The Hole (2009) — Joe Dante takes us back to ’80s-style kid horror

“I know what you’ve got. You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house. And that is really cool.”

Justin’s rating: Kid, nobody likes clowns

Justin’s review: For the length of the ’80s and the first half of the ’90s, Joe Dante directed our slightly dark, slightly twisted childhood fantasies. He was a mere tier below Spielberg, churning out classics like The Howling, Gremlins, Explorers, and Innerspace. But what happened to him? He seemed to peter out as the ’90s went along, occasionally popping up for a Small Soldiers or a Looney Tunes: Back in Action, but this wasn’t the Joe Dante that ruled the mid-budget B-movies of yesteryear.

For somebody like that, you’re always hoping that they’ll get one final chance to return to form before they cash out — and, sure enough, Dante got his shot with 2009’s The Hole. I think it’s no coincidence that this movie exudes an ’80s feel despite being set in the modern age. The hairstyles, the car, even the scary-but-not-graphic tone is a deliberate (and welcome) throwback.

The Hole even starts like an ’80s movie, with a family moving into a new neighborhood while the teen grumps about the forced relocation. It’s down in the basement of this new home that they discover a very unusual feature: a padlocked trapdoor on the floor. Teen Dane and his younger brother Lucas don’t waste any time cracking that bad boy open… and boy will they ever wish that they didn’t.

You see, the hole is some sort of portal to nightmares, and now that portal is vomiting out personal trauma at a discounted rate. It’s seemingly bottomless and full of mystery. I mean, even if it didn’t have a well of scares down there, I’d still be pretty freaked out knowing that there was a door on the floor that was big enough to drop people through to never see again.

Along with their jovial neighbor Julie, Lucas and Dane start to experiment with the hole. Right away you can tell that this movie tempers its upcoming horror with likable characters and funny moments, which again (and I’m sorry if I’m sounding like a broken record at this point) was very much an ’80s staple. And yes, before you ask, there are plenty of “hole” jokes. I’m sure the writers couldn’t resist.

Once hell’s student exchange program is in full swing, sending creepy clowns and ghost girls into the real world, the kid trio decide they need to (a) find out the actual story behind this hole and (b) figure out how to deal with it. Along the way, Dane, Julie, and Lucas deal with some of their very real issues that the hole is exacerbating. The nightmares may, in fact, be a form of therapy.

Maybe.

Eventually what comes up must go down — and the kids follow down, down, down into the hole itself. The skewed underworld of the hole is interesting enough that my only wish is that we got more time here rather than the final ten minutes or so. But it’s certainly enough to throw in a good Beetlejuice homage, so I shan’t complain.

If you liked ’80s flicks like Poltergeist or The Gate, this film is going to be a perfect way to inject some nostalgia in your head. Held back by an all-too-common movie title and a sadly brief theatrical run, The Hole is truly a gem from the 2000s worth discovering for some laughs and screams.

Didja notice?

  • The groovy tailpipe opening shot
  • I guess this is one of those movie houses you move into while inheriting all of the stuff of the previous owner
  • Cartman goes down the hole
  • “Charlie doesn’t like your hole very much.”
  • The eye on the camcorder tape
  • Squirrel burgers! I’d eat one.
  • Winking clown, no thank you
  • When a little girl is sitting with her back to you in a horror movie, you never want her to turn around
  • The outfits — and Christmas lights — the kids use when they’re staking out the hole
  • Creepy Carl sure loves the lights
  • “The hole’s been there since the world’s first scream!”
  • Lucas always sleeping on the floor in Dane’s room
  • I love a good game of horror puzzles!

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