Since Milton’s nasty cold has escalated to the point where he’s now phlegm on feet, a site that does not mesh well with sequins and glitter, he gave our mutual friend and horror film buff, Ulla, his ticket to Joe Dante’s The Hole, our last New York Film Festival screening. She was thrilled with the idea of having the crap scared out of her since this film was shot in 3D. She said, “I’m coming prepared. I’m wearing a diaper.”
The Hole, was attended by a very excited crowd that included director Dante’s collaborator, John Sayles, who wrote the screenplays for Dante directed comedy horror classics, Piranha (the original 1978 version), and The Howling, released in 1981. Dante joined the moderator, Film Comment editor, Gavin Smith, in introducing the film. To further psyche the eager audience, he walked onto the stage wearing his Dolby 3D glasses. Smith followed Dante’s lead and donned his.
During his introductory remarks, Dante, who was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1946 and grew up in Parsippany, mentioned that he first attended the New York Film Festival in 1965. He did not say what he saw, but he implied that he never imagined that this elitist institution would ever screen one of his films. Ironically, The Hole, was one of the few screenings that sold out well in advance this year illustrating that today’s audience, even in a city as sophisticated as New York, has a much greater appetite for mainstream as opposed to the more marginal-stream fare that the NYFF usually screens. Also, the ticket price for The Hole was a bargain — $12 rather than $20 for most of the other screenings.
The Hole, full of wit and intrigue, is a taut and fun slice of horror-lite. It is not packed with gore nor are buckets of blood spilled, but it has some nice, creepy moments. The tale is about a pair of bored bickering brothers, who have just relocated with their single clueless mother, Susan (Meet the Fockers Teri Polo), from their beloved Brooklyn to a rental home in the town of Bensenville.
The older brother, Dane, is a sullen teenager played by heart-throbby-type Chris Massoglia. He looks a bit like Justin Bieber, if Justin Bieber looked more like a masculine 16-year-old boy than a surfer dude-ette 35-year-old lesbian. The younger brother, Lucas, is a sweet grade schooler, played by scene stealer Nathan Gamble, who delivers some of the film’s best lines. During a moment of rough housing, the boys discover a heavily padlocked door in the floor of the basement that, of course, they must open, or else there would be no film.
Their new friend, Julie, the yappy Pekinese owning neighbor-girl (the competent Haley Bennett), refers to the boys’ hole as “the passageway to hell,” and she enthusiastically adds that it is “so cool.” This is before she realizes that the hole is full of haunting surprises that will include her.
Screenwriter Mark L. Smith has hit on an intriguing premise, a hole that recognizes the worst fears of anyone that looks into it. Even if Dante does not hammer his audience with gross out clichés, composer Javier Navarette’s eerie music score provides chills and more than a few goose bumps. Bruce Dern, an actor with a reputation for playing memorable whackos, makes a delightful cameo as Crazy Carl, the previous tenant of the boys’ house who is now the resident loon in an abandoned glove factory.
A bit of trivia about the climactic scene at the end – if something about it looks familiar, Dante, who shot the film in Vancouver, BC, recycled the set from James Cameron’s TV series, Dark Angel, which ran from 2000-2002.
Overall, The Hole is a family-friendly production and would be a very good “starter” horror film for children under ten. Older kids will probably be intrigued by the hole itself. As a certified case of arrested development, I certainly was.
Afterward, Dante, gave very generous Q&A, reflecting how horror, which was always considered grade B cinema in his youth, remains one of the most popular and successful genres today. He said his influences for this film were Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Italian filmmaker and fright master, Mario Bava.
Even though The Hole won the inaugural 3D Persol award at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, Dante claimed that he would have preferred if it had been shot with RealD 3D technology, but due to budgetary constraints, he was forced to settle for Dolby 3D. His likely third choice was probably No 3D. His issue with Dolby 3D is that he thinks it looks darker, but to our untrained film going eyes we thought it looked fine. He said he made it for around twelve million dollars, a pittance when one considers what Hollywood produced 3D films cost. The Hole has yet to find US distribution, but it has opened in Europe.
While I was writing this post, Milton called to say that he felt so ill on Saturday and was coughing so violently, he was wondering if he had tuberculosis. He slept heavily through Sunday, when he woke feeling both considerably better and ravenous. Therefore, he ate an entire pie – the new cure for the common cold.