"The Hole" Director Joe Dante Conjures Old-School Scares

The helmer of 'The Howling' and 'Gremlins' is still crafting terror with a hefty side of humor..

By Scott Huver
|  Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012  |  Updated 2:54 PM EDT
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Director Joe Dante Conjures Old-School Scares

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Director Joe Dante

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With his latest film “The Hole,” director Joe Dante’s inviting you to follow him down into a shadowy world where you never quite know what’s going to happen.

Dante began his career as one of the wave of a then-emerging generation filmmakers – Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Landis and Joe Johnston and Tim Burton among them – who grew up voraciously consuming a massive diet of movies, TV shows, cartoons and comics both good and endearingly bad. Dante distinguished himself with an approach to movie-making that was both deeply reverential and wildly irreverent at the same time, resulting in a string of movie hits that remain fondly remembered, including “Piranha,” “The Howling,” “Gremlins,” “Explorers,” “Innerspace” and “The ‘Burbs.”

With “The Hole,” which made its debut on video-on-demand and home video Oct. 2, Dante demonstrates that the new kid has become a master of genre storytelling, deftly mixing young suburban angst and the terror of the unexpected, flavored with a twist of mischievous humor.

This film is a little different than some of your prior work, but also right in keeping with it as well. What put the project on your radar?

Well, it'd been offered to me and I'd been looking for a job – as I often am – and it wasn't like the other horror scripts that I usually get. It was very well-written. The characters were people that spoke like real kids, and I thought I knew where the script was going and then it didn't go there. It went somewhere else. That's what sort of sold me. I thought, 'Well, this is not a remake of “The Gate.” It's actually something a little more offbeat than that'

What differentiates the kind of horror that you want to work on, as opposed to many things that show up on your doorstep?

I try not to make anything I wouldn't go see, and I'm not a big fan of chop-off-your-hands and that type of thing. I've seen plenty of those, and they're fine. I think it's a kind of dead end. I think if you see 'Cabin in the Woods,' which was on the shelf almost as long as mine, that's a movie that really takes a step forward in that it gives the fans what they want, but it puts the movie in a different context and actually comments on the kinds of movies today.

You have a particular knack for blending the everyday with extraordinary horror circumstances. What things did you do to achieve that with 'The Hole'?

Well, I think that horror movies are essentially absurd anyway, and A) they need humor because if you don't put humor in them, the audience will find it in the wrong place, and B) I think that you have to contrast the horror with something normal. ... I like to try to keep people off balance a little bit, and in this movie, it starts off with a dysfunctional family – you can’t have an indie movie without a dysfunctional family – and then as it develops, it's about your worst fears, and each of their worst fears are obviously personal to them. So, we have three major acts and three different stories of fear.

As someone who’s been quite a student of filmmaking techniques, how was designing this film for 3-D, and what do you like about what's happening currently in 3-D in context to the historical version of the effect?

I'm old enough to have seen these 3-D movies in the theater when I was a kid, and I always loved 3-D, even Viewmasters – I couldn’t get enough of those. My favorite 3-D movie is 'Dial M For Murder,' Hitchcock's murder mystery that didn’t even get released in 3-D, though it was shot in 3-D. The use of space in that is really quite remarkable, and that's sort of my template. That's the one I always go to when I have a problem, and of course that technique, 3-D on film, was always very flawed because there was so much jitter in the projector and jitter in the camera. The guys had to try to focus it, and it was just difficult to make work. But now, with today's digital system all those problems are gone and you really can get a remarkable image out of it…I think 3-D is an art form and when done correctly, I think, can really enhance a movie.

 

Where do you want to go, moving forward? What kinds of films do you want to make and what challenges are you looking for?

Every movie is different, and I’ve just watched the technology change since I started in the business from 1975 to now. We don't even shoot on film anymore. And I think the movies as I knew them, this twentieth century art form called movies, went away with the 20th century. Now that we're in a new century it's becoming a new art form. No one knows exactly what it is and where it's going, or how it's going to be delivered or who it's going to be made for. But it's an exciting time to be in the movie business and it's also kind of a terrifying time, because no one really knows exactly where it's going and there's a lot of fear.

Have your successes allowed you to sort of continue to march to the beat of your own drum and do things how you want to do them, or have you had to adapt to certain things?

Well, we all have to adapt. I think the ability to impose your own personality on a project is limited by how expensive the movie is. Obviously, the more expensive it is the more the people with the money behind it would like it to be homogenous, so you end up losing some of the personal touches and rough edges and that kind of thing. So, I've become more comfortable in the indie world, where budgets aren't so high and the scrutiny is not so extreme.

Is 'Gremlins' a franchise that you'd have an interest in revisiting at any point?

I think I'd be interested. I don't somehow think that's the way it's going to be. I don’t think there’s going to be a ‘Gremlins 3’ with the same characters and continuing that story. It’s probably going to be re-imagined – it will probably be revamped and they’ll start over.

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