As Piranha 3-D chomps into theaters in all of its glorious B-movie gore, we caught up with the man behind Roger Corman’s decidedly more modest 1978 original — director Joe Dante, then making his third feature film ahead of hits like The Howling, The Twilight Zone and, of course, 1984’s horror-comedy classic, Gremlins.
RT spoke to Dante recently in Melbourne, then hosting a retrospective of his career, and asked him to name his all-time five favorite films. Though his picks are now regarded as classics, many weren’t well-reviewed or even financially successful upon their first releases. ?Psychologically, maybe it reflects my career,? Dante laughs. ?No, I?m a firm believer that movies are not best appreciated at the time they?re released. They need to age a little, like wine, and people can?t really assess a movie until a couple of years have passed, at least.?
To Be or Not to Be (1942,
It?s a brilliantly angry comedy that was made during WWII. It was obviously considered to be in very poor taste, because it was making jokes about concentration camps and so on, but it?s a very personal and passionate film that also happens to be very funny.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968,
The apotheosis of the Italian Western. Sergio Leone had been examining themes from the West of a number of pictures and here they coalesced into one poetic fable that is strikingly beautiful to watch and very moving. Again, it was not a success when it came out, and was brutally cut after a number of engagements, but now has belatedly been appreciated and restored.
Touch of Evil (1958,
This was Orson Welles? last chance to work for a major studio and it was all going quite well until they saw it and didn?t quite get what he was doing. But it?s an audacious film, with all of his usual signature flourishes. Prior to that period, he?d seldom had the opportunity to use the technology the studios had and so it?s an exciting film to see visually. Thematically, it?s very dark. At its heart it?s a Universal-International B-picture, which is what they wanted. Their reaction to it is fairly inexplicable because the movie is extremely entertaining and could?ve been promoted into a solid box-office picture. Instead it was released at the bottom of a double bill and they fooled around with it.
The Night of the Hunter (1955,
The Night of the Hunter was Charles Laughton?s only film as a director and its poor reception pretty much killed his directing career. It?s a remarkable debut and there?s no other film quite like it. It?s very reliant on imager from back in the days of D.W. Griffith and it?s strikingly designed and extremely dark. I saw it at a kiddie matinee when I was a child and I was just terrified. It has such a fairy tale atmosphere about it that it probably speaks more directly to children than it does to adults.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935,
It?s one of those pictures that puts the lie to that idea that the sequel is never better than the original. Again, you have a filmmaker in James Whale who has now been given more resources to explore the same themes and issues as he did in the first film but he brings along with it an attitude towards the material and a result he doesn?t so much kid it as parody it. It?s a beautiful film to look at, extremely well acted, very witty.