August 6, 2015 Interview – Joe Dante
When one thinks of Horror mixing with Comedy, the director that immediately springs to mind is the legendary Joe Dante. After an extensive career both behind and in front of the camera, Dante has become an expert in his field, knowing what he wants and going after it, even if that project is years in the making. After sitting at the helm of such films as 1978’s Piranha, 1981’s The Howling, and classic 1984’s Gremlins, to name a few, one can see the link that ties them all together – humor. Although he had once dreamed of being a cartoonist, Dante took a job editing for the famed low budget producer Roger Corman, and it was there that he discovered his love for directing – and for making people laugh. Still extremely active in film making, his most recent film, 2014’s Burying the Ex, is a hilarious tale of an obsessive love that conquers even death itself, even if that love is a bit one-sided. Recently we sat down with Dante for a closer look at his career in Horror, his latest film, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have attained quite an amazing career in film, particularly in genre films. Has the Horror genre always been one that attracted you?
Joe Dante – Yes, I guess so. When I was a kid, I liked Horror movies, so when I got a chance to make my first films, they tended to be in that genre because it was something that I knew well. I had seen so many movies and I learned so many tricks about them. I liked all movies when I was a kid. I particularly liked Westerns, but unfortunately, no one makes those anymore (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Besides Horror, you have also worked in Comedy and sometimes mixed Horror and Comedy. As a director, how important is interjecting Comedy into a Horror film?
Joe Dante – I find that audiences will find humor in places that you really did not want them to find it in this particular genre, because most people go to Horror movies the same way they approach a roller coaster ride. They want to have a good time, they want to be scared, and they want to be thrilled. Their emotions are very close to the surface and if you do not give them something to laugh at, then they will find it in a place where you did not want them to. Also, if you make people laugh, you can catch them off-guard and scare them. I have found that it is most useful to me to combine them.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. Even in 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they added some humor.
Joe Dante – (laughs) Yes! “Chainsaw humor,” we call that.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Now, your most recent project, Burying The Ex, is your first feature film in almost six years. What was it like getting back into working on a feature film again?
Joe Dante – That was not by choice. Basically, you make what you make. The days when people come out of the woodwork to offer you things tends to disappear as you get older, and so you have to generate your own projects. This was a project that I was working on. I first saw it like seven years ago and we kept trying to get it financed, Came close a couple times, did not happen. Then we sat back and watched other Zombie movies with similar premises getting made, and ours was not. It was kind of frustrating. Then, about two years ago, suddenly there was an opportunity to make the picture, but only if we could make it very quickly for a small amount of money; just get it done in twenty days. So, we said, “Okay, that is what we will do.” We fixed the script so we could actually finish it during that time period, and we did not overshoot at all. We got it done in twenty days.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is a tight schedule. In your career, you have worked with monsters, werewolves, but seldom zombies, besides the Masters of Horror episode in 2005, Homecoming. With that said, was it fun for you to in the Zombie genre again with Burying The Ex?
Joe Dante – Actually, when I did the Master of Horror thing, that was sort of my Zombie stage, such as it is. Then when this came along, what really sparked me about it was not that it was about zombies, because that was an old hat idea. I saw it as more of a screwball Comedy. I like the idea of the romantic part of the story and the Comedy part of the story. That was more fun to me. It is incidentally a Zombie movie, of course, because she comes back from the dead and how she wants to get her boyfriend to sleep with her as she is decomposing, so that does not seem like a very good idea. That struck me as funny. It was not like I said, “Gee, I haven’t done a Zombie movie in ten years. I better make another one.”
CrypticRock.com – Right, the film is certainly more Comedy based. You have a very talented cast for the film, including Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene. What was it like working with them?
Joe Dante – They were wonderful! I was lucky to get the cast that I got. I mean, the cast is the movie. I think if you like my movie, it is because you like them. Ashley has not had much of an opportunity to do Comedy and I think that was what was so appealing to her about this film. She got to play so manic and so crazy, but in a very controlled way. Of course, sitting around and having to have a ton of makeup put on was no fun. That takes a lot. Also, we had to shoot out of sequence, so I had to keep a chart telling me what state of decomposition is Ashley in today? (laughs) Anton, of course – I have been watching him since he was a kid. He started as a kid actor. I always thought he was very talented. I particularly thought he made very specific choices in his projects. He has made an eclectic group of movies largely because that was what he wanted to do. He loves acting, but he is also attracted to off-beat parts in off-beat movies.
CrypticRock.com – He certainly is lucky, as many actors do not get to be so choosy in their roles. Only someone with a lot of known talent can pick and choose the roles they play.
Joe Dante – You should someday talk to him about that. He may say something different (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Perhaps we will get to ask him sometime. Many associate your name with your work on the now classic 1984 film Gremlins, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary 2014. There has been talks about a remake of the film and it seems everything is being remade now.
Joe Dante – It is. It was just a matter of time before they got around to this one.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, now that it is going to come to fruition, what are your thoughts on this?
Joe Dante – Well, it is a difficult project to remake. It was a difficult project to make in the first place. Also, the first two movies were completely defined by the limits of modern technology. Now, technology has gotten to a point where, anything you imagine, you can put up on screen if you have the money for it. Therefore, I think that may make it a little more difficult to figure out exactly what the point is. What is going to happen? Who are these characters? What do they mean today? It is almost like they are from a different world. I think it has been a challenge.
CrypticRock.com – You are right. You think, too, that there is really no limits as to what people can put on the screen nowadays. It really does take away from the spectacularness of what people could do with practical effects compared to what they can do now. It is a little disheartening, in a way.
Joe Dante – Oh, I do not know. I mean, you could use the same techniques today to much better advantage, by putting the puppeteers in the frame with the Gremlins, and then taking them out with CGI. I think, if you wanted to, you could use the same approach, but I am not sure if that is what they have in mind.
CrypticRock.com – We will all have to wait and see. We are curious, what are some of your personal favorite Horror films?
Joe Dante – My favorite Horror movies tend to be somewhat older than today’s movies. I am a Classicist. I like what Guillermo del Toro is doing these days because it reminds me of the movies I used to like.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, he is doing some great things with Vampires right now with The Strain television series.
Joe Dante – Yes, he is!
CrypticRock.com – Since CrypticRock.com covers music as well, we would like to know some of the music that you enjoy?
Joe Dante – I am a huge Ennio Morricone collector. I first got into that music in the sixties when they were in all of the Spaghetti Westerns. Then, when I found out what an amazing composer he was, I started collecting stuff. I have friends who collect CDs, and all of these obscure scores are coming out now from the sixties and seventies, and I had to give up (laughs). I just got overwhelmed with all that stuff. Like, do I even have time to play it?