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Dante, Joe

Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Film, TV, People.

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(1946-    ) US film-maker. Originally a fan writer, Dante entered the film industry working for Roger Corman's New World in the trailers department, making Filipino movies look more exciting by inserting stock shots of exploding helicopters. His first feature, codirected with Allan Arkush, was Hollywood Boulevard (1976), a brisk and breezy Satire on low-budget schlock movies featuring many cameo roles, ranging from Dick Miller to Godzilla (see Gojira), inaugurating Dante's tradition of movie-buff in-jokes.

With writer John Sayles, Dante made Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1981), a pair of effective Monster Movies with amusing satirical twists (the latter not really sf), and then he gravitated into the orbit of Steven Spielberg to direct an episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie (adapted from "It's a Good Life" [in Star Science Fiction Stories 2, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl] by Jerome Bixby) and more famously Gremlins (1984), a nasty anecdote in which anarchic monsters chew away at the foundations of a Spielberg-cum-Capra small town.

Following the box-office disappointment of his most personal film, Explorers (1985), a meditation on the Sense of Wonder informed by the cultural legacy of Forrest J Ackerman, Dante has had less independent control, but has nevertheless delivered a lively, self-aware run of comedies with an edge: Innerspace (1987) is a feature-length Parody of Fantastic Voyage (1966), The 'burbs (1989) a psychotic neighbourhood comedy, and Gremlins II: The New Batch (1990). Dante has also contributed episodes to the omnibus film of sf skits, Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), and to the television series Amazing Stories (1985-1987), The Twilight Zone (second series, 1985-1987) and Police Squad (1982). In 1991 Dante became creative consultant for, and directed five episodes of, Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), an NBC television series about a Tom-Sawyer-type kid and his sidekick who conduct science-fictional and supernatural investigations in a seemingly average but actually weird town.

Dante's next feature was the amusing Matinee (1993), a coming-of-age film set in Key West, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, in which much of the action is connected to a new sf exploitation movie premiering in town, "Mant", about a man who becomes a giant ant creature. Matinee is a kind of critique of early 1960s Monster Movies and their cultural background. Later films of interest include Small Soldiers (1998), starring the eponymous deadly military toys (see Toys in SF); Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), mixing the animated characters with live action; and The Hole (2010), a 1980s-style smalltown family horror about a portal to hell in the basement. All three trade effectively on Dante's signature style of explosive cartoon-style mayhem. [KN/PN/NL]

see also: Cinema; Feminism; Horror in SF.

Joseph Dante Jr

born Morristown, New Jersey: 28 November 1946

about the filmmaker


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