Earlier this week I visited the set of the new Joe Dante film Burying The Ex. I dug his last movie, The Hole, and feel like it was given the short end of the stick when it came to its release, so it was nice to see him at work on a picture that will likely grab a wide audience. What I saw looked great, with some of the stuff you’d expect to play broadly instead performed with an endearing specificity that I think horror geeks will engage with.
The whole thing got me thinking back on his filmography, so I thought it would be fun to toss a list together highlighting my favorite films of his. Dante has obviously directed way more than 5 features, so this isn’t meant to slight the ones that didn’t make the cut (a lot of them are great) – but rather to celebrate the ones that did.
Check it out below!
5: The Howling
I’ve been vocal about how this film stacks up to the other great werewolf movie of 1981 for me (An American Werewolf In London), but the fact remains that this is still one of the best lycanthrope pictures out there. It’s very difficult to make a werewolf film that’s any good at all, so making a classic one is certainly a coup of some kind. Having a script by John Sayles doesn’t hurt, and the swinging vibe of the commune/retreat gives The Howling a ton of personality.
Not horror, but since this is my list I’m making the rules. I loved this movie growing up. Admittedly, I haven’t seen it in a while but the fact that it’s imprinted on my brain has to be good for something. Inventive, suspenseful and hilarious with a great cast. If you’re a younger reader who missed this film for some reason, it’s well worth your time and money.
3: The ‘Burbs
A divisive entry, but sometimes I think people who don’t love The ‘Burbs have no sense of adventure. Met with mixed response upon is release in 1989 (perhaps due to the general public’s inexplicable aversion to horror comedies), I think it’s time for a widespread reappraisal of its merits. I love that the suspicions of Tom Hanks and Rick Ducommun pay off. I love the camaraderie of the whole block (Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman et al..) banding together. But the real genius of the film is how it aligns us against its protagonists by positioning them as bullies against an awkward but sympathetic and misunderstood family. Then it flips everything on its head. Perfect.
2: Gremlins 2: The New Batch
I’m the guy who wrote 5 Reasons ‘Gremlins 2’ Is A Masterpiece, so believe me when I say that this flip-flops with the number one entry on this list on a daily basis. The fact that Gremlins 2 is a high budget satire of corporate entropy is great, but the fact that it manages to successfully import its characters from one genre to another is a miracle. Also, major points for making John Glover’s character (Daniel Clamp) sympathetic when they could have easily repeated past success by taking the Mrs. Deagle route with him. This film really is a masterpiece.
Gremlins 2 isn’t Dante’s only masterpiece. Like I said, it often jockeys for #1 position with the original Gremlins. This is one of the perfect Christmas movies, one that embraces both the darker (consumerism) and brighter (family) sides of the holiday. Phoebe Cates’ speech about her dad is the kind of magically dark moment you would never find in a mainstream PG movie these days. It’s also easy to take for granted the kind of world building that’s at work here. Not only does it establish every nook and cranny of Kingston Falls (including the social pecking order), it also successfully introduces a brand new movie monster with an elaborate and complex biology. Hoyt Axton is also perfection. In fact, the entire movie is.
Be sure to check out my Script To Scream on the film, in which Gerald gives the famous Phoebe Cates speech (then dies), Gizmo turns into a butterfly and we conclusively find out about the Futtermans’ demise.
What’s your Top 5? I bet Piranha is on there right?