The Hole is Joe Dante’s first theatrical film since the Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny starring head scratcher, Looney Tunes: Back in Action. He has spent most of the past decade doing subpar television work save for his two excellent episodes of Showtime’s Maters of Horror series.
From the early ’80’s through the mid ’90’s Dante put out consistently good work including the groundbreaking werewolf film The Howling, the smash hit Gremlins and it’s equally fun sequel, the fun kids sci-fi adventure Explorers, the hilariously original Innerspace, and the sadly under seen gems Matinee and Small Soldiers. Dante has always been one of our best genre directors. A favorite of mine, he has proven himself a true artist, deftly blending horror/sci-fi thrills and wild cartoonish humor. His films are clever, imaginative, and unique. I even defend his massive flop from 1989, The Burbs with Tom Hanks. I found it to be funny and original.
Now he is back with what was to be his return to form with the horror flick geared towards the younger audience, The Hole. As a fan of good horror, and as a fan of Joe Dante, I stand disappointed. As a horror film it lays there with only a moment or two of genuine chills. There is no discernible style to the proceedings and only a trace of Dante’s directorial fingerprints.
The Hole tells the story of two brothers, Dane and Lucas, who, along with their mother, move into a new house in a new city. They have moved several times due to the fact that they are trying not to be found by their father who is in prison and constantly tries to track them down. In the basement of their new house they discover a hole covered and locked. The hole, as they will later discover, will play upon their fears and lead them/us to a mystery that is really no mystery at all.
Dante tries to deliver both fun and scares in equal measure. This is what he excels in as a filmmaker. Sadly, in this film, the fun is not so fun and the scares, save for a couple of moments, are not very scary at all.
There is an attack by an evil looking clown doll that is a bit spooky but done to much better effect and forever seared into our brains in Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. There is a shadowy figure lurking in the house. There are eerie noises, weird rays of light, and another tired ghost child with a white face and black circles around her eyes who is filmed backwards then played forward to give off a jerky motion. Yawn. That has been done countless times ever since Hollywood started ripping off Japanese ghost films in the early 2000’s.
Nothing in the film is very original and that is sad, as Dante has always given us originality in his genre films. The kitchen attack in Gremlins was groundbreaking and still elicits cheers. His episode in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Segment 3, was completely original and perfectly blended all that is great about his films. It displayed his affection for the cartoons of the Looney Tunes era and combined it with some truly creepy horror. The Howling, his masterpiece, took werewolf films to another level and, along with An American Werewolf in London in the same year, changed the way man to beast transformations were done.
The cast is able enough with Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble playing the brothers, the ever boring Teri Polo as their mother, and the great Bruce Dern in a wasted role as the kind of creepy old guy that he has been playing for 20 plus years. They all do fine but are not given much to work with due to an underwritten script by Mark L. Smith, who gave us the not so good Vacancy and Vacancy 2: The First Cut.
The Hole was filmed in 2009 and shot in 3-D. It was supposed to be a big Halloween season release for 2010 but was delayed by the Canadian Studios that produced it. In 2011 there was talk of a limited release in the major market cities for Halloween week. This year it was released in one or two cities, showing only once or twice, and went straight to video. I saw it at the theater and felt saddened by the lack of public interest, as Joe Dante movies used to be rather big events once in a while.
I suppose I see why the release was squandered. As I stated, the film just sits there. It tries hard to be different but ends up being another so-so chiller for the teen market. Considering today’s finicky horror film audience, perhaps the studio just didn’t trust the film to play. In this case I don’t blame them.
I was all ready to see the new Joe Dante film, love it or like it a lot, and write a glowing review on the theatrical return of one of our great filmmakers. Well, I have only a review of a pedestrian film from a director who can do much better work. I wanted to like it. I even gave it another chance and watched it on video before I wrote this review in the hope that something would click for me that didn’t during my first viewing. Sadly, it only reaffirmed my dislike of the film.
Ever the optimist, I see the good in the fact that Joe Dante is back to doing films for theaters. Rejuvenated, I suppose, by The Hole he has three projects in preproduction, all of them horror. I am still excited by this news, as we can’t lose hope over one bad film. Hitchcock made one, as has Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and John Carpenter. Nobody’s perfect and with a filmography like Dante’s I know there are more than a few great films in his future.