As ever, the annual crush of movies flooding into multiplexes produced a number of unjustly overlooked casualties last year. Joe Dante’s The Hole, a film originally released screened in the US in 2009 (although not widely released) and only receiving a limited release in UK cinemas last September, is but one of them.
For Dante, the director of much-loved 80s classics such as The Howling, Gremlins, and my own pet favourite, Innerspace, The Hole should have marked his triumphant return to the big screen, his first feature since the poorly received Looney Tunes: Back In Action. Instead, the film struggled for publicity as inferior films with bigger marketing budgets stole its oxygen.
Certainly, The Hole has many of the hallmarks of Dante’s best films. A family-friendly mixture of horror and thriller, there are passing nods to the mischievous imps in Gremlins, and the broad, sly humour of Innerspace.
Chris Massoglia stars as Dane, a troubled teenager who, along with his little brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble), discovers a mysterious hatch in the basement of his new suburban home. “You have a gateway to hell in your basement,” intones the implausibly pretty girl next door, Julie (Haley Bennett), “And that is really cool.”
Allowing curiosity to get the better of them, the youths unlock the hatch and stare at the abyss within, unleashing an ancient evil that manifests itself in weird, unexpected ways, from a pallid little girl whose jerky movements recall the creepier moments in Japanese horror cinema, to a mischievous jester doll with a worryingly powerful throwing arm.
The Hole plays a little like a PG-13 retelling of Lucio Fulci’s 80s gore epic, The Beyond, in which a basement gateway to the realm of the dead results in plagues of zombies and face-munching spiders. Given Dante’s voluminous knowledge of horror and cult cinema, such a reference is unlikely to be accidental. And, indeed, there are numerous nods to classic genre flicks for film geeks to enjoy, from a disused factory called Gloves Of Orlac to cameos from veteran actors Dick Miller and Bruce Dern.
While many viewers will guess the reasons behind its supernatural events, this doesn’t prevent The Hole from being a compelling, entertaining film with some surprisingly eerie moments. There’s an interesting subtext, too, about childhood trauma and its psychological effects, economically illustrated in a beautifully stylised sequence that recalls German expressionist films such as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.
The result is a film that, while not quite in the league of Dante’s very best work, is nevertheless cleverly written and genuinely well shot, even without the advantage of the dizzying 3D found in the cinema release (which was used with surprising economy and imagination).
Full of unexpectedly scary moments that will give even hardened horror fans a moment’s pause (one shadowy adult figure is particularly menacing), and benefiting from an excellent young cast (Nathan Gamble’s winning, natural performance is especially worthy of note), The Hole deserves to be rediscovered on disc.
Even without the benefit of 3D, The Hole looks marvellous on Blu-ray, the high definition image doing proper justice to Theo van de Sande’s cinematography, and lending its own sense of depth to the inky void of the trapdoor in the basement.
Sadly, the disc’s extras aren’t anywhere near as sparkling as the film itself, with a brief ‘making-of’ documentary that amounts to little more than a synopsis of the main feature. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage and a few surprisingly perfunctory interviews where the cast and crew tell us just how much fun they had during the film’s production.
Nevertheless, The Hole is well worth seeking out. Shamefully overlooked in cinemas while noisier tripe such as Clash Of The Titans brought home the bacon, Dante’s film is a spooky, funny, unexpected treat.
The Hole is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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