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

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When you do something more satirical or with a political slant like Matinee, your Masters of Horror episodes, or even Small Soldiers to a certain degree, do you feel that in the climate we live in now that your stories would have a different impact?

Joe Dante: I wouldn’t say a different impact because movies don’t really have a big impact. When Doctor Strangelove came out the world didn’t disarm. It just doesn’t work that way. I think that the political content is just as relevant as it was then. The Screwfly Solution which was about a plague that makes men wants to kill women is more relevant now. Misogyny rules and it’s in The White House. I did a picture for HBO called The Second Civil War. It’s the least known movie that I’ve done but it’s the world we are living in now.

It’s like you said, it’s the same way with everything. I mean Night of the Living Dead would be just as impactful now, I think.

Joe Dante: Absolutely. Night of the Living Dead‘s response to Vietnam and that era, but when you watch them they still have the same resonance.

I also want to say as former Army that I thank you for the Masters of Horror episode Homecoming. That was refreshing to see and that episode really hit home. It involved the undead but at the same time it was very real and spoke to something people weren’t saying at that time.

Joe Dante: Well, no one was saying it and it was the reason we did it. If it wasn’t for the Masters of Horror no one would have financed it if it wasn’t part of a series. No one was saying anything this illegal war and everyone was just cheerleading and saying how great it all was. I saw that and said, “Wait a minute. No one is really saying anything and the only voice against is a zombie movie?” That was very strange to me.

When it comes to your more comic outings, do you feel that having a comedic timing is essential in that medium?

Joe Dante: I think it’s a personality, and I try not to make a movie I wouldn’t go see. Since you are trying to inject your personality into your movie that also includes your sense of humor. The sense of humor I inject into my movies wouldn’t be the same as someone else who read the same script in a different way. There’s a level of satire in a lot of what I do because of the genre having tropes that are so common to people, but they all have something to say.

I did have one question I always wanted to ask you about The ‘Burbs about Carrie Fisher. Carrie was really the heart of that movie and was the glue holding it together…

Joe Dante: She was the only sane person in the movie.

That’s right. Everyone gets talked about everyone else, but what was it like working with her?

Joe Dante: Of course she was a born professional. I worked with her before when I did a sex education parody scene for Amazon Women on the Moon that worked out quite well. When I was casting The ‘Burbs, I was thinking about who could anchor the picture and put a damper on what’s going on? She was a perfect choice and if you took her out of the story there would be a perfect hole.

She was the glue and the heart of that movie for sure, and everything else was pure chaos. So it always felt to me that there was a lightness to your work even in the darkest and grisliest moments within the narrative. Would you agree that was a goal for you?

Joe Dante: A lot of it is instinctual and comes from a sensibility that it’s the right thing to do it. You have to improve the movie and perfect it. It’s difficult when you’re doing it out of sequence you never know how intense something is going to be. Improvs are great but sometimes take away from your movie.

Well, I meant that I heard a ton of great things about you through the years. One thing was never how maudlin and dark you are as a filmmaker.

Joe Dante: Well, I’m getting older so that may change.

What would be one of your ideal productions that you always wanted to do?

Joe Dante: I had a lot of great projects, including a picture about Roger Corman that I am hoping will actually happen.