Phoebe Cates’ Santa Claus Speech in Gremlins: The Oral History

Interviews with a point.
Oct. 1 2012 9:33 AM

A Conversation With Joe Dante

Why the Gremlins director’s new horror movie took three years to make it to theaters—even though it’s great.

Still from 'The Hole.'
Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble in The Hole, directed by Joe Dante

Photo by Ed Araquel/Bold Films.

You might think that the director of hits like Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and The ’Burbs would have an easy time getting his latest film into theaters. The Hole is proof positive that you’d be wrong. Joe Dante’s 3-D fright fest about two brothers who find a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement of their new home finally made its U.S. debut in a limited theatrical release last week and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on Oct 2—three long years after the film premiered to great enthusiasm at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009.

Scott Neumyer talked to the director about why The Hole took so long to make it to theaters, the film’s family appeal, and how Steven Spielberg influenced the final cut of Gremlins.

Slate: You premiered the film in Toronto in 2009. Can you point to a few things that delayed the release?

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Joe Dante: I can point to three things: One, two, three “D.” I talked them into shooting in 3-D, which, at the time, seemed like a good idea, and, while we were shooting, we counted the number of theaters that were converting to 3-D, and it looked like there were enough for us. What we didn’t count on is the phenomenon of the fake 3-D movie where the studios took pictures that were not shot in 3-D and decided to convert them on computers and release them. And so, all the theaters that we thought we were going to play were now taken up with big-budget pictures that were making money and being held over. So we missed our window because we didn’t have 2-D prints; we only had 3-D. By the time we waited, more pictures came to fill the gap. All of a sudden, we were an old movie. We didn’t have any big stars and couldn’t compete with some of the other films. And so we just sort of sat around waiting our turn.

Slate: Do you feel like some of the delay can be attributed to not really knowing how to market the film? It’s a unique film unlike what you often see in the horror genre nowadays.

Dante: I’m not sure about that because that was actually what the studio was aiming at. They didn’t want to make a Saw movie. They didn’t want to make a horror movie that plays for one weekend and, now that all the gorehounds have seen it, it has to go directly to video. I thought—and the successful release of Super 8 proved—that there was an audience out there who were looking for ’80s-type pictures where you can take the whole family and everybody would get something different out of it. And I firmly believe that, had we been able to get it out there, this picture would have done very well.

Slate: How did you feel as the release date came and went?

Dante: It’s frustrating, of course. You don’t paint pictures to put them in your attic. You want people to look at them.

Slate: Like Super 8, The Hole takes its time, breathes, and really lives in its characters. Can you talk about your decision to go in that direction with Mark Smith’s script?

Dante: This is a picture where you’re encouraged to identify with people who all are afraid of something that they have to confront and overcome. I think that’s a winning formula. It’s not brand new; it’s certainly been done before, but the thing that appealed to me about Mark’s script was that the kids weren’t “cute”—in fact, the two brothers have a very adversarial relationship, which struck me as very realistic—and it takes the time to get people to know the characters and experience the movie through the characters. One of the reasons that I chose to do it in 3-D was because I wanted to try to envelop the audience in the movie as opposed to throwing it at them.

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