Exclusive Interview: Joe Dante Talks Nightmare Cinema And His Career Highlights

Joe Dante

So when you’re working with Roger and all of these different types of people, is there anyone aside from yourself that you would look at and think they would go on to become the successes that they were?

Joe Dante: We were already aware of the people who went through the Corman Film School like Martin Scorsese. They were out working, so it was generally known that it was the place to start and gain a foothold. Jonathan Demme was doing his first film and I was doing the trailer, and it was apparent that he would become a success. But there were different degrees of success because there was another guy named Steve Carver who made a number of flicks for Roger but never quite made that break into the big time. So it wasn’t really a matter of spotting who would get there. It was just a matter of putting your nose to the grindstone and making the women in cages movie or the best Bonnie & Clyde ripoff that you could.

When did the love of satire come into your life? Because I know that you had a love for cartoons and things of that nature, but what was that one thing?

Joe Dante: I was really into Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen, both of whom had writing credits in Mad Magazine. So my view of the world was already a little skewed. It just seemed the horror genre was already very close to absurdity. If you don’t embrace that that you end up with an unbelievable movie.

What medium do you prefer to work in? Because you always struck me as a creator who never wanted to be pigeonholed or placed in one particular box.

Joe Dante: Well, it’s inevitable. If you do a picture in a particular genre then your next one will be in the same genre. And if it’s successful now you’re on your way to being typed. I went out for romantic pictures and dramas in the seventies and eighties and was told that I do comedy and horror films. So you’re pigeonholed and have to find comfort within the confines. It wasn’t easy to come up with an idea out of the woodwork and say this is something I want to do. It may be easier to do that now though.

And that definitely makes sense because of the story of Gremlins 2. You didn’t want to do a sequel, is that true?

Joe Dante: Well, I did the first one and it was exhausting, and there was no backup from the studio until it turned out to be a big hit. Plus, I don’t think they knew how the first film worked. So five years later they were still trying to get a sequel done and in desperation came back to me and said that they realized I had something to do with the success, and they would let me do whatever I wanted. That was not an opportunity I could pass up.

You did see the Key and Peele sketch about the Gremlins 2 writer’s room, right?

Joe Dante: Oh yeah. That’s exactly how it happened. (Laughs)

What’s your favorite project in the catalog, and what is it about that particular project that stands out?

Joe Dante: Oh man, I can’t answer that. That’s like asking me which child is my favorite. Obviously, if it wasn’t for Gremlins I wouldn’t have a career, but I loved working on The Howling. Also, movies that weren’t exactly profitable to me like The Explorers. The kids were wonderful and it had great effects by Rob Bottin, but it was released in rough cut form.

To piggyback off of The Howling, I’m familiar with Steve Johnson, who was Rick Baker’s protege on An American Werewolf in London. Was there sort of a battle going on between the two films?

Joe Dante: No, not really. The Howling was conceived and financed before American Werewolf. I had actually hired Rick Baker and when John found about it he miraculously found backing, took Rick and left Rob in charge. Rob came through of course, and both pictures came out the same year. But there was no connection between them.