Saturday, February 9, 2013

"The Hole"

If you find a large, old creepy square door bolted to the cement floor of your basement which is locked by six padlocks, just move out.  Get out of the basement and don’t ever go back.  Don’t ask questions.  Don’t bother to call your Realtor until you’re safely in another timezone.  Only pack what you absolutely need and will fit in your car.  Just get out of the house and as far away as you can.  Whatever else you may do, do not, ever, under any circumstances, take the locks off.  Do not ever, EVER, open it.

Do not ever open the large, old creepy square door bolted to the cement floor of your basement which is locked by six padlocks.

I know that I’ve said before that what makes a good horror movie is also what makes a good movie, but I’ve forgotten that the directors of some of my favorite films from when I was a kid also made some of the scariest horror movies ever. Joe Dante is the only director I know who could do both with the same movie.

I don’t know who’s more sick, me or him.

Joe Dante got his start in the 70’s working under Roger Corman.  In the 60’s, Roger Corman was a cottage industry for making the worst movies in history including “X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes”, “The Creature From The Haunted Sea”, and the original “Little Shop of Horrors”.  He also made a series of highly regarded adaptations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  In the 70’s, though, Cormon founded “New World Pictures” whose purpose was to produce and distribute smaller films that larger studios wouldn’t, particularly independent films, and mass distribute foreign films to US audiences for the first time, including the works of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa.  From this time forth, Corman made a life of shepherding and mentoring young filmmakers.  He has influenced the careers of directors, producers, writers, and actors alike, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Curtis Hanson, John Sayles, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire and Robert De Niro.  So Joe Dante is in good company.

My first exposure to the works of Joe Dante was “Explorers”; I was seven. “Explorers” is about a three boys who build their own spaceship out of a 'Tilt-A-Whirl'. When you’re seven years old, what’s not cool about that? Dante’s best known film is “Gremlins”, but his career, which began in the 70’s with “Piranha” and “The Howling”, has included “Innerspace”, “The ‘Burbs”, “Twilight Zone: The Movie”; all of which blending Looney-Tunes-esque comedy, an eye for terror and suspense, and a sense of the fantastic and ridiculous into very fun films which pay solid tribute to Roger Corman. In the early 90’s, Joe Dante went one step closer to paying tribute to Roger Corman and his contemporaries, such as William Castle with “Matinee”, a period drama about what happens when a big name monster movie director comes to a small town to host the release of his latest film at the height of the red scare. Dante’s career in the late 90’s / early 2000’s took a few missteps with “Small Soldiers” and “Looney Tunes: Back in Action”, but now, with “The Hole”, hes back.

“The Hole” starts out simply enough with a mother moving her teen and preteen sons into a new house in a small town (next to a cute girl, of course, which is just prerequisite). While playing, the boys find a door (just as I described at the beginning of this review) in the floor, and, of course, they open it. Weirdness ensues, but in a much more original way than the opening or credits might imply.

"The Hole" stars Chris Massoglia ("The Vampire's Assistant"), Teri Polo ("Meet The Parents"), and features cameo appearances by Joe Dante alumni Dick Miller ("Explorers","Gremlins") and Bruce Dern ("The 'Burbs").

As the film progresses, Joe Dante is in full form and more. There are elements from a number of his previous films, including "The 'Burbs", "Gremlins" and "Twilight Zone".  There are also elements which show influence from other sources as well, such as Asian horror cinema, like "Ringu" or "Ju-on", which integrate well to build a highly creepy atmosphere and an overall scarier movie.

The most impressive part of the film, however, is the rating. "The Hole" is rated PG-13. There are very few horror movies which manage an R rating, and fewer still which manage to be actually scary.  Most horror films tend to be, to some degree or another, over the top, which means death, blood, gore, violence, sex, drugs, swearing, and pretty much anything else which will get the MPAA’s ire up.  Making a horror movie without any of these things also tends to be extremely difficult, as it depends entirely on the director’s ability to create atmosphere.  Fortunately, Joe Dante’s skill at this has never abated.  The ending doesn't disappoint, either. While inevitable, even predictable, the ending corresponds perfectly to the setup.

Two lousy efforts and a six year absence are enough to put any director off his game, but Joe Dante has come back with all his old tricks and even some new ones.  I hope we’ll be seeing more from him soon.

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