As the director of iconic genre flicks such as Gremlins (and its sequel), Small Soldiers, and Innerspace, Joe Dante has helped shape the minds of generations of young moviegoers and cinephiles. Many of his films brim with creativity and originality, but like all great artists, much of what he created (and continues to create) was inspired by those who came before him.
As a result, you can trace the roots of his signature blend of genres all the way back to his childhood, when the now-72-year-old filmmaker was indulging in the pulp pictures, westerns, and comics that blossomed in the '50s.
In a new interview with The Fandom Files, Dante, who had two projects this past weekend at the New York Horror Film Festival, looked back on some of his childhood favorites and how they impacted him.
His favorite comic books:
"My favorite comic was Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, with Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. It was by a guy named Carl Barks, who would write and draw these things. He never got any real attention at the time, but he was sort of known among the kids who read the comics as the guy who draws the good stuff."
His favorite movies:
"All the movies in the fifties were suitable for kids, so you could actually go to see almost anything. I gravitated towards science fiction and horror movies just because those are the kind of movies I liked, but I was also a huge western fan. Every Saturday matinee I was plunked down to watch a western double feature."
"I didn't like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry because those were series westerns and you always knew that Gene and Roger were going to be okay at the end. I liked more the one-shot movies, with Audie Murphy or James Stewart, a story that you really didn't know what was going to happen to them."
"The first movie I ever collected was a picture called The Gamma People, which I had seen on TV at my grandmother's house and liked. And there was a print, it was only like $30, and I thought: This will be my first print. I still have that print. In those days it was a little different because the films that were available were essentially discarded from television stations and from the Army and Navy. There were a lot of 16-millimeter prints available... The films are really not worth much of anything anymore because they don't even make the projectors or have the bulbs or the sound heads or any of that stuff to be able to show them."
Given his lifelong love of genre, and the historical significance of his own work, you'd think Dante would have kept a museum's worth of souvenirs from his sets. Instead, he's been practical about it — there's only so much space in his house, so he's been selective. Several Gremlins puppets have made the cut, however, and they have aged rather appropriately.
"The rubber doesn't last very long unless they're in some sort of hermetically sealed box or something, so they tend to just sort of rot away," Dante said, laughing. "I have a couple of them in my garage that sort of look like they're decomposing; it makes them look more gremlin-like."
Dante discusses a whole lot more in the interview, including making Gremlins 2, superhero movies, and what's on his Netflix queue.
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