Joe Dante just can’t get away from movie trailers — although, in fairness, he isn’t trying very hard. The renowned director of Piranha, The Howling, and the two Gremlins movies broke into the movie business cutting trailers for legendary schlockmeister Roger Corman. Now, in between movie projects, he curates the hugely entertaining website Trailers from Hell!, where he and his fellow TFH “gurus” like Eli Roth, John Sayles, John Landis, Edgar Wright, and Corman himself ruminate over old clips for films of almost every imaginable stripe.
The site has just released its second DVD on which, amongst other treats, you can hear Guillermo del Toro talk up Dario Argento’s Deep Red, Mick Garris extol the dubious delights of Flesh Gordon, and Dante apply his own gray matter to cult sci-fi movie Donovan’s Brain. (Plus!!! In glorious, uh, black and white!!! The DVD also includes the shot-in-just-two-days Corman classic, Little Shop of Horrors!!!)
Below, the always jovial Dante talks about the website, the unlikelihood him ever making Gremlins 3, and why an exploding helicopter is a trailer-maker’s best friend.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to set up Trailers from Hell! in the first place?
JOE DANTE: Well, I had a 35 mm trailer collection. I’d been collecting them for years and they were sitting in a vault. I thought, “Nobody sees these things. What if I just did a couple of commentaries on the trailers, the way people do for DVDs?” So I did a couple and put them up on the Internet and my friends started to see them and they said, “Oh, that’s a pretty good idea, I have some pictures I’d like to talk about.” And it just sort of snowballed into what turned out to be a website.
Please tell me that you actually have a vault with trailers, and a couple of gremlins, and a plastic piranha.
I do have a vault. Me and Scrooge McDuck. Except he’s got money in his.
I watched Volume Two last night. I just love the tidbits of information you folks give out. Like the fact that Stars Wars special effects wizard John Dykstra also worked on Flesh Gordon or that Christopher Lee witnessed the last execution ever held in France.
Yes, we have a lot of interesting trivia. It’s sort of a mini film school. You could actually teach a class in them. [Laughs]
I’ve noticed that you’ve started to feature more and more “classic” films.
It started out, we were only going to do horror and exploitation movies. Then someone said, “Well, I’d like to do Spartacus.”
Did someone else say, “No, I’d like to do Spartacus!”
No. [Laughs] It was Larry Cohen. And I thought, “Well, why not?” We can’t live on the diet of the same kind of movies all the time. So it became very eclectic.
You recently added Guillermo del Toro to your rotating cast of gurus. Who else is on your wish list?
We’re still trying to convince Quentin Tarantino to do it.
I hear he’s not much of a talker.
[Laughs] He’s just very elusive. He’s so busy. Sometimes he says, “Call me next time you’re going to do it.” And I call him and it’s, “Oh, he’s not in town.” We’ll get him sooner or later.
Do you have an all-time favorite trailer?
I tend to like the trailers that are created by the actual filmmakers. The Psycho trailer is great. The Citizen Kane trailer. Some of Otto Preminger’s trailers, where he basically hawks the movie. I always find those fun. But I started out making trailers and one of the fun things about trailers is how far you can misrepresent the movie before you should be put in jail. [Laughs] At Roger Corman, we did a lot of misrepresenting.
What film did you most misrepresent in its trailer?
You can’t really reduce it to one. We had a series of films of films that were a little dull. So we had this exploding helicopter footage that we found in a Filipino movie and we would just stick it into the trailer. If the trailer was dull we would just cut to an exploding helicopter. It didn’t matter if there was one in the movie or not.
My mother would say this is a rude question to ask, but are you making any money from the website?
Some day we would love to make money. It’s a goal. I’ve tried to keep that goal in mind through my whole career and it hasn’t really worked out that often. We have a nice cult niche spot, but it isn’t a particularly lucrative one. That was one of the reasons for the DVDs.
You’re currently in pre-production on a film called Monster Love?
What can you tell us about that?
I can tell you, in this environment, that I’m in pre-production! I mean, I’ll believe that I’m in production when somebody signs a check.
Over the last couple of years Hollywood has pretty much remade or sequelized every movie that ever existed…
They’re working on it.
…but not Gremlins. Is there any news on Gremlins 3?
No. Every so often I call Warner Bros. and say, “You guys doing anything with this?” And they always say, “No.” There was a period a couple of years ago when I think they were working on something but that fell through. I don’t know. They didn’t really understand the first movie, so I think they’re having trouble figuring out what to do, especially with the change in special effects. The first movies were defined by the technique that we used, which is now out of date. Now, with CGI anything can happen, so it’s difficult to focus the story onto something that’s going to have a point. So rather than being No. 3, I would think they would just go back to the beginning and remake it.
Would that be something you would be interested in doing? I work for Time Warner. Maybe I could put in a good word for you!
Well, that’s fine. It would be very flattering if they came to me and said, “Would you like to be involved?” But I have a feeling that they’ve moved on.