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Dante digs being busy once again

IT'S BEEN a busy two days for veteran horror director Joe Dante. Press calls, promotion, interviews — the kind of things you'd begin to miss following a seven-year absence from the big screen.

Not to mention those pesky and predictable questions about whether or not he'll ever get around to shooting a third Gremlins film. But let's not go there just yet. Let's concentrate on The Hole — Dante's newest, shiniest and friendliest scary project in years.

Long story short: single mom and sons move to a quiet, peaceful neighbourhood where everything seems, well, pretty normal actually. That is, until the lads discover a bottomless hole in the basement. Take one look down it and, whaddaya know, your worst fears come crawling straight out. We're talking creepy clowns chasing after youngsters and frightful memories of an abusive childhood. We're talking TV movies that should never be considered for theatrical release. Still, the fact that it was actually shot in 3D makes it that little bit more interesting, but why the long wait to return to the world of cinema, Joe?

I see. It's not like Dante hasn't kept himself occupied, though. Nor has he ever turned his back on horror. Indeed, over the past few years, the 63-year-old American filmmaker has focused his attention on both the web (the colourful Trailers From Hell series) and the small screen (Masters of Horror).

But while there are a few tense and genuinely sinister moments throughout The Hole, I wonder if it's becoming more and more difficult to scare audiences these days.

"Well, everything's been done!" he says. "I mean, now that the envelope has been pushed to the point where you can be as graphic as you can possibly be, people are less 'shockable', you know, things that would have shocked them a few years ago don't shock them any more. Yet, to me, the movies that have the lasting impression are the ones where you bring something to it. Like Rosemary's Baby -- if you talk to people, you say 'what did you think of the baby at the end?' they say, 'oh, it was horrible', and then you remind them that there is never a shot of the baby in the movie, that all of the stuff is conveyed through the actors' reactions and that you only think that you see the baby. That's the kind of horror picture I've always liked."

Inevitably, the conversation turns to shooting The Hole in 3D; something that Joe believed would enhance both the "canvas" as well as the movie-going experience for the audience. But don't be fooled into thinking this is just another all-out special-effects show with some cling film, three-dimensional wrapping added on afterwards -- these guys did things properly.

"A lot of directors don't necessarily want to add 3D, it's done without their consent," he tells me. "My friend Michael Apted just did a Narnia picture, and he was very upset that they insisted that his finished film be turned into 3D, because he had no intention when he was making it of doing it. He said, 'if I was gonna' do a 3D movie, I would have done it differently'. And the fact is that, when you make a 3D film -- if you're doing it correctly -- you shoot it for 3D. To just take a film that was created to be in 2D, and send it to India and have it come back in this dark, fuzzy, View-Master slide kind of 3D, is a disservice to the movies and it's frankly picking the pockets of the audience."

He makes a valid point. After all, this is a man whose entire career has been dedicated to pleasing audiences all over the world; a movie-making legend who sets himself a rule of trying to avoid directing films that he himself wouldn't watch.

From the original 1978 Piranha outing, through wonderful cinematic gems such as Innerspace and, of course, the much loved Gremlins franchise, Dante has indeed provided us with plenty of decent material along the way.

Which finally brings us to the subject of Gizmo and the gang -- I bet I'm the first to bring it up today, though . . . right?

"Well you wouldn't be surprised to hear that, for the past two days, I have had about 25 different people ask me: 'Is there another Gremlins movie coming?'" he laughs.