What ‘The Hole’ went wrong?


Despite his moderate successes (“Gremlins,” “The Howling,”) prolific director Joe Dante remains relatively unknown outside sci-fi and horror circles.

So perhaps it should come as little surpass that his latest, “The Hole,” is struggling to find a U.S. distributor. It’s quite a shame, for it is not only the most polished, accomplished work the director has released in years, but it is also one of the few films that can adequately be called a “family horror” film, a genre which he may not have created, but has certainly perfected.

The film was screened at a special Saturday evening screening during the closing days of the New York Film Festival, held October 5 through 10. The screening was not only attended by the director himself, but his frequent collaborator, the equally talented John Sayles. The film was presented in 3-D, but unlike many other “retrofitted” films (which are filmed in 2-D and get the 3-D treatment in post production), the film was shot using cameras made for the format.

They both donned their special glasses onstage before the sold-out crowd, stoking the flames of those eager to watch a film in the presence of it’s creators. And even though the glow of the evening has long since settled, it’s hard not be equally excited about the experience and saddened that so few other may get to experience it in a similar venue.
For, as mentioned, despite its release in other countries — including England, Ireland and Italy — it has yet to find a studio willing to back it here in the states. It is boggling as to why. It features a fairly well-known lead with Teri Polo (“Meet the Parents”) and an up-and-comer by the name of Chris Massoglia (who stared in last year’s far inferior “The Vampire’s Assisstant”).

The plot is as straightforward as its title: two brothers and their simgle mom move from the city into a new suburban home, only to find a hidden door in the basement which holds something pretty nasty inside. What makes “The Hole” stand out is its ability to deliver the scares, but still keep matters relatively safe and bloodless. It is a trait that has served Dante well over the years.

After, pardon the pun, cutting his teeth on the original “Piranha” (written by Sayles), Dante went on to deliver some classic chillers that combined childhood curiosity with some of the darker corners of youthful imagination. “Gremlins” was perhaps his best-known effort, and one that went a little too dark for some. For it, along with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” was responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating, as they were consideed too much for PG, and too tame for R.

And that is precisely where “The Hole” would fit. Featuring relatable teen and pre-teen antagonists — Massoglia, along with Haley Bennett as the girl next door and Nathan Gamble as the savvy little brother — the film is told from the or perspective of suburban malaise for young’ens. But it also deals with fears and issues that skew toward more mature audience members — deep-seated fears of the unknown, death and hinted child abuse. Yet Dante never let’s things get too dark for its core audience — young adults who want to feel the adrenaline of a horror film, but are far too young (or intelligent) to squander on the “Saw” franchise and its ilk.

The film is also padded with lighter bits and impressive tricks that use the gimmick of 3-D to full advantage. Dante regular Bruce Dern pops up in a Christopher Lloyd-like role as the local loony who known the secrets of the mysterious gateway.

And for older audience members, there are countless references to its forefathers of fright, including everything from his own “Explorers,” and “Small Soldiers,” to classic films from Hitchcock and Mario Bava. Yet a quick search online for local release dates for “The Hole” is like descending into an empty well. For the film was once linked to Overture Studios (which greenlit far lesser fare such as “Righteous Kill,” “Pandorum,” and “Nothing Like the Holidays”), but there is no mention of the film on the company’s website, release schedule or Wikipedia page.

If the light of the multiplexes does eventually manage to shine on “The Hole,” it’s a rare film worthy of the inflated ticket price, and one that responsible parents can share their love of a good scary film with the next generation of horror fans (I would say a 10-year-old minimum), from the very man who sent so many shivers up our spine so many years ago.

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1 Comment

  1. This a damn shame. Dante should be a national treasure for MATINEE alone. He always seems to be getting the poo end of the stick as of late. he did an interview when MATINEE was re-released on DVD and expressed his frustration at the studio for releasing it without any extras despite his willingness to create some. Maybe Criterion can snag it for another release.


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