Watching with Joe Dante, director of 'The Hole'
The director of 'Gremlins' and the original 'Piranha' talks about making and watching movies
Joe Dante graduated from the Roger Corman School of Practical Filmmaking, honing his craft on drive-in movies like "Hollywood Boulevard" (1976) and "Piranha" (1978) before graduating to such pop-culture genre riffs as "Gremlins" (1984) and "Small Soldiers" (1998), not to mention "Gremlins 2" (1990), one of the funniest movies of its generation. All of those films are largely defined by his love of movies and offbeat sense of humor, and he's brought that sensibility to his latest feature, "The Hole," a horror film for family audience that he shot in 3D. With film's release on Blu-ray and DVD this week (in standard 2D only), we got the chance to chat with Dante by phone to discuss "The Hole," his college collage epic "The Movie Orgy," which has been playing in special screenings around the country, and his love of movies.
What are you watching?
Between my DVD collection and Turner Classic Movies, I sort of miss the whole… I grew up in an age where you turned on the TV and there was a movie on, and you never knew what it was or you didn't catch the beginning of it or whatever, and you discovered movies that way. Now I have this huge DVD collection and I can see any movie I want anytime, and somehow it’s still not as exciting as just turning on the TV and seeing what's one. So let's see, the last DVD I ran was… "Curse of the Demon," actually. I'm involved in a semi-remake of it, so there was a good reason to watch it. Movies that I really love, I find that I can't watch too often because I get to know them so well that I get too… I'm the kind of guy who, if I haven't watched a mystery in a long time, I won't remember who did it and I get to re-experience the whole thing over again. So I don't like to be too up, seeing things five times a year. I try to try to spread it out.
Do you still get to the movie theaters?
I do. I'm one of the hold-outs of my generation. I actually go to the movies almost every weekend and I usually see at least two pictures. I miss the old double bills. When I was in college in Philadelphia I would go to double bills and triple bills all day long, and then at the end of the day I'd go home and watch movies on TV. (laughs) One day I saw 15 movies, in the space of one day. Which is pretty hard to do.
So why "The Hole" and why shoot it in 3D?
"The Hole" is a picture I made because I was offered a lot of horror movie and generally they were not very good and this one had good characters and didn't go where I thought is was going to go when I read the script. I'd seen some other movies that were similar to this and I thought, I know what's going to happen, and I was generally surprised that that's not what it was about. I liked the characters, I like the argot, I liked the way they talked. And even though it was a very small movie with a cast of six and three locations, I said to the producers, "Why don't you make this film in 3-D? I think you could use it to pull people in instead of throwing things at them. You could open into the story and open into the basement, essentially." And they went for it. Did you see it in 3-D?
Sadly no. It has not played theatrically in Seattle at all and I watched it from a DVD.
They're hoping that an Atlanta opening in four theaters at the end of the month may do well enough to be able to expand it. At least I hope so.
You have a lot of films, horror and otherwise, that have a real affinity for kids and their place in the world of real and fantasy horrors, and in "Explorers" in the fantasies and dreams of the three boys.
That comes from, I guess, just being a big kid myself and maybe not having any kids of my own. I really must say that when I was making that movie, I did feel, for a summer, that I was their father.
How did that feel?
It was great! What was really fun about it was listening to them when they're up in their spaceship and no one can hear them, except the sound guy and me, because we've got our earphones on, and we could hear what they say. Actors never remember that even their most intimate comments when they go to the bathroom can be heard by the sound people. And when the kids were talking, it was so amazing that here they were, a generation away from me, and yet they were talking about the same stuff that I did when I was their age.
I really liked how Lucas, the younger brother, was still young enough not to have adult fears, and his fear is a fantasy nightmare, but when you get to the Dane and Julie, who are teenagers in high school and are on the verge of becoming adults, their horrors come from the world they live in, on guilt and regret and experiences. They carry the weight of their pasts.
Yeah, which I thought gave it a little heft and made it a little different than what would usually be expected from this kind of material.
The art direction in the scene when Dane faces his nightmare brings me back to your segment of "The Twilight Zone" movie.
It's a combination of things that we built, some CGI, and some existing sets that we found in Vancouver that I think were built for some Jim Cameron TV show, some sort of a bombed-out cityscape that was perfect for us. We didn’t have a lot of money to throw around so we had to be pretty careful about what we did and how we showed. But I think it worked okay.
You cast Dick Miller once again, this time in a bit part as the Pizza Guy. Do you have him on speed dial or what?
No, no. We shot most of the movie in Canada and had we shot it all in Canada, I would not have been able to use Dick because you can only bring a couple of actors from the U.S.. Because we had to shoot the exteriors in L.A., because it got so cold in Canada, I was able to importune Dick to come out of retirement and do this thing for me. He always told me he would come out for anything I did.
I though it was very funny how, not only do he not have a line, but it looks like he's about to speak when Dane closes the door on him.
That's just Dick making as much as he can out of nothing.
Do you have any more plans to show "The Movie Orgy"?
I think "The Movie Orgy" will be showing various places when they request it. The only gimmick is I have to show it for free because I don't own any of the stuff that's in it. We ran it at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Venice Film Festival, so it's really kind of gotten around which is really surprising for something that old.
I saw "The Movie Orgy" in Seattle a couple of months ago and I asked your advice, via Twitter, on what to do to prepare. You wrote back one word: "Caffeine."
Well it is rather long. Not as long as it used to be but it's still pretty long.
I had friend visiting when it played and I brought him to the screening. He said that a week doesn't go by that he doesn't think about how much fun he had seeing that film.
Oh thanks. I hear that all the time, it's great. I've been hearing that since the sixties.