Tag Archives: Gremlins

My Golden Age of Movie Posters

Note: Click on all the images to see them full size.

If you love movies as much as I do, there’s a good chance that you love movie posters too. You probably have them on your walls, use one as your desktop wallpaper, and perhaps even collect movie posters like some people collect Picassos. I have a few myself, and why not? Some movie posters truly are works of art. Or at least, they used to be. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’ve got another case of that rose-tinted nostalgia-vision, but it seems that the hand-crafted movie poster has become an endangered species.

Growing up in the eighties, I spent my childhood in awe of the great movie poster illustrators, the artists whose work embellished the films I worshipped. I was a budding artist as well as a movie fanatic, and the eighties may have been the heyday of the movie poster artisan. It was, I see now, the perfect time for me to grow up in. Part of the excitement of any new movie, particularly those by the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was that first glimpse of the new artwork by Drew Struzan or Richard Amsel. These were artists who created posters upon which their signature was redundant. You knew who had created it simply by the style of the illustrations. They were in a league of their own, and in my opinion will remain so.

Star Wars reinvigorated the movie poster, accentuating the concept of the one sheet as a collectible piece of artwork. That’s not to say movie posters weren’t collectibles before then but, as it did with so many other things, Star Wars set the bar a little higher. The movie poster was suddenly romantic and energetic again, and the best designs for Star Wars ably captured the film’s wonder, sweep and spectacle. The posters were not just promotional tools, but important artistic creations in their own right. Perhaps, the most famous is the image of heroic Luke Skywalker, complete with accentuated physique, holding his lightsaber aloft, with the giant head of Darth Vader in the stars behind him. Known as Style A, this was a poster design interpreted first by Tom Jung (who would create posters for all three of the original Star Wars trilogy) and then by The Brothers Hildebrandt, with dramatically differing styles.

Drew Struzan’s poster for the film, in collaboration with airbrush artist Charles White III, was a nostalgic piece harkening back to the Saturday morning serials upon which the movie was based. It has a torn poster on plywood effect that only came about because the original design had no room for the movie credits. The romantic design ethic continued with The Empire Strikes Back. Roger Kastel illustrated the classic poster for the Star Wars sequel (see below), having previously created the iconic image for Jaws. Again, it is an evocative illustration encompassing a montage of scenes and characters. The fantasy and romance pours from the poster and the colours beautifully reflect those of the movie. Tom Jung also created his own poster for the movie, featuring a striding Darth Vader holding out his hand, a pose reflecting the movie’s famous and oft-quoted line, ‘I am your father’.

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Richard Amstel produced two wonderful illustrations for Raiders of the Lost Ark, having earlier worked on the poster for Flash Gordon (above). The Indiana Jones series, a natural successor to the romantic nostalgia of Star Wars, followed suit in utilising great artists to render promotional materials. Amsel’s work on Raiders still ranks among my favourites of all time (see his alternative version at the top of this page). The beautifully realised image of Harrison Ford lifting out of the sandstone (a mix of watercolour, acrylic, airbrush and coloured pencils) is not only iconic, but sets the tone and setting of the film perfectly. Again, Drew Struzan was given the chance to create his own design for the film, for its 10th anniversary re-release. Sadly, Richard Amsel died in 1985, only 38 old. Struzan then became the go-to guy for the Indiana Jones movies, as well as many others connected with Spielberg and Lucas, such as the Back to the Future trilogy and the Star Wars prequels.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were many great artists working during this period. John Alvin created the famous poster for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which portrays the fingers of the alien and Elliot touching. The idea paid homage to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (suggested by Spielberg). Alvin was also responsible for the paws emerging from a box for Gremlins and the original poster for Blade Runner. Bob Peak created the art for each Star Trek movie poster, throughout the eighties. They, and many more like them, are the reason why movie memorabilia from that period is among the most sought after.

These days things are different. The ease and speed at which a poster can be knocked together using Photoshop means beautifully hand-rendered movie posters are a far rarer beast. To the men signing the cheques, it’s far cheaper to hire someone to sew together a couple of head shots or do a photo montage on the computer. I understand it, this is a business after all, but there was something about those old posters that fired the imagination and stoked the sense of wonder as you awaited your first screening of the next celluloid dream. They produced the kind of artwork that cannot be achieved with a mouse and keyboard, any more than an Impressionist masterpiece can be. The industry no longer seems to need the artists the way it once did, and it is always sad when an art form becomes surplus to requirements.

Struzan is still working, however rarely, and still producing immaculately hand-drawn posters. Hellboy was graced with his work along with, naturally, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, the golden age of he and his peers is long gone. At forty, I may grumble about my age, but I will always be grateful to have spent my formative years during the heyday of these unsung artistic giants. And I will always remember how I was just as influenced and inspired by the artistry they used to promote the movies as I was by the movies themselves. Thank you, guys.

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Drew Struzan’s website

A wonderful site dedicated to the work of Richard Amsel

Tom Jung’s page at IMP Awards

John Alvin’s website

 


The Gremlins Gag Reel

Directors love an in-joke. There are an awful lot of movies out there that contain the odd knowing reference, cameo or other visual gag. For some filmmakers they are as much a part of cinema’s language as dollying and panning. More often than not they are references to other movies from the work of the star/director/producer of the movie you are watching, or signature moments which recur throughout that particular director’s filmography. Much of the time these gags will go unnoticed by the majority of the audience, but for the movie geek they are little golden nuggets, a secret code which only those in the know can decipher. It’s all pretty sad, perhaps, but we geeks will take any opportunity to feel special. And, yes, mildly superior.

Hitchcock was famous for giving himself cameos in his own movies, appearing in 39 of his 52 pictures. Almost every John Landis movie includes the line ‘See you next Wednesday’ somewhere within. And Sam Raimi will always get his Oldsmobile into his films if he can. But few directors have crammed as many of these little gags into a single movie as Joe Dante did in 1984′s Gremlins.

So, because it’s Christmas and watching Gremlins is one of my yuletide rituals, I present to you my visual list of the great movie’s many in-jokes. I’ve time-indexed each one, both to help you watch out for them and because I’m a big, anal geek.

Now, I don’t claim this to be a comprehensive list, although I hope it’s close. You’d have to be a fool to say you’d spotted every gag in a movie by a director who confesses he likes to ‘doodle in the margins’ of each frame. These are just the ones I know. If I’ve missed any out, please let me know. I’ll be your geek friend forever.

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05:13 – Speaks for itself, this one. Kingston Falls resident DJ Rocking Ricky Rialto bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain famous adventurer. And that logo looks just as familiar, too. This is the first of many nods to Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg.

05:45 – The name of the store in the background is Doctor Fantasy’s, a name which Billy mentions later on. Doctor Fantasy was producer Frank Marshall’s nickname.

08:22 – Billy passes a cinema showing two movies with titles which will be familiar to informed Spielberg fans. A Boy’s Life was the original title of E.T. and Watch the Skies was the original title of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

08:49 – Billy’s walk to work is highly reminiscent of George Bailey’s run home at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, which was a big influence on the look of Gremlins. The town is called Kingston Falls, after the classic movie’s Bedford Falls. Look, there’s even an Emporium. Merry Christmas, Emporium!

13:31 – Billy’s friend at the bar is none other than the late, great Chuck Jones, legendary animator for Looney Tunes. Director Joe Dante is a huge fan of the Warner cartoons, and there are several references to the characters throughout Gremlins, including a later scene in the same bar where a Pepé Le Pew cartoon is playing on the TV in the background.

15:15 – Look what Billy’s mum is watching on the TV. It’s a Wonderful Life! Specifically the George Bailey scene which Dante imitated earlier. Cheeky old Joe.

23:55 – If you look closely at the back wall of Billy’s bedroom, you’ll see a rolled up poster for Twilight Zone: The Movie, which Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante both directed sequences for.

38:07 – The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is showing on the TV, paying homage to another Dante favourite and another movie featuring creatures born in pods. Also, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starred Kevin McCarthy, a regular in Joe Dante’s movies.

38:59 – The smiley face on the fridge door is a recurring motif from Dante’s previous movie The Howling.

43:23 – Multiple gags in this single frame. Billy’s dad calls home from the Inventor’s Convention. Behind him, in the cowboy hat, is composer Jerry Goldsmith and behind Goldsmith is the machine from the 1960 movie, The Time Machine. In the foreground, zooming around in a weird cart, is none other than Spielberg.

58:35 – We cut back to the same place later and now Robby the Robot from sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet is using the phone. Wearing Indiana Jones’ hat.

1:13:42 – Anyone who played arcade games in the 80s will recognise the Star Wars game being played by this gremlin. We used to think that game was so cool.

1:23:24 – Billy and Kate find the gremlins in the cinema. What movie is in the Coming Attractions? Yep, it’s The Howling.

1:23:38 – While the gremlins sit watching Snow White, one of them appears to have a pair of very familiar ears.

1:29:35 – Billy hunts down Stripe in the department store, but Stripe is hiding among some well-known cuddly characters, including E.T..

1:38:11 – At the end of the movie, we see a reporter on the TV. This is Jim McKrell playing Lew Landers, exactly the same character he played in The Howling.

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Cinema’s Most Disastrous Santas

What would Christmas be without Santa Claus? For kids the world over this chubby, jovial character personifies everything that children hold dear about the festive season. Namely, getting sacks full of expensive presents and eating until you pass out.

Whether Saint Nicholas actually exists or not is a moot point, because anyone can don the famous red outfit and play the part. However, not everyone can play the part convincingly. Some are unpleasant, some misguided, and some just plain rubbish. Here are five examples of what happens when the wrong man puts on that uniform and beard.

Ho, ho, ho!

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Louis Winthorpe III

Trading Places

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Stock market golden boy Louis Winthorpe III was supposed to be spending Christmas in his plush, New York residence with his fiancée, Penelope. Instead, having had his life of privilege reduced to rubble by his unscrupulous employers (over a $1 bet), Louis is forced to don quite possibly the filthiest Santa costume in history in a drunken attempt to infiltrate the office Christmas party. There’s nothing remotely jolly about this Santa, however. Snarling at the guests, filling his baggy pants with buffet food and planting drugs in the office of his rival, this is Santa reduced to petty crime and hysterical gun-waving.

Naughty or Nice: Louis Winthorpe III is neither, really. He’s too self-obsessed to be considered nice and far too inept to be considered truly naughty. Feeble.

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Jack Skellington

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Halloween can become so boring to those who invest their lives in it, year after year. Scaring kids, carving pumpkins, scaring more kids. And that’s it. Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween Town, has hit just such a slump. There seems to be no answer to his blues until he accidently discovers the magical place called Christmas Town. Enthralled by the colour everywhere and white things in the air, Jack decides on a career change. After all, how hard can this Sandy Claws thing be? You dress in red and give kids stuff, right? He just needs to get that fat, bearded guy out of the way first.

Naughty or Nice: As the King of Halloween, and purveyor of quality tricks, naughty is pretty much Jack’s default setting. Which is what makes him such a dismal Santa Claus. He just doesn’t get it. On the other hand, he has a great singing voice.

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Billy Chapman

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Troubled Billy Chapman has some serious Santa related childhood issues. While most people see Santa as a benevolent figure, whose prime directive is to reward good children, Billy tends to look at the other side of the equation. Surely Santa’s job is to punish the naughty, right? Seems reasonable. What isn’t reasonable, however, is Billy’s insistence on punishing the naughty with a big axe. Still, if you’re going to go on a murderous spree at Christmas time, then the fabled red outfit is an ideal disguise. The cops will probably shoot five Santas before they get to you.

Naughty or Nice: Well, that depends on whether acts of unprovoked violence and murder with sharp implements fall into your own, personal definition of ‘naughty’. I think we can safely assume that the real Santa frowns on such things.

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Kate Beringer’s Dad

Gremlins

Although we never actually see him, Kate Beringer’s Dad has to make any list of disastrous Santas. Gremlins is the darkest of comedies, but never more so than the moment Kate explains why she hates Christmas so much. ‘It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were waiting for Dad to come home. A couple hours went by. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck.  And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.’ Only Joe Dante could have pulled this off.

Naughty or Nice: A little too nice for his own good.

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Willie Stokes

Bad Santa

Willie Stokes is about as disastrous as a Santa can get, this side of the axe-wielding psychopath. He’s an alcoholic, womanising, thieving, lazy-ass degenerate who, together with his even more reprehensible dwarf partner, takes on the Santa gigs at malls so he can rob the safes on Christmas Eve. When a kid tells him what he wishes for, this Santa’s advice is to ‘wish in one hand, shit in the other and see which one fills up first’. But all of this doesn’t mean he’s entirely unlikeable. Somewhere in there is the flaccid, infinitesimal kernel of a good man, and if anyone needs a miraculous seasonal life-lesson, it’s Willie. Even if that life-lesson takes the unlikely form of a whiny fat kid. The Christmas spirit comes in mysterious shapes.

Naughty or Nice: Take a guess. Willie is so far down Santa’s list that Satan will be getting prezzies first.

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Top Ten: Movie Characters With Fur

So, here’s the story. While we were chatting about possible blog ideas, my friend and fellow blogger Margaret Reyes Dempsey over at Conjuring My Musechallenged me to compile a list of Top Ten: Movie Characters With Fur. After we’d finished laughing our asses off I gave it another thought and decided to accept the challenge. Why not? After all, who doesn’t appreciate a bit of fur now and then? As the English weather becomes more and more frosty, I’m starting to wish I had some fur myself. Does that make me weird?

So, without any further preamble, here are my ten favourite furry film fellows. Enjoy, add your own favourites, and if anyone has any more outlandish suggestions for future Top Ten lists, then by all means send them to me through the Contact page. I’ll consider all challenges!

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10. Dr. Cornelius

Planet of the Apes

Archaeologist, historian and mild-mannered ape. Dr. Cornelious is one of the good apes on the familiar looking planet; filled with talking apes that regard humans as a lower species to be kept in zoos and treated as slaves. Dr. Cornelious, on the other hand, regards humans as a lower species to be studied, prodded and patronised in order to prove his zany theories. The fact that he delivers his zany theories with a well-spoken, English accent can only be a good thing. Everyone knows English accents make you sound smart.

Dr. Cornelious is conservative and likes to wear his fur in a standard swept-back style, seemingly popular among the ape population. Clearly, hairdressing is not one of the trends that the apes picked up from their human counterparts, unlike clothes, guns, and gasping in awe at Charlton Heston’s sweaty manliness.

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9. Cujo

Cujo

Man’s best friend no more, Cujo is feeling a little under the weather and it’s really pissing him off. There is nothing like an inconvenient case of rabies to really screw with your doggie day, and this sickly pooch is going to take it out on anyone who happens to cross his line of sight. I mean, we all get a bit grumpy when we’re ill, right? However, we don’t all maul people to death, attack locked cars, and murder the local sheriff just because we have a bit of a sniffle. But you get out of the car and tell Cujo that. Let’s see Cesar Millan put his mojo on this canine and keep his throat attached.

Cujo is (barely) living proof that having lots of thick, lush fur doesn’t necessarily make you cute. Nor does it necessarily make people want to touch you, especially if your thick, lush fur is matted up with blood, sweat and rabid drool. Ewwww. Bad doggie!

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8. Baloo

The Jungle Book

Baloo is like a furry version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. In the Wild Kingdom, this bear is the King of Taking it Easy. Let’s face it, he didn’t cultivate that impressive waistline by playing sports and hitting the gym every day. Baloo likes good eating, good living, and shaking his furry booty to some jungle rhythms. If this wasn’t a Disney movie, you would suspect that habitual use of recreational drugs played a big part in this guy’s life. Would you want your kid hanging out with him?

Baloo apparently has no interest in personal grooming. He gets up and goes out without a glance in the mirror. His fur is scruffy, there are a couple of loose hairs atop his head, but the guy’s got class and knows how to carry it off. The ladies love the rough look, but Baloo doesn’t seem to be interested in a relationship. His fur is ruffled enough. He’s gone, man. Solid gone.

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7. American Werewolf

An American Werewolf in London

Tourists, eh? Coming over here, turning into monsters, rampaging through our Capital city. Yep, ‘The Special Relationship’ suffers something of a setback when American backpacker David is bitten by a werewolf on the English moors. It’s not long before the poor guy realises that surviving the attack wasn’t such a blessing after all. Come the full moon and David transforms into something that looks cuddlier and cuter than any self-respecting monster should. Like Baloo with attitude. And motivation. And a serious case of the munchies. On the plus side, he gets to have sex with Jenny Agutter, thereby repairing Anglo-American relations.

As werewolves go, this one ranks among the most fluffy and endearing. I mean, look at him. If you can ignore the slavering jaws of death and evil eyes, he’s actually just a big, furry bundle of cuddles. Or is that just me?

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6. King Kong

King Kong

Who’s the Daddy? Kong! 50-ft of simian testosterone, King Kong is the man’s man. Well, the gorilla’s gorilla. Striding through the jungles of Skull Island like he owns the place, beating up anything that gets in his way, Kong is the guy you always say ‘yes’ to. Best call him Mr. Kong, just to be on the safe side. Like most men, however, he loses half his brain at the sight of a good-looking woman, falls into a trap, ends up relocating and then takes a fall. You definitely won’t see this guy wearing an ‘I ♥ NY’ T-shirt. Still, look at his face. He’s all loved-up and happy. Bless.

When it comes to square footage of fur, there’s no beating Kong. Sure, he could probably use a bath and a blow-dry, but shower gel costs are a bitch when you’re 50-ft-tall. If you can stand the smell, then nuzzling into Kong’s hairy palms can be pretty cozy.

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5. Sully

Monsters Inc.

The undisputed champion of kid scares at Monsters Inc., James ‘Sulley’ Sullivan is an idol to monsters everywhere. The screams that Sully elicits from human children provide vast amounts of energy for the city of Monstropolis. But the kids are getting harder to scare, and Sully is getting a bit tired of being scary. Underneath all that growling and snarling is a sensitive, caring ball of azure goodness. He doesn’t even care that his best friend is a green sphere with one eye. Now, that’s a 21st century kinda guy.

Let’s be clear about one thing here, Sully’s fur is gorgeous! Light, silky and impressively well-groomed, it just begs to be touched. Sully is a metrosexual monster, who clearly believes that your job shouldn’t define you and personal hygiene matters. Monsters just aren’t meant to be this inviting.

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4. Chewbacca

Star Wars

Chewbacca, ‘Chewie’ to his friends and ‘rebel scum’ to his enemies, is the ultimate best buddy. Trust me, with this Wookie looking out for you, you’re a made man. He’s loyal, fearless and, as long as you can understand Wookie, you’ll be able to share all kinds of private jokes in public. Standing over 7-ft tall, you’ll never lose him in crowds. You’re going to want this guy on your basketball team. Sometimes he’s a bit of a bad loser, but that’s a minor gripe. After all, he didn’t complain when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker got medals at the end of Star Wars, but someone apparently forgot his. I would have.

Fur, fur, everywhere. To some, Chewbacca is a ‘walking carpet’, but once you’ve had an enthusiastic embrace from this shaggy old giant, you’ll wonder how you ever did without. Once you’ve got your breath back, that is. Just remember, he’s not a bear. He’s a Wookie.

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3. Puss in Boots

Shrek 2

Dashing, elegant, charming and seething with Latin passion, Puss in Boots is everything a cat should be. And if his mix of charisma and panache doesn’t win you over, then Puss will turn on the big, dopey cat eyes and you will be powerless to resist. He’s a legendary assassin for hire and if this cat is after you then you’re in trouble. Unless, of course, you give him a belly rub. Then he’s putty. Puss is a master swordsman, horseman, singer, dancer and can lick himself in places humans can only dream about. Or is that just me again?

He’s a cat, and it’s a basic law of nature that there’s no fur like cat fur. Rich, soft, soothing and a classic ginger. Puss keeps his fur in impeccable condition with regular grooming sessions. And if you don’t like seeing him with his head shoved between his legs, don’t look. This feline scoundrel will always put cleanliness before godliness.

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2. Remy

Ratatouille

A truly inspirational figure for anyone who has dreams of rising above their given station in life. Remy is a rat with big talents and even bigger aspirations. He wants to be a chef. Sure, he could spend his life rummaging for scraps of food on the streets of Paris like the other rats, but what kind of a life is that? To Remy, food isn’t about survival. It’s about expressing your creativity, and Remy has plenty of that to go around. All he needs is a human assistant with a hat big enough to hide under. Anyone who finds rats unpleasant, or scary, needs to spend some time with Remy. Think of it as therapy. He. Is. Adorable. End of story.

For a lowly street rat, Remy’s fur is surprisingly appealing. It’s a nice shade of blue, unusual for any rodent, and has that shaggy look popular with boy bands and Brad Pitt.

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1. Gizmo

Gremlins

This little Mogwai makes the ideal Christmas present, provided you follow the rules; don’t get him wet, keep him away from bright lights and never feed him after midnight. My advice is ignore the rules, otherwise you will be making a pretty dull movie. Gizmo is smart, funny and by far the cutest thing ever to walk the Earth on cute, stumpy little legs, with cute, big ears, a cute, squeaky voice and huge, CUTE, dewy eyes. Look up ‘cute’ in the dictionary and there will probably be a picture of Gizmo. Look up ‘comma’ and there will probably be a picture of me.

Gizmo models some attractive, two-tone fur. Get him wet and you’ll see that the newly born Mogwai that pop out of his back are nothing but a ball of the stuff. Aww, he’s so cute. He’s so damn cute you can fall into a diabetic coma just looking at him.

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Review: The Hole

The Hole

Starring: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Director: Joe Dante

Newly arrived in the small town of Bensonville, brothers Dane and Lucas discover a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement of their new house. Shortly after opening the trapdoor which covers the hole, strange things begin to creep out, playing on the fears of whoever stares down into the darkness.

Welcome back, Mr Dante. Where on earth have you been? It’s been seven years since the cinema last saw a Joe Dante movie, and twelve years since it saw a Joe Dante movie that was any good (we’ll just pretend Looney Tunes: Back in Action never happened, okay). Now, at last, one of the 1980s most anarchic filmmakers, who brought us Gremlins, The Howling and Innerspace, has finally returned with something a little more like the Dante of old. The Hole marks a tentative return to form for the director. Sadly, it is only a tentative return.

Dante’s movies were almost always family fare, but with a trademark touch of darkness and insanity. Gremlins is the perfect example. With The Hole, the director returns to this template, fashioning another tale where the kids have all the fun and the adults are largely clueless as to what is going on around them. This set-up and Dante’s recognisable flourishes leave The Hole looking and feeling like a movie from the 80s. No bad thing for those of us who grew up on a diet of films from Dante and his contemporaries, like Spielberg, Landis and Carpenter. The first hour of The Hole is by far the strongest but it is ultimately let down by a weak and sentimental third act which undermines the creepy atmosphere and chills it built up along the way. Also letting the side down is lead actor Chris Massoglia, who delivers a performance worthy of the great Master of Wood, Keanu Reeves. Still there are reliable, if brief, turns from Dante regulars Bruce Dern and Dick Miller to lend class to proceedings.

You can come out now, Joe. We've forgiven you for Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

The modern teenage audience, fed on a stable diet of torture porn and dreary slasher movies, will probably find little to engage them in Joe Dante’s welcome return. This is a film that harkens back to a time when horror movies were more fairy tale than fetish. Dante fans, however, will relish in his trademark, if slightly restrained, mischievousness. Look out for the psychotic clown doll for old school laughs. Flawed but fun, The Hole is like welcoming back an old, childhood friend you haven’t seen in too long. Too bad it falls so completely at the final hurdle.

Rating - 3 Stars