separated by the continental U.S. (he lives in New York, me L.A.). I visited Steve on his many of his sets, including Soul Man and Forever Young, and will always thank him for my first professional job and his infectious laugh. I began writing a high school thriller for Sean, and even though I quit after ten pages (it was eventually made as The New Kids), he still sponsored me into the Director's Guild. Last year, I had the privilege of doing the same for Horror Show director Jim "Smash" Isaac so he could make Jason X (a Sean Cunningham production, of course). Recently, I joined Bill Stout at a Godzilla convention, "G-Fest", where he showed slides of his production art for Godzilla 3D and we got to re-tell the story of my first, unmade screenplay for a ballroom full of appreciative monster fans. And so, the circle of life continues in the world of House. Now if somebody could just find that damn kid in the mirror!

House Specials

Richard Hescox

 

Roger Cobb's House

Interviews House Artist Richard Hescox

- Hi Richard! And welcome to 'Roger Cobb's House' !

Hello Vanished Son.

- Would you be kind enough to give us a quick history of your life and career?

I was born in 1949 in Pasadena, California. Thats just a few miles from Hollywood. The mandatory ego of any artist came out in me in grade school art classes when I thought that my drawings were better than those of the other kids, and was fed when they always asked me to draw dinosaurs for them. A fear of honest work led me to attend and graduate with honors from the Art Center Collage of Design in Los Angeles. Since then I have made my living from art. Almost entirely in the areas of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I have painted over 130 book covers, numerous motion picture advertising images including the release poster for the movie "Swamp Thing" and production art for films such as "House", "The Howling", and "The Philadelphia Experiment".

- So how did it come about that you were to work on the 1985 horror-comedy 'House' starring William Katt? Who first contacted you?

Art by Richard HescoxI was sharing a studio at the time with artists Bill Stout and Paul Chadwick. Bill was always working on one movie project or another and his friend, Director Steve Miner was often dropping by. The year before, as I recall, they were working on pre-production artwork for a proposed "Godzilla" remake with stop motion animation for the monster and San Francisco as the city to be destroyed. Unfortunately, that project got canceled. The Japanese decided to make there own "new" version with another man in a suit monster. Anyway, he hired Bill to do the paintings for the "House" Movie. As was often the case, Bill had lots of work and he didn't think that he would have enough time to do them all, so he asked me to do some of them.

- Did you see a script of the film? Or did you work off some other kind of brief or proposal?

All I got to go on was general conversation with Bill and Steve about the plot and the type of art he wanted for Aunt Elizabeth.

Art by Richard Hescox- How did you and Bill Stout divide the workload?

There was one large important painting (the one in the garage) and Bill wanted to do that one. It was his assignment after all. All the other "set decoration" images got assigned to me. I was glad to do them as it was a break from the more restrained commercial work that tended to fill up my schedule.

- Who did you communicate with concerning the themes for the Artwork? Was it Director Steve Miner?

Basically we both did up thumbnail sketches of as wild ideas as we could think of and then showed them to Steve and we picked the wierdest and most disturbing to go ahead with.

- How many pieces did you paint? And where was the bulk of Aunt Elizabeth's work done?

I did four paintings and Stout did the one. If there were many more paintings on the walls, I think that they were various props that were found to fill up the background. I dont think there were more originals painted. All of the paintings were done in the studio we shared then, not too far from the La Brea tar pits.

Art by Richard Hescox- For any of amateur painters out there, can you recall what particular techniques you used ? Or any problems you encountered in the creative design and execution of the work?

No. Sorry. Just our normal painting style.

- Can you describe to us your visit to the set? What was the purpose of the visit?

We dropped by just to have a look at the production going on. All I remember is a huge empty black space with a tiny island of light where the kitchen and a few adjoining rooms were set up. It was very quiet (soundproofed "sound stage"). The actors (George Wendt and William Katt) couldn't talk. They were sitting at the kitchen table doing scenes. It seemed very business like.

Art by Richard Hescox- Did you enjoy the way that your art appeared in the final film? Did you think that the Set Designers had achieved anything special with the project? i.e: had they created a convincing location in which to place your work?

What I saw of it, yes. I liked the staircase placement of that one picture. People got a good look at that painting as I recall. Generally my paintings were meant to hover in the background and create an ambience.

- When did you get to see the movie? And what was your opinion of it?

I got to see the movie at a "cast and crew" screening. I don't remember exactly where after all this time. It might have been at the Directors Guild Theater in Hollywood? I enjoyed the film. It didn't try to take itself too seriously. Neat special effects for it's day.

- Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

No.

Art by Richard Hescox

- Any chance there's any paintings still available that hung on the walls of the actual House during the film?

I've still got one left. That's the one of the swordfish spearing director Joe Dante. All of the other ones have been sold over the years.

- Do you know what happened to the large painting of Bill Stout's that stood out in the Garage/Studio?

Art by Richard HescoxI'm pretty sure that Bill sold that one a long time ago.

- Do you still have contact with anyone else who worked on 'House' ?

Not really. I write or speak to Stout every couple of years.

- What do you hope to achieve in the future, and what projects are you currently working on?

As an art director for Sierra on-line, I am working on a number of computer games. My current project is still nameless. For the future, I am creating a series of "Fine Art" fantasy paintings that I hope to sell through galleries. You can see some of these on my web site: www.richardhescox.com

What are your views as an artist on the helpfulness of technology in your craft as we approach the New Millenium?

As for technology, I think that for an artist it is a big seductive trap. Too many young artists use technology as a way to avoid having to learn all the basic techniques and diciplines of traditional art, and unfortunately it shows in their work.

- Thanks a lot Richard! You're a great friend to the site! On behalf of all the visitors to 'Roger Cobb's House', thankyou for making 'House' such a visual treat! We wish you every success in your future endeavours.

You're welcome, and thanks for uncovering this dark corner of my career!

House Specials

 

Artwork 2001 Richard Hescox.