Shooting a horror movie with kids might not sound that exciting to the average gore fan, but when you have Gremlins director and Eerie, Indiana creator Joe Dante at the helm, you know it’s not going to be a howler.
“This was not unlike a number of other scripts I get sent,” Dante explains. “Horror movies with kids in them – I get a lot of those. Often they’re not very good because they’re predictable. But this one I found pleasantly unpredictable and I didn’t know where it was going. I didn’t know what was in the hole and I found that the answer was surprisingly poignant.”
After reluctantly moving from New York to the sleepy town of Bensonville, brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) discover a mysterious hole under a trapdoor in their basement that has an unfortunate knack of unleashing their darkest fears. If that all sounds a little spooky for family viewing, Dante benefited from his convincing cast of talented young stars.
“The kids who are available come in clumps,” Dante says, on the casting process. “In any given season there may be a bunch of good kids, or there may be a bunch of Disney Channel rejects… and you just don’t want to go there. In this particular case there were a number of kids who were promising. Oddly enough Chris had the least experience, but he seemed to be more natural and more real.”
Dante has a pretty good past form when it comes to creating movies with a delicate balance between dark and light, and with The Hole, too, he didn’t want to end up with something that went too far towards the dark side. “I didn’t want it to be gory and horrible,” he continues. “The idea was that it was an adult story but we had to tell it in a way that was suitable for kids and yet parents would still understand the deepness of the drama. That was a bit of a tightrope walk.”
The crew worked hard to realise the childrens’ darkest fears, from clowns and ghosts to supervillain dads, all of which took their toll on Dante…
“Here I am years later after Gremlins and I’m standing on a freezing sound stage in Vancouver and working with this damn puppet and thinking, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’” he remembers, with a laugh. “It’s so complicated and involves lots of people with rods and green screens and composites.”
And although the mantra says ‘never work with children or animals’, there were more than enough new problems to deal with during the shoot. “We shot it in Vancouver in the coldest winter they’d had in 10 years and it was supposed to be summer,” he says. “There’s a scene in the movie where they’re walking down the street and we had to take the breath out! Every time they opened their mouths this breath would come out – it either looked like they were smoking cigars or it was freezing! We spent a lot of money taking out breath visually.”