For anyone who a) grew up in the 80s, b) watched movies, and c) liked watching great movies, The Hole in 3D is more than just a film. Seven years after his last cinematic outing, 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back In Action, Joe Dante is back. To some, that may not mean much. In the last two decades, only three other films, Small Soldiers (1998), Matinee (1993) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), can lay claim to bearing Dante’s cinematic fingerprints. Hardly a prolific output.
But in the 80s, Dante was king. He made Gremlins (I could end it there, really, but I won’t), sent River Phoenix into space (Explorers), put a miniature Dennis Quaid inside Martin Short (Innerspace), and had Tom Hanks, before he went all serious, star in what may be the most hard-to-categorise film of his career (The ‘burbs). That’s not even mentioning The Howling, which seems to have lost a bit of its shine with the near endless stream of inferior sequels it’s since spawned.
All of which might be lost on the target audience of The Hole, which flicks between feeling like a stretched out episode of Eerie Indiana (no bad thing) and Flatliners for kids (ditto). Although Disturbia may be a closer match in terms of plot.
Screenwriter Mark L. Smith takes that film’s structure of three kids bored in the suburbs and simply replaces the serial killer living opposite with a really big hole. So, instead of asking themselves if David Morse really is a bad guy, The Hole‘s young trio must investigate what lies beneath their garage.
It’s familiar territory for Dante, who’s always enjoyed exploring the darkness and quirkiness that lies beneath the facade of banal suburbia. Here, it’s simply writ large and a little less subversive. Instead of suspected cannibalism or rampaging homeowners, we get killer clowns and hobbling ghosts wreaking havoc amidst the picket fences.
But this being, you know, for kids, it’s never that scary. Save for a terrifically creepy bathroom scene, it’s horror wrapped in cotton wool. Even the kids don’t feel that worried by their plight. “You’ve got a gateway to Hell under your house,” one says, “and that is really cool”. Gone are the terrified inhabitants of Gremlins‘ snow-lined streets. In their place we have blasé, precocious teens who oscillate between curious and nonchalant.
In that sense, it lacks the Dante bite of old. Where Small Soldiers was a kids movie for adults, The Hole is just a kids movie. But it’s a pretty good one, at that. If it misses the madcap energy of Gremlins, it makes up for that with enough reminders of Dante’s eye for a great set piece. A hermit’s den of hanging lights dazzles, literally, a swimming pool scene feels like a childhood nightmare come to life, and the climax recalls the off-kilter excess of his segment in The Twilight Zone: The Movie.
They’re made even better by 3D too. The Hole was shot in 3D, making it a cut above the glut of recent pretenders who’ve tried to cash in on the craze after the fact. As with most films, it takes a few minutes for the eyes to adjust (a pizza eating scene in the opening few minutes was so vivid I thought I’d walked into an advert for a well known pizza establishment by mistake), but when they do the film’s low key charms shine a little brighter.
And, of course, it’s always good to see Dick Miller, even if he does now look like Eli Wallach in The Holiday. He doesn’t get a line, but he still nabs the film’s biggest laugh, narrowly beating an Eric Cartman talking doll.
That’s the biggest appeal of The Hole. It may be Dante-lite, but it’s still Dante. And it’s great to have him back.