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California Literary Review

Halloween Home Video #1: Joe Dante’s The Hole

Joe Dante's The Hole promotional poster


Halloween Home Video #1: Joe Dante’s The Hole

Welcome once again to October, a time for Halloween mischief, and the coveted season for every horror filmmaker with the influence or wherewithal to mount a wide theatrical release. The major horror franchises and directors need no introduction. Having a feature film play nationally (or internationally) within weeks of Halloween is sufficient fanfare, so let’s turn our attention to the grimy pinkish underbelly of the genre.

Halloween Home Video (2012 edition) is your guide to the unsung scare flicks, thrill pics, and various fright nasties of this year. In a series of bite-size reviews, we hope to provide you with the perfect video rental option for the spooky soirée of your choice.

Halloween Home Video is not meant to highlight the best of the best in horror moviemaking. It is a second look at the smaller releases of this year, which for whatever reason have gained some measure of attention despite having played only in festivals, on small release circuits, or perhaps even on home video only. A few of these movies are very good indeed, though many will require significant garbage-sifting for a small reward. However, each has been chosen for having something to offer to the die-hard horror gourmand. With any luck, this list could become an annual tradition. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, hit the lights and enjoy the lurking horrors of 2012.

Joe Dante's The Hole promotional poster

© 2009 Bold Films/BenderSpink

For The Family Night

Joe Dante is probably best known as the director of Gremlins, that great litmus test of how permissive parents are were when it comes to little kids watching creepy movies. In addition, he also has on his record such triumphs as the grim Tom Hanks comedy The ‘Burbs and the sci-fi lunacy that is Innerspace. These are only three of the big ones in a long and prolific career which continues to this day. Not every on the list is a home run, but Dante is a veteran of the trade with plenty of nice tricks left up his sleeve.

The story of The Hole is extremely simple, and the payoff less than revelatory, but it stands as a perfectly good option for parents who want to be sure of spooky but safe Halloween fun. All but the littlest kiddos can watch this film without too much risk of nightmares or long-term jarring. In addition, while it lacks the fiendish bite of Gremlins or the crude wit of The ‘Burbs, it does boast a surprisingly positive lesson about facing fears in order to banish them.

Chris Massoglia stars as Dane, a normal kid rather soured on life by the awkwardness of puberty and having to move constantly because of his family’s domestic woes. He spends his time keeping his energetic little brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) at arm’s length, until two important events befall them. They befriend quirky and confident girl-next-door Julie (Haley Bennett), and they discover a huge, seemingly bottomless hole under a heavily locked hatch in their new basement.

It turns out that the Hole has a terrifying secret. BIG surprise! From its mysterious depths will rise a manifestation of its victim’s greatest fear. With three children peering down it at once, the stage is instantly set for an onslaught of supernatural and psychic mayhem.

As Dane’s mother Susan (Teri Polo) tries to get settled in a new job, her main worry is that her sons will be able to get along and fit in. Little does she know that while she works, they are on the run from a triad of crippling phobias. There are whiffs of Poltergeist and Stephen King’s It afoot here, but The Hole achieves neither the scale of the former or the sordid depths of the latter. The script is funny enough, the performances are fine, and the scares are sufficient but not excessive. The whole movie has the super-clean look that high-resolution video tends to have nowadays, and above all it feels rather “safe” given Dante’s proven capacity for the outrageous.

The Hole is an uncommonly well-balanced example of the PG-13 rating. These generally either feel like a children’s film gratuitously punched up with shocking content to draw a larger teen market, or an R-rated movie painfully trimmed so that movie theaters can allow those same teens in to see it. The Hole is weird and scary, but light on the strong language, minimal on the violence and zero on all but the faintest innuendo of sex. It also features a zany cameo by Bruce Dern for the older folks. What’s not to like? It might even help some children you know realize that their biggest fears are not such a big problem after all.

Dan Fields is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Film. He has written for the California Literary Review since 2010. He is also co-founder and animator for Fields Point Pictures, and the frontman of Houston-based folk band Polecat Rodeo. Google+, Twitter

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