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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug dares venture into Joe Dante’s THE HOLE…err—wait …ewww! An interview / review of the film!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to talk with legendary director Joe Dante a while back about the release of his not so new film THE HOLE on DVD today. My review of the film follows the interview. Here’s what Mr. Dante had to say…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Mr. Dante. How are you doing today?

JOE DANTE (JD): I’m good. How are you?

BUG: Great. Well I just wanted to let you know I saw THE HOLE a couple of weeks ago when you were in Chicago here at The Music Box and you hosted that night. You showed GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH there as well. It was a fantastic night. How was that for you to have THE HOLE be seen by a crowd in a theater?

JD: It was great. I mean the only real screenings we’ve with it are at film festivals. There was never a preview or any of that kind of stuff and a lot of it because of the 3D. Of course I was sorry they weren’t showing it in 3D, but they seemed to like it in 2D.

BUG: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was a great film. I wanted to talk to you about the road you’ve taken to bring THE HOLE so that the masses can see it now. It’s been a long time. When was it that this was originally filmed?

JD: It was shot in 2008 and the beginning of 2009 and it was finished I think in March or April or whatever and we thought “Great, now we’ve got this 3D movie and there’s all of these theaters that are now converting over to show 3D and we are going to be in great shape. It’s an old fashioned horror picture to take your family to…” But what we didn’t realize was the advent of the converted 3D movie, that wasn’t shot in 3d, but is being exhibited in 3D and these were all big blockbuster pictures with big stars and they suddenly flooded all of those theaters and there was no room for our little horror picture with no stars and we really got caught behind the eight ball and of course we didn’t have a distributor, so in the efforts to get a distributor we had the fact that the picture wasn’t opening and nobody was playing it and so it just became an extremely frustrating situation.

BUG: Sure, and you know I guess it just really boggles my mind that the director of HOWLING and GREMLINS and everything… EXPLORERS… INNERSPACE… all of these classic amazing films, that you would have trouble getting a film like this in theaters. I guess that just says the way the studios are and the way…

JD: Well, it’s just beyond me. I mean honestly, I make the movie, I turn it in, and I don’t know what happens to it after that, but it was inexplicable to me that what I thought was a pretty commercial movie was just sitting around on a shelf collecting dust.

BUG: I’m glad it’s out now. Why did it happen now?

JD: Well this other company, called Big Air, came in and picked it up and they have video plans for it I’m sure, and I think they picked it up in the strength that it grosses over seas, but they are trying it out in Atlanta on the twenty-eighth in a couple of theaters to see how it does and if it does well there, they may expand. But I’m fine with it going to VOD.

BUG: Like I said, I did see it. I saw it in theaters and it does have this quality about it that seems to be a constant in a lot of your films, which is it does feel like it’s a family movie, even though these kids are very much in peril and it seems like putting children in peril was taboo for a while, but now lately it seems like with SUPER 8 coming out and things like that, that it’s becoming a little bit more acceptable. Back I then 80’s with the Amblin movies, the kids were always in danger like this. What’s your theory on that?

JD: It’s like violence in movies. I mean after the BATMAN shooting there was a lot of talk about violence in movies and that it caused people to do things and all that. So that stuff comes up all of the time and after 9/11 there was a whole change in the way people talk about violence and melodrama and that kind of thing and it’s typical… whenever there’s a school shooting people automatically come back to “Well you know you can’t put kids in peril and you can’t do this or that…” It’s just the times we live in and movies do reflect the times and do they make people do things? If they did, then we would have all died after DR. STRANGELOVE came out, so I don’t think movies necessarily do make people do things, but it’s difficult for the horror film, because it’s a controversial genre to begin with and it’s always been prone to being controlled by censors and parent-groups and people who think that other people’s entertainment is something that they should get.

BUG: So did you have any problems with censors while you were making this film?

JD: no, because we had a lot of discussions about how exactly to walk the tight rope of having a movie that’s essentially about child abuse and being able to get away with that without making the kids in the audience uncomfortable and creeped out. So I think we’ve managed to suggest enough in the movie for people to get the idea that something bad happened in this family and we don’t know exactly what it was and we don’t want to know and also for kids to realize that there is genuine peril there without having to necessarily say what it is.

BUG: What has been the reaction from both adults and children? That’s one of the things that’s really tough to do, but I think this film does really entertain both adults on one level, a much deeper level like you said about child abuse, but it also is a cool venturing into the darkness sort of movie.

JD: It’s a bump in the night kind of movie and I think kids respond to it on that level and the parents who may happen to go with them or older people I think could get enough out of it that it makes it worthwhile. I mean the tricky thing about making pictures that are suitable for families is that you have to make it so that it doesn’t drive the parent crazy and it also has to be understandable enough for the kids not to get confused. The old idea is the older child will not watch something the younger child will watch, but the younger child will watch anything the older child will watch and therefore your picture is geared towards the older child and I’ve always carried that around in my head around, that you want to give the kids enough… the kids are going to find stuff to like in a scary movie. I mean they are going to get freaked out at the clown and the rollercoaster and all of that stuff without necessarily getting into the deeper aspects.

BUG: Yeah. The final sequence, I really did enjoy that. It seemed like you were taking a lot out of the German expressionism with a lot, especially THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, the sets from that it seemed. It seemed like you were inspired by that. Were you?

JD: Well I was. We were probably inspired by that, because we didn’t have a lot of money and you can go, as you’ve seen in a lot of movies, you can go wild with psychedelia in situations like that with CGI if you have a lot of money and we didn’t have money, but we had ingenuity and we did think “If we choose to build most of this stuff and do forced perspective and a little bit of CGI, then I think we will be better off and I think the audience will be able to relate better to it.”

BUG: I did just want to mention Dick Miller, who makes an appearance in the film. You talked about being able to film with him. Would you be able to elaborate on that story a little bit?

JD: Ordinarily, if we made the entire picture in Vancouver, which we were supposed to do, I wouldn’t have been able to… Because we shot the exteriors in LA there was a part where the kids get a pizza and a guy gives them a pizza and I thought “Well this is boring. How can I punch this up?” I realized it was a perfect spot to put Dick and sure enough it gets a very appreciative reaction from fans who know him.

BUG: Very cool. What’s coming up next for you?

JD: I believe I’m going to do a French movie called PARIS, I’LL KILL YOU, which is an episodic picture with eight directors of which I am one.

BUG: Well best of luck to you and best of luck with THE HOLE. I think it was a really, really fun movie and I wish the best of all of the success for it. So thank you so much for your time and have a great day.

JD: Thanks a lot. Bye.

BUG: THE HOLE is available on DVD today! Below is my review of the film.

New on DVD today!

THE HOLE (2009)

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Mark L. Smith
Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern, Quinn Lord, John DeSantis
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Joe Dante has earned the right to make just about anything in my book. The director of such greats as GREMLINS, INNERSPACE, AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, THE HOWLING, and scores of others is not only a master at modern cinema, but knows how to make a movie fun. And though horror is a genre that is taken extremely seriously by its fans, I think there is room for films like Dante’s new film THE HOLE to make some room for.

Is THE HOLE an epic film? No and I don’t think it’s trying to be. Dante seems to have set out to make a spooky little throwback film with a modest budget and old school special effects and he’s done so successfully here. The story follows a modern normal family, meaning two kids being raised by one parent, moving into a new home in a new city. While mom (Terry Polo) is out trying to find a new job and meet new people, the kids (two brothers played by Chris Massoglia, who looks like he could play frontman for the Dandy Warhols and Nathan Gamble, the younger cute kid of the film) are left to venture around the new house and happen upon a door in the cellar that apparently is a bottomless pit. After tossing a few rocks down there and dangling a camera, the mystery of this giant abyss in the basement is too much for this pair of kids with too much time on their hands can handle. Soon they realize that by opening this abyss and staring into it, old adages turn out to be true as the abyss begins to stare into them and pulls out their greatest fears to encounter and face on their own.

The rest of the film is a sort of metaphysical battle as the kids, joined by cutesy girl next door Haley Bennett, battle killer dolls, phantom girls, and giant abusive fathers. Dante states above that this film is supposed to work on two levels. The present danger of the ghostly apparitions and the meaning these specters represent. I think the film works on the cerebral level a bit more effectively than the clear and present threat mainly because budgetary restrictions didn’t give Dante and co a lot to work with. The film was made quite a few years ago and the practical effects here, while fun, sometimes show their age. The killer doll is downright creepy and the way the ghostly girl is filmed moving in a staccato manner actually is quite scary, but the final act which feels as if the sets were made out of cardboard and looks more like the sets from THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI show that this was an ambitious film, but not fully achieving the level necessary in the effects department.

Having said that, I did recognize what Dante was trying to do here and on a more thematic level, I think the film works much better. Even the lackluster set pieces of the final act as the older teen does battle with his abusive father resonate on a level that I think adults will dig.

Cynics will compare this with Tibor Takacs’ THE GATE and with good reason. The film resembles it in many ways, but while that film relied on old school Harryhausen effects and has the nostalgia factor in it’s corner, I think there’s room for two “portal to another world in the basement” stories out there.

In the end, I felt that Dante was able to make another one of his fun popcorn style films. Though I didn’t see it in 3D the effect was evident and you can appreciate the old throwing a ball at the camera bits for the obvious 3D gags that they are and add it to the old school hokiness of the film. THE HOLE shows its age, but is fun despite of it. With a wonky performance by Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl and a cameo by Dick Miller as the pizza guy, there’s a lot of fun to be had with THE HOLE, as long as you ignore the stains of time that have become apparent while it lingered on the shelf for so long.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.

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