Some of the biggest hits of director Joe Dante’s career came out in the 80s, so it stands to reason his fantasy/horror film “The Hole” has a very 80s tinge. Released in 2009 it barely made a ripple at the box-office, but it deserves to re-discovered. Borrowing elements from “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Poltergeist,” “The Goonies,” and just a soupçon of “Beetlejuice,” it achieves a good balance of thrills and fun.
The film provides an answer to the question, what could be creepier than a dark basement in a new house? Answer: a dark basement with a trap door that reveals a seemingly bottomless pit. The hole in question is discovered by young Lucas (Nathan Gamble) who along with his older brother Dane (Chris Massoglia) and mother (Teri Polo) have moved from the big city to a small town. They have been moving around for a long time so the last thing the two brothers want is to give their mother a reason to move again, hence they decide to keep the secret of the hole to themselves and Julie (Haley Bennett), the proverbial girl next door. It’s just a big hole in the ground, how much trouble could it be?
If the hole was kept shut by six padlocks, has a tendency to open by itself in the middle of the night, and sucks in everything the kids lower into its darkness, it turns out it can cause a lot of trouble. Another major red flag is the fact that the house’s previous occupant is man called Creepy Carl (Bruce Dern) who got so spooked by the hole’s content he decided to move into an abandoned warehouse and surround himself with a thousand light bulbs to keep away the dark away. Yeah, they really should not have removed those locks.
Soon the kids start to get haunted by their greatest fears, whether that be a little girl with blood coming out of her eyes, a creepy clown doll, or in Dane’s case, something much more dangerous from real life. There are plenty of times when the two brothers should be telling their mom there is something at least potentially dangerous in their basement, whether that be a gas leak or a cockroach infestation, yet they decide to solve this mystery at their own risk. Not wanting to move again is a big reason, but there is also the undeniable fact that this hole breaks the small town boredom. To put in Julie’s words, “I know what you’ve got. You’ve got a gateway to hell under your house. And that is really cool.”
It truly is cool, from the concept of the hell dimension under a house to the well-deserved scares. If you are under 13 years old, there are a couple of moments that could really rattle you, especially if you have a fear of clowns. If you are a grown-up, you will have a few thrills and enjoy the film’s design, especially in the third act when there is no choice but to jump into the hole. The result is a world reminiscent of early Tim Burton illustrations, with a scary monster lurking inside. Not a place where you want to be stranded.
With a tone that easily goes from comedic to scary, good performances from its young leads, and a very cool haunted house concept, “The Hole” is a great 80s throwback that deserves a new audience come Halloween.
(“The Hole” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)