Don’t write Joe Dante off just yet. You may not have heard much from the perpetually underrated filmmaker lately, but The Hole, which premiered at TIFF in 2009 but is just now getting a Region 1 home video release, is not a bad place to start getting reacquainted. Like Gremlins and — to a lesser extent — Gremlins 2, The Hole occupies a “kids horror” genre niche that doesn’t constrain it to the obvious or prevent it from delivering genuine fright and dark humor.
Dante is the master of a kind of film that’s far more subversive than meets the eye, and while The Hole isn’t his sharpest genre exercise, it’s still a wholly enjoyable, purely archetypal horror tale. It’s also a good bet if you’re hoping to start engendering a healthy fear of clowns in any young ones you might have.
Moving to quiet suburban Bensonville from Brooklyn, 17-year-old Dane (Chris Massoglia), 10-year-old Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and their mother (Teri Polo) are hoping to start a new life following some unexplained trauma. Dane is prepared to be bored out of his mind by their less than exciting new neighborhood, but soon, the brothers discover a mysterious locked-down hatch in their basement, which opens up to a seemingly bottomless empty hole. Joining them in their investigation of the mystery is next-door neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), whom Dane instantly takes a shine to.
Part of what holds The Hole back is its uneven performances by Massoglia and Bennett, who seem to be competing in a contest to be the blandest character possible. Gamble is much more of a natural and a far more compelling audience surrogate as the trio must deal with a bloody little girl, a sinister clown doll, a giant faceless man and the ominous mumblings of previous homeowner Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern).
If this all sounds fairly routine, it’s meant to be. At times, it seems like Dante is seeking to pack as many horror tropes and references in as he can. He’s such a deft visual filmmaker and a great humorist that it works just fine, never devolving into a jumbled referential mess, but toeing the line between irony and sincerity and sometimes achieving both simultaneously.
One wishes Dante had a little bigger budget, as some of the finer production details tend to look pretty generic and chintzy, and not charmingly strung-together like one might expect from the Roger Corman school vet. Nevertheless, The Hole is good horror fun.
The Blu-ray Disc
Shot and released in 3-D, The Hole only gets a regular 2-D Blu-ray in Region 1, with the film presented in 1080p high definition and a 1.85.1 aspect ratio. This is presumably a faithful representation of the digital source, with nicely sharp images and bright, consistent colors. The whole thing can take on a slightly garish, flat look at times, especially in brighter scenes, but one suspects this is a condition of the source. Overall, it’s a nicely detailed image, if sometimes a little too detailed as Massoglia’s heavy mismatched makeup can attest to.
Audio is a strong 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that’s pretty active throughout the sound-space, filling out the rears with some sharp effects and immersing the viewer in its foreboding score.
A few EPK-style featurettes are pretty much all we get here, with cast and crew talking about the relationships between characters, the production and the effects in several short pieces. A stills gallery is also included. This combo pack release also includes a standard DVD of the film with the extras intact.
The Bottom Line
No one will proclaim Dante has outdone himself with The Hole, but it’s certainly proof that the comedy horror master hasn’t lost the touch either.