Di­rec­tor Joe Dante talks atomic age chillers and con­struct­ing the per­fect scare

SFX - - Bruce Campbell - Matthew Turner

Hor­ror mae­stro Joe Dante is by no means unique in hav­ing his child­hood movie ex­pe­ri­ences shape his ca­reer path, but few di­rec­tors have man­aged to par­lay their love of mon­ster movies into such a com­pre­hen­sive com­pen­dium of crea­ture fea­tures. With a fil­mog­ra­phy that en­com­passes Grem­lins, were­wolves, flesh-eat­ing pi­ranha and a half-man, half-ant, the 71-year-old di­rec­tor is only too happy to wax nos­tal­gic about the scary movies of his child­hood. “i’m a child of the atomic age, so the­atri­cally, the movies that i saw were all science fic­tion pic­tures like Them! and War Of The Worlds, pic­tures like that,” says Dante. “they were the big scary movies when i was a kid. But then when the Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures from the ’30s started to ap­pear on tele­vi­sion, a whole gen­er­a­tion of kids, who now call them­selves mon­ster Kids, were ex­posed to these movies for the first time.”

a self-con­fessed mon­ster Kid, Dante con­nected to other crea­ture fea­ture fa­nat­ics through Fa­mous Mon­sters Of Film­land mag­a­zine, which, he says, “united a whole group of geeky kids who didn’t know that there were as many of them as there were. and so it built into kind of a force and it ac­tu­ally in­flu­enced a whole wave of hor­ror movies and science fic­tion movies that were made in the late ’50s to sat­isfy this par­tic­u­lar crowd. now we all look back nos­tal­gi­cally on those movies, even the bad ones. and it def­i­nitely in­flu­ences you when you try to make artis­tic state­ments. You’re def­i­nitely hark­ing back to the things that in­flu­enced you when you were a kid.”

as for what scares Dante to­day, the di­rec­tor has a prac­tised an­swer, de­liv­ered in a way that sug­gests he’s only half jok­ing: “You mean be­sides trump? Well, noth­ing scares me as much, i’ll tell you that.” Dark hu­mour is, of course, a fa­mil­iar pres­ence in Dante’s films, to the point where he cites it as a key in­gre­di­ent when con­struct­ing the per­fect scare: “i find that hu­mour is a very help­ful ad­junct to scar­ing peo­ple. these are les­sons i learned on The Howl­ing, that if you get peo­ple re­laxed, then you can scare them. if you’re into jump scares, that’s not hard to do, but if you want to star­tle them, it’s al­ways eas­ier to do af­ter they’ve laughed at some­thing, be­cause then they feel that they’re safe and that’s when they’re vul­ner­a­ble. it’s kind of a preda­tory way of look­ing at hor­ror films.”

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