At long last, Joe Dante’s new film “The Hole” is out of its own hole. After three years “sitting on a shelf,” the 3D horror movie is finally getting a belated (if limited) release.
The plot involves two young brothers (played by Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble) who, along with the proverbial girl next door (Haley Bennett), uncover a “gateway to hell” in the basement of their house.
Dante, the 65-year-old director of “Gremlins,” “Matinee” and “Small Soldiers,” spoke about his latest project during a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles.
Q: What drew you to this project?
A: I’m usually disappointed with most of the horror scripts I see, but this one was much better written than usual. The dialogue was believable; the characters were recognizable; and the story didn’t go where I thought it would. It’s rare when my expectations are confounded like that. I was probably director number 23 on the list of people (the producers) interviewed, but I guess I was the guy with the greatest affinity with the material, because they chose me anyway. (A pause) And then I made the mistake of deciding to make the movie in 3D.
Q: How did you come to that decision, and why do you say it was a mistake?
A: I thought the 3D process would lend itself to this particular project, that it could be a helpful adjunct to the story, and I wanted to use it sparingly, sort of like Hitchcock did in “Dial M for Murder.” As it happened, though, the film ended up sitting on a shelf for three years, and the reason it hasn’t come out until now was specifically because it was in 3D. By the time we finished it in 2009, there were a limited number of theaters with the capability to show it. There was this phenomenon of all these fake 3D movies flooding the market, movies like “Clash of the Titans” and “Alice in Wonderland” that were never intended to be in 3D and only converted to 3D after the fact. Here we were with our little horror film that didn’t have any big stars in it, and we just couldn’t seem to get a foothold in the market.
Q: That must be frustrating.
A: Yeah, I always used to have a recurring nightmare, this fear that I’d made a movie that never came out. This experience was like suddenly waking up and finding out that it was true. (He laughs.) I thought there’d be a market for this movie and I still believe that. To see a film like “Super 8” become so wildly successful, one that trades in the same sort of retro-1980s way, kind of proved that point.
Q: From as far back as “Gremlins” (1984) and “Explorers” (1985), you seem to have a real knack for working with child actors. What’s your secret?
A: Casting is really the key. It’s true what they say, that 99 percent of a director’s job is just finding the right actors for the roles, and that’s true of any part, not just the kid ones. Sometimes you’re forced to make do with those cute and adorable Disney-type kids who can’t hold the screen for more than a few minutes at a time, but in this case I felt we really lucked out with our three young leads.
Q: For the last several years, most of your work has been for TV (episodes of “CSI: NY” and the new “Hawaii Five-O,” among others).
A: There used to be a real caste system in Hollywood, where a director was thought to be slumming if he worked on TV. When I first started out in the business, there wasn’t a lot of difference between making fast, cheap movies like “Piranha” or “The Howling” and making fast, cheap TV shows. In a sense, I’d already perfected that style of working. There’s no doubt about it now that some of the best work is being done on television. Feature films are all about spectacle and comic-book characters now, all about catering to the under-25 crowd. Adult audiences tend to be migrating more to cable TV, where you can find content like “Dexter” or “Boardwalk Empire” that you don’t generally see in movies anymore.
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