In 2005, Joe Dante directed an episode of the Showtime series Masters of Horror entitled Homecoming, in which soldiers brought back from Iraq in coffins rose from the dead to cast votes in the upcoming election. It was seen by some as one of the most damning indictments of the Bush administration put on screen, and made one wonder why such a satirical and subversive talent has been away from our cinemas for so long. Perhaps the same metaphor can be applied to The Hole, Dante’s first proper feature (we’ll not count Looney Tunes : Back In Action, 2003) since the hugely underrated Small Soldiers (1998), and with upcoming pictures from John Landis (Burke and Hare), Wes Craven (My Soul To Take, Scream 4) and John Carpenter (The Ward), it’s as though the giants of screen horror are rising from the grave to reclaim their legacy from the young pretenders.
The Hole is a simple, brilliantly effective scary movie for kids and adults alike. This being Dante though, the kids in the audience aren’t getting any punches pulled, it’s genuinely creepy and at times downright frightening and those not suffering from a phobia about clowns may quickly develop one. Often described as Spielberg’s evil twin, Dante presents us with a classic Spielbergian set-up, the single-mom moving her family from city to city, and the two kids, one a cynical and disbelieving teenager the other a naïve and curious 8 year old that no-one believes. In this case however, the absent father is a violently abusive convict, portrayed as a giant with a belt buckle the size of his fist.
Brothers Dane and Lucas, along with cute girl-next-door Julie discover a bottomless hole in the basement of their new home, under a trapdoor covered with padlocks. They open it up and scary things happen. That’s pretty much it in terms of plot, but it’s just so well executed that it makes the blood drenched excess of the likes of the Saw and Hostel movies almost comical in their fruitless grasping for scares. Dante plays with archetypal childhood fears, the monster under the bed, creaking doors and shadows but also isn’t afraid to inject more adult themes of abuse and guilt.
Like the best kids’ movies however, it’s the kids facing their demons and succeeding away from the eyes of adults that gives it such a nostalgic 80s vibe. The final sequence where Dane overcomes his past family trauma recalls Bernard Rose’s picture Paperhouse (1988) but most of all it was like watching a Freddy movie for kids (minus pizza face of course). I’d love to see what Dante’s interpretation of Nightmare On Elm Street 3 : Dream Warriors (1987) would be if they went that way with the new incarnation.
All three of the leads give natural performances and the script is nicely judged, the Dick Miller cameo is present and correct and Bruce Dern gives another wacky turn as the house’s former owner Creepy Carl. The 3D is brilliantly executed, one of the best examples I’ve seen so far, perhaps most effective when filming into and out from the hole itself, it’s the first time I’ve really noticed the possibilities for it’s application in horror movies. Every corner becomes that much more alive, and flickering shadows had my eyes darting around the screen waiting for a jump, those quieter anticipatory moments held so much more tension and showed a much more effective deployment of the technology than any pick axe in My Bloody Valentine (2009).
The Hole is great old-fashioned fun, like a great ghost train ride and for ninety minutes had me hooked. It’s been a long time since a movie really made me jump, but hopefully it won’t be another twelve years before Joe Dante does it again.
The Hole - 2010 - USA - 92 mins - Dir: Joe Dante