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Joe Dante Tells the “Hole” Truth

Three years after its completion, Joe Dante’s 3-D scarefest The Hole is finally seeing a limited theatrical release, ahead of its DVD and Blu-ray street date on Tuesday. It’s a throwback to the ’80s movies we grew up watching from the likes of him, Steven Spielberg and others, with kids confronting a supernatural threat in the basement: a bottomless hole that spews forth each person’s greatest fear. You’d think the film would have no trouble finding an audience, but it has been a long journey. So, we went to the director himself to find out what happened along the way.

Nerdist: I first saw The Hole at AFI Fest three years ago. You had the great sizzle reel at Comic-Con, then showed it in 3D at AFI – are you as baffled as the rest of us why a 3-D scary movie by Joe Dante for the whole family would have such a hard time seeing wide release?

Joe Dante: I’m not baffled; I think I have a couple of clues. When I talked them into doing it in 3-D, there really weren’t a lot of other 3-D pictures and there were only so many theaters that could even play 3-D, and so it looked like a good bet. But between when we were shooting it and finishing it, all of a sudden the phenomenon of the big 3-D movie appeared, and all of a sudden Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland were taking up all of the theaters that we thought we were gonna play. And then they were followed by even more of those pictures, and here we were with no distributor for our little horror movie with no stars, and it just became tough to compete.

N: Is there also a factor that nobody really does the kinds of movies that you were doing in the ’80s, that are suitable for kids but still push the envelope in terms of being scary?

JD: Wasn’t Super 8 one of those movies, though? But you’re right, horror movies tend to be a little more Human Centipede-like.

N: I feel like there’s a craving for more of those kinds of movies.

JD: That’s what I thought when I signed on to do this picture. I thought, “Yeah, there’s an audience of people who’d like to see a picture they can bring their kids to, and have them come out scared but not scarred.” But I may have miscalculated.

N: When you’re shooting for 3-D, do you feel a bit like John Goodman in Matinee?

JD: I always feel like John Goodman in Matinee. Yeah, because you’re taking something and trying to… It’s hard enough to make a horror film and take the unbelievable and try to make it real, but 3-D is an extremely artificial concoction; it’s a complete heightening of the realities of what you really see. And yeah, it’s very enveloping. So when I set off to do this thing in 3-D, I didn’t want to throw things at people – I wanted to drag them into the hole. I wanted to be able to bring them into that basement and make it seem like it was their problem, their fears they were confronting.

N: What was your reaction to Roger Ebert’s infamously backhanded compliment, about the 3-D being the best he’s seen, which proves that 3-D still doesn’t work?

JD: Well, Roger said the 3-D was good, but he didn’t say anything about the movie. He said he’d deal with the movie when it comes out. Listen, any time Roger Ebert says it’s the best 3-D ever and he hates 3-D, I’ll take that.

N: Were there any legal approval issues about the talking Cartman doll (from South Park)?

JD: No, no, they were very good about it. It was in the script, they got it approved, they seemed happy about it.

N: You have such a deep filmography of great properties, and it’s interesting that the only one that’s been revisited/rebooted is Piranha. Has there been any talk of reviving Gremlins?

JD: Well, not to me, but I’m sure that’s one of the titles in the library that’s famous and brought them money; I’m sure there are discussions once a week about what they’re gonna do with this property. And I know people have been pitching stories for years, but I don’t know that anything has gone on. Considering the fact that they’re still making those dolls and toys, I’m sure there’s a groundswell that they gotta make another one. Now, when that happened last time, they ended up with me making Gremlins 2, and I don’t think they want to do that again, so…

N: They should! That was a great sequel.

JD: Well, they didn’t make a lot of money with that picture. But I don’t think they’d do another sequel; it would have to be a reboot or a remake.

N: Or God forbid, an origin story of the Mogwai first evolving…

JD: I hear you, but I think a remake is the only way to go, because you can’t really use puppets again, and therefore, if they’re gonna use CGI, they have to completely reimagine the story, what they’re gonna do and what they’re gonna look like.

N: How much of the evil clown in The Hole was digital? It all looked very real.

JD: Um… It’s almost all puppetry. There’s a little bit of enhancement, but we worked on that damn staircase with that damn puppet for a long time. And there was a lot of footage that didn’t make it into it, because it just seemed like less was more.

N: So if there were a hole in Joe Dante’s basement, what would come out of it?

JD: Financing for my next picture!

N: That’s what scares you the most?

JD: Yes! That’s what scares me the most.

N: What can you tell us about your upcoming movie projects?

JD: Well, Monster Love is something I’ve been working on for a couple of years. It’s currently being rewritten and is hopefully going to go next year, in Paris. the other picture, Paris I’ll Kill You, although set in Paris, is actually going to be shot in London, and it’s an eight-director anthology film with horror stories that are all woven together. The original Twilight Zone movie was supposed to do that, and it ended up not being that. This is characters from one story appearing in another story, and it’s very stylized. I think it’s gonna be pretty cool.

N: You’ve been doing a lot more TV lately. Do you find that more fun?

JD: I find it a lot quicker! The great thing about TV is that you’re in and out. I mean, the last Hawaii Five-O I did, I went down for a couple of weeks, shot the thing, the editor put it together, I worked on it for one day, and boom! It was done. And it wasn’t bad. If you’re in a copacetic situation, with producers that like you and you like them, it’s a fine way to flex your muscles. The trick on doing somebody else’s show is that it’s not like an anthology show, where you essentially make a movie of your own. In a series it’s all cast already, except for the guest stars, the actors all know their parts, and you’re really directing the guest stars and the camera…that’s pretty much it. Everything else is character arcs that started before you were there and are gonna continue after you’re gone, and you have to be cognizant of that at all times.

The Hole opens theatrically in Los Angeles tomorrow, and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, Oct. 2nd, 2012. When not making movies or directing TV, Joe Dante can be found at his website, Trailers from Hell.

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  1. Jonathan Green says:

    “I thought, “Yeah, there’s an audience of people who’d like to see a picture they can bring their kids to, and have them come out scared but not scarred.””

    This is exactly why Joe Dante is revered as an auteur in my home. The kids could watch his pictures at an early age and everybody could have a great time. The kids have moved on to scarier fare at age 10 and 13, but Joe is still revered.

  2. C J says:

    I <3 'd THE HOLE – a shame that a Studio didn't pick this up (its one of the few family friendly horror films that wasn't dumbed down for kids) because this year was filled with turkeys (& I don't mean destined to be cult classics) …