Joe Dante talks 'The Hole'
In director Joe Dante’s new movie The Hole a pair of young brothers (Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble) and their neighbor (Haley Bennett) investigate a mysterious chasm in the basement of the siblings’ house and are forced to deal with the array of terrifying unpleasantness which emerges from said aperture. Like Dante’s pair of Gremlins movies, the result is a family-friendly venture which may have younger clan members viewing the action through trembling fingers. “It’s my revenge,” laughs Dante. “That’s how I watched Tarantula in 1955. I forced my father to take me to see this giant spider movie and I’m so scared that I’m in the lobby peeking in. My poor father was left sitting alone watching a giant spider movie.”
Below, Dante talks more about The Hole — which is playing at the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles and at selected cinemas in Atlanta from this Friday and is available on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray October 2. He also ruminates on the future of his excellent Trailers From Hell! website and explains why legendary actor Bruce Dern is a good man to have around on trivia quiz night.
The Hole is definitely a movie suitable for kids — but it’s also very creepy at times. Is it difficult to strike that balance?
Well, I’ve done this kind if thing before but in this case it was a little more difficult. The appeal of the script to me was that it didn’t go where I thought it was going to go. There have been movies with similar setups, where there’s a hole and somebody has to go down. What comes out of it? Are they little monsters? What? And in this movie the answer was a lot more personal and actually a lot darker than I expected it to be. So the real tightrope walk was that the picture delivered the scares and got the point across to the adults of what may have been happening in this family in a way that would go over the heads a little bit of the younger kids, who would just be scared of the usual horror movie stuff.
You showed the film at the Toronto Film Festival three years ago. Why has it taken so long to reach a wider audience? There must have been 100 worse movies released in the meantime.
No, it’s not a bad movie. The mistake was mine, I think, because I convinced the producers to shoot it in 3D. 3D was just coming on. Avatar had yet to be released. Theatres were in the midst of conversions and we counted up to see how many theatres there were and it looked like a good bet. What we didn’t bet on was the new phenomenon of 2D movies being converted on computer to 3D. They flooded the available houses and we couldn’t get 3D bookings. And there really wasn’t a 2D version of the movie because this had been all planned to be 3D. So we kind of missed our window and once you do that it’s like, “Oh, now you’re not a new movie, now you’re an old movie.” So it was touch and go there for a while trying to find somebody that would actually distribute the movie.
Meanwhile, in Europe. it did fine. It got good reviews, it was welcomed, and all that. We won an award at the Venice Film Festival for Best 3D and I figured, “This movie should go places!” Then Super 8 came out and I thought, “Well, this is our audience!” The retro ‘80s audience would have been looking for something like this had we been able to get the picture out in front of it.
I know you’re an aficionado of ’50s and ’60s movie gimmickry, and I don’t mean use that term pejoratively, but does it amuse you that 3D has not only been rescued from the trashcan of cinematic history but is now being presented as the salvation of Hollywood?
Well, you know, that’s the same as horror movies, which everyone thought was such a disreputable genre, but it is now the only genre to be considered “safe.” Everybody makes horror films now. When I was growing up in the ’60s I would have thought that westerns would last forever. But westerns are gone and yet the horror movie has continued to enthrall generations of people. The trick becomes how do you give the genre fans what they want without giving them exactly what they got last time.
The Hole has three young actors at its core. What was that like?
Well, I like kids. I like working with kid actors because they surprise you constantly. I mean, all actors do — but kids particularly. In this case, I think we once again made out in the casting department. They’re all good and realistic. Finding a writer who can write decent kids dialog and finding kids that can act realistically and not “cute” is an effort. In this case we managed to dodge that bullet.
Did you familiarize them with the Dante oeuvre?
Actually, some of them were already familiar to a degree. I mean, it’s hard to get away from Gremlins. Most people have heard of it if not seen it. [Laughs] I didn’t sit them down and watch my collected works. I wouldn’t do that to them. But they got the idea.
Speaking of Gremlins, I’m contractually obliged to ask if there is any news on a possible Gremlins 3.
[Laughs] Ah, not that I know of, no.
There’s quite a long sequence in The Hole set in and around a swimming pool. While shooting that did you flash back to making Piranha?
Any time I get in the water I flashback to making Piranha and putting on that wetsuit — worse, taking off that wetsuit. You could lose twenty pounds just taking off a wetsuit. This was obviously a little less taxing for me.
There’s also nice visual joke in the film which references a horror movie called The Hands of Orlac. Was that a Dante touch?
Yeah, I’m afraid I can’t help myself. You know, it takes a long time to make these movies and so you want to try to keep yourselves amused.
You re-teamed with actor Bruce Dern on The Hole. You’re both graduates of the so-called “Roger Corman Film School.” Can you remember the first time you met him?
I think the first time I met Bruce was on The ‘Burbs. We were having trouble casting his part. There were a while lot of people the studio wanted and I thought we needed someone quirkier and as soon as I met Bruce I recognized a kindred spirit. Not only did we share the Corman background but Bruce is an inveterate movie buff. He knows what Jessie Lasky (Paramount Pictures founder) had for breakfast. And he’s a lot of fun to have on the crew because he organizes football pools and trivia contests. He’s just a joy to have around. So he’s now become part of my little group of ragtag actors who I always try to find parts for. [Laughs]
I’m a huge fan of Bruce Dern but he’s not someone I could imagine organizing football pools.
He’s a unique character.
As this is a Joe Dante movie, Dick Miller also makes an appearance. You’re aware there’s an in-the-works documentary about him?
Yes, which I’m in. It’s going along quite swimmingly. I’ve seen the rough cut and I think it’s going to be real good.
You recently enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign for your website Trailers from Hell, where “gurus” such as yourself, John Landis, and Guillermo del Toro commentate over old movie clips. What plans do you have for TFH?
We’re undergoing a makeover, which is very complicated because when we started we used an encoding system which is now completely obsolete. We’re having to reimagine it from the top. Obviously we want to keep the same features we’ve got, but we want to enhance the comments ability and improve the quality. We have a lot of things that we’re trying to do and we’re trying to do it all at once. That’s what the Kickstarter campaign was all about, really getting a cushion which would allow us to do that and still not have to charge.
What’s next for you?
Well, like everybody, I’m working on several things at once, hoping that the funding will not go away for at least one of them. I think the one that may be the most likely is a French movie called Paris, I’ll Kill You. It’s multi-horror stories. I am one of eight directors.
You can check out the trailer from The Hole and some choice Trailers From Hell selections below.