director Joe Dante
I’ve always appreciated Joe Dante, but I think, especially having seen him pop up in a multitude of documentaries on Exploitation cinema, Roger Corman, Edgar G. Ulmer, so many things, I’ve come to like him all the more in recent times, appreciate him even more.
Now Dante’s career is probably defined by Gremlins more than any other movie. It’s his most successful film and led to other PG or PG-13 rated kids science fiction/thriller fare like Explorers (1985), Innerspace (1987), and Small Soldiers (1998). But it’s been a long while since a Joe Dante film commanded much attention. So when his film The Hole came and went, I noted the concept (kids find a hole in their basement that seems to lead to hell) and noted the poor reviews and obscurity and added it to my Netflix queue as a possible movie with the kids.
I think I may have overdone my emphasis on scary movies this year because Felix has gone from actively not liking scary movies to wanting to see all the scariest movies. So when the kids asked to watch something “scary”, I figured we’d give The Hole a shot.
The story is about a teenage boy and his younger brother who move with their mom to some suburban town from the city, right next door to a hot teen sweetheart and then discover the titular hole in their basement. It’s a bolted trap door, leading endlessly nowhere, but once you’ve looked in it knows your worst nightmares and starts to creep you out.
I’m reminded of other teen movie fare from The Goonies (1985) to Zathura (2005) to any number of things. It’s hard maybe to make a good movie in this age range because it comes down to not just having a good story in the hands of a capable director, but having a good cast. And maybe the levels of difficulty wind up making this just more challenging than your average film. I don’t know.
The thing is that The Hole is pretty decent in most parts. It’s actually quite creepy between the evil harlequin doll and the girl with one shoe who bleeds from one eye. Those images could make for a pretty scary film. But this movie is about conquering your fears and when the final fear, the abusive father contorted into a huge beast plays out on a Beetlejuice (1987)-style set, it’s squandered whatever genuine value its acquired and peters out without profundity.
The kids were into if for a while, but, like me, lost interest as the film played out.
Dante, though, is interesting and a few of his other films are available on demand at the moment too, so maybe we’ll revisit a few more before too long.