After a five year hiatus from filmmaking, Joe Dante is back with the zom-com Burying the Ex. Despite the undead elements and the gore, it’s a very relatable relationship film about Max (Anton Yelchin), a normal guy who wants to break up with his girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene), but is petrified of hurting her feelings. When he finally musters up the stones to break it off, she’s hit by a car and dies. He’s depressed about it (but not that depressed) and soon enough Max dives into a fling with fellow horror nut Olivia (Alexandra Daddorio). Things get complicated when Evelyn rises from the grave and tries to pick up their relationship like nothing happened. Together forever means “forever,” in Evelyn’s case.
It’s a safe bet to say that every horror fan has a favorite Joe Dante movie (or many). From Piranha to his breakout hit Gremlins and beyond, Mr. Dante has carved a niche deep enough into genre filmmaking to thrill generations. He was kind enough to give us some time to talk about his new film, how it brought him back to his old Roger Corman days, and discuss some tidbits about his older work as well. Having him on the phone, I had to ask him about one of my favorite shows of all time, Eerie Indiana, which he apparently doesn’t get asked about that much. Thank you, Mr. Dante.
On what appealed to him about Alan Trezza’s script:
I didn’t know until after I read the script that it was based on a short that he had made, which I asked him not to show me and I still haven’t seen. But I liked the humor, I liked the characters, and I liked that it was something that wasn’t a giant money train to make. And it was a small cast, so I thought it was something that we could actually pull off without a great deal of money. Then it took us about eight years to actually pull off, but finally we managed to get it made.
You know, a lot of the time you read the script, cast it, and get money. You have to have the cast to get the money and you have to have the money to get the cast, so it makes it a lot more difficult than if you were working with a studio who already has it funded.
On how the tight shooting schedule brought him back to his Roger Corman days:
It was completely like doing a Corman movie (laughs). In some ways it was cheaper, even though technically it was more expensive. For instance, the set that we used for the apartment wasn’t built, we found it. And it was up on stilts for some reason. So everything had to be up on this stage and there’s nothing around it. We were always shooting up on this thing. And all the other locations were within a couple blocks of each other. We just pushed the camera and all the equipment from building to building without using trucks or any of that expensive stuff.
On whether he was looking to do something lighter and more accessible to a general audience after coming off of the much darker The Hole:
Not really, because it’s still an R-rated movie. The producers wanted it PG-13 and we showed it to the MPAA and they gave us an R. And we asked them how we could get it down to PG-13 and they told us well, they’re constantly taking about sex which means you’d have to reshoot half the picture. But with The Hole, it’s essentially a family horror film but it has to go into some very dark places because essentially it’s about child abuse. So the question was how dark can we get? And you know, it’s not explicit but it’s still very dark. Burying the Ex, even when it’s at its darkest, I think is still pretty light.
On what movie he’s most surprised has achieved a cult following:
I guess to the degree that its got a cult status, I would have to say The ‘Burbs. When that came out it did okay because Tom Hanks is in it. It wasn’t a commercial disaster by any means. But it got really bad reviews. It actually got worse reviews than Explorers, which I thought would always be the worst reviewed picture I ever made. But there were no good reviews of The ‘Burbs. There was guy in Chicago who liked the movie and everyone else thought it was terrible. So I thought it was probably going to fade away. But to my amazement, every time I host a screening of it, it’s packed.
On what it was like directing my personal role model, Brother Theodore:
Well I have very fond memories of him because he was a very sweet man. He was deaf as a post though. The other actors that were off-screen would have to shout at him in order for him to get his cues. So the editing his scenes was a little bit tricky. But he was a wonderful man and he was so full of stories. None of which I got to hear because I was busy with other stuff. He had a minder on set that was in charge of taking care o f him. And he would constantly come up to me and tell me the stories that Brother Theodore had told him. Everybody just loved him, he was such a wonderful guy.
On working on Eerie Indiana:
I don’t get asked about this much (laughs). I did the pilot and I got along with everybody so they asked me to stay on as a creative consultant. So I was there for the two seasons. It was a wonderful show but unfortunately nobody watched it because it was opposite more popular shows. I got to be a part of everything from the story to the casting. Trust me, if I hadn’t been on that show they would’ve cast the wrong kid as Marshall. And then eventually they wanted to replace him with this other character called Dash X. He was actually supposed to take over for Omri Katz. So they decided to do an episode called “Reality Takes a Holiday”, where Omri realizes he’s the star of a TV show. And they had all the actors playing themselves as the characters they are on the show. I was supposed to direct it but I had to go off and do Matinee, but I’m in it playing myself and it’s a great episode. It wound up being the last episode that aired. On the DVD they put an episode (“The Broken Record”) that was dropped by the network.
I just think it was a great show. It became very popular later on when Fox started airing it on Saturdays and they realized they wanted more episodes. But by then it was too late. So they went to Canada and hired another cast and built a set that looked kind of similar. And they had some clips from the original show and had these new kids turn themselves into other kids. And they did a whole bunch more episodes on half the budget we had, and we had no budget. I don’t know whatever happened to those episodes.
Burying the Ex is now on VOD and home video everywhere.