If horror movies had their own Mount Rushmore, we’re pretty sure there would be a place for Joe Dante reserved there. To celebrate the release of Dante’s newest flick, Burying the Ex, on DVD today, August 4, we’re revisiting the Top 7 Joe Dante films.
In addition to the excellent seven films on the list below, Joe has some other great credits to his name. He’s directed episodes of “Hawaii Five-0,” “Salem,” “CSI: NY,” “Amazing Stories,” and “The Twilight Zone.” Dante has also shown some incredible versatility outside of his brilliant horror work, directing fan favorite films like Innerspace, Small Soldiers, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Dante also co-wrote and is an uncredited director for the unforgettable comedy Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. His work consistently contains not only thrills and chills but also an element of humor woven masterfully into the fabric of his projects.
Truly a man of many talents, today we celebrate the Top 7 Joe Dante films!
Dante’s first horror-flavored success, Piranha came out as not only a horror film in its own right, but also as something of a parody of Jaws, which blew the doors off the box office the year before. Piranha was a big hit and remains a cult favorite today. Dante scored with an intriguing story and action that was so over-the-top that it became legendary. No, it didn’t enjoy the same financial success as Jaws, but how many movies did? Piranha, which was produced by Roger Corman, was followed by a slew of similar nature gone wild flicks, many of which were also produced by Corman. Piranha was followed by a sequel and an eventual reboot and helped launch Joe Dante’s legend, and he built amazingly on this initial success.
The Howling (1981)
Considered by many horror fans to be the greatest werewolf movie of all time, The Howling was stunning. Released in the most amazing year for werewolf films, 1981, The Howling led the way with an April release, followed by An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen later on during the same year. Containing one of the greatest werewolf transformation scenes in the history of the sub-genre (that, of course, being the change of Eddie Quist into a werewolf), The Howling truly captured the horror of the werewolf. Starring Dee Wallace, The Howling follows suit with Piranha in having a humorous aspect to it. However, with The Howling the comedy is much more prevalent. With tons of wolf and werewolf nods and references, The Howling scores on many levels and is indeed one of Dante’s finest. Revisit the practical F/X brilliance of the Eddie Quist transformation below.
The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
In The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Dante got to work in a quartet of directors that tackled the anthology film. Directing segments alongside Dante in The Twilight Zone: The Movie were Stephen Spielberg, John Landis, and George Miller. Dante’s memorable portion, “A Good Life,” was a remake of an episode from the original “The Twilight Zone” television series and featured the boy who dominated his family with his omnipotent power to control everything in his world simply by thinking it. The segment contained extremely memorable imagery that those of us who grew up with this film still remember today–namely, the sister with no mouth and the horrific rabbit that pops out of the top hat (check out the hat trick below). Dante did a brilliant job and certainly held his own working amongst this legendary crop of directors… and little did he know that his biggest and brightest film was less than a year away.
If making three movies that stood the test of time like Piranha, The Howling, and The Twilight Zone: The Movie over the course of just five years wasn’t enough, in 1984 Joe Dante brought us what would be arguably his most memorable project: Gremlins. And not only was Gremlins a huge success at the box office (bringing in over $150 million on an $11 million budget) and not only did it contain fantastic creatures in the adorable Mogwai and the mischievous Fremlins, but the movie was also very important for another reason. Gremlins, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, were the two main films used to amend the movie rating system as it stood in 1984. A change was made, and the PG-13 rating came into being with Red Dawn being the first film to earn the rating. Check out the Gremlins kitchen scene below, which was one of the main arguments against it carrying a PG rating.
The ‘Burbs (1989)
In 1989 Dante got a chance to work with Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs. Now, Tom Hanks wasn’t quite “Tom Hanks” just yet. He was more The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, Joe Versus the Volcano Tom Hanks with the Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Philadelphia Tom Hanks yet to come. And although The ‘Burbs isn’t remembered as the strongest film for either Dante or Hanks, it’s fantastic in that it is truly a black comedy. And as we’d seen from much of Dante’s previous work, comedy is a very important component for him. Creating the true black comedy is not an easy thing to do. You need to attempt to conjure levity out of the most upsetting of situations. The ‘Burbs is one of those rare cases where that is done spot on. The combination of Hanks’ manic performance (not to mention Bruce Dern’s hilarious supporting work) and Dante’s solid directing makes The ‘Burbs a fun romp, and it’s a sleeping gem we should all go back and revisit.
Most true horror fans know that William Castle was an important part of the history of the genre. In 1993 Dante directed a film that was a true tip of the cap to Castle in Matinee, in which John Goodman played an enthusiastic movie producer, named Lawrence Woolsey, dreaming up one gimmick after another to help promote his project, Mant! With the backdrop of the Cold War coloring the movie, Matinee has a wonderful flavor and is a tasty period piece. Goodman is fantastic, and strategic viewers will spot a then unknown Naomi Watts in the movie. Not much of a mover at the box office, but Matinee is indeed still loved by fans of the genre.
Finally, almost 25 years after Dante rattled our cages with Piranha, he struck once again, but this time in a different venue – television. The Showtime network ran a series entitled “Masters of Horror,” which featured a one-hour episode each week created by a different director. The first five episodes featured works by such directors as Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon, and Tobe Hooper. But it was the sixth episode that really hit home. Directed by Dante, the sixth episode of “Masters of Horror” was entitled Homecoming, and it received some incredible critical acclaim. A political statement about the horrors of war, Homecoming was based on the short story Death and Suffrage by Dale Bailey and was praised by such publications as Village Voice and The New Yorker for its strong message with fallen soldiers returning from the dead to have their say in an upcoming election. Dante was never known as a political activist, but in Homecoming he has plenty to say.
Burying the Ex Synopsis
Directed by Joe Dante and written by Alan Trezza (TV’s “Sanctuary”), Burying the Ex stars Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, and Alexandra Daddario. The film follows Max (Yelchin), an all-around nice guy, and his overbearing but incredibly beautiful girlfriend, Evelyn (Greene). Their relationship takes a nosedive after they decide to move in together and Evelyn turns out to be a controlling, manipulative nightmare. Max realizes it’s time to call it quits, but there’s just one problem: He’s too afraid to break up with her.
Fate steps in when Evelyn is involved in a freak accident and dies, leaving Max single and ready to mingle. Several weeks later he has a chance encounter with Olivia (Daddario), a cute and spirited girl who just might be his soulmate. But that same night Evelyn returns from the grave as a dirt-smeared zombie, and she’s determined to live happily ever after with Max…