Wicked Horror recently had the opportunity to speak with legendary director and all around good guy Joe Dante. Dante opened up to us about his new film Burying the Ex and clued us in on why he likes to juxtapose tragedy with comedy, why he hasn’t seen the short on which the film is based, and also explained why the project took seven years to get off the ground.
Burying the Ex (watch the trailer) follows Max, who is stuck in a relationship with the controlling and often uncouth Evelyn. Max wants to break up with her but when he finally gets the courage to do so, Evelyn is hit by a bus and dies. Just as Max is trying to move on and start dating again, Evelyn rises from the grave and expects to carry on as if nothing has happened. Burying the Ex is available today on DVD via Image Entertainment and RLJ Entertainment. It is also on Blu-Ray exclusively at Best Buy. The film stars Anton Yelchin (Fright Night 2011), Ashley Greene (Otis), and Alexandra Daddario (Texas Chainsaw 3D).
Wicked Horror: The mixture of horror and comedy seems to be a sweet spot for you professionally. Do you gravitate towards horror comedy when you sit down to watch a movie on your own time?
Joe Dante: I’m not sure that it’s conscious. You try to find things that you can relate to–as projects. You don’t want to just make anything. You want to find something that means something to you. So, I’ve tried to go by the rule of never making anything that I wouldn’t want to see. And so, obviously, my taste is that I would go see the kind of movies that I make and I often do when other people make them. That’s not the only thing, though. I have a much wider filmgoing palette than just those kinds of movies.
Wicked Horror: I think that’s represented in your work. You’ve definitely not been pigeonholed into just doing horror. You’ve branched out and done a lot of different projects in different genres. I watched Explorers repeatedly as a kid and while it does have some scares contained within, it’s certainly not a horror film. Not to mention Interspace and several of the other non-horror related offerings you’ve helmed.
Joe Dante: You saw [Explorers] on VHS?
WH: I did. I just turned 34. So, I grew up in the height of the VHS era.
Joe Dante: Thanks to the VHS era, people like me are still working. Because a lot of these movies weren’t that successful theatrically and it is was only when they came out on home video that they started to really become popular.
WH: VHS was a big part of my childhood for sure. Changing gears a bit: I laughed out loud at the scene in Burying the Ex where Evelyn gets hit by a bus but the moment she shares with Max immediately after is very sobering and sweet. You could have gone for straight laughs with that but I think the scene is a lot more meaningful as it stands. I’m curious what response you were wanting to elicit from your audience with that? What did you want to make them feel?
Joe Dante: I think when you’re making this kind of movie, you have to play it straight with the audience and you can’t be winking and nudging all the time. If you’ve got characters that you want the audience to invest in, then there are things that they take seriously and when they are having a serious moment, you have to go with it. You have to say, ‘Well, yes. He’s very upset that she’s gonna die. She doesn’t want to die.’ It’s all very dramatic and if you undercut that by making fun of it, then I think that it just robs the whole movie of any point.
WH: I laughed when she got hit by the bus because she went flying through the air all of a sudden and then I immediately almost felt guilty for laughing because they’re sharing this heartfelt moment immediately after.
Joe Dante: I think that is the kind of thing that pops up in a lot of my movies. Changes in mood that are very quick and unexpected. That has often thrown critics off. They’ve said, ‘Well, I don’t get it. Is this supposed to be funny or what?’ But that’s sort of the point. It’s like when Phoebe Cates tells her story in Gremlins about her father getting stuck in the chimney, which is an absurd story that is, on the face of it, a laughable story but the fact that it’s happening to a character that we care about and it obviously means something to her–so, we don’t quite know how to react. We don’t know wether we should react to the absurdity of it or feel sorry for her. That kind of complexity is, to me, a lot more interesting than other characteristics that people find in horror movies.
WH: It absolutely is. In both of those instances, I came away feeling exactly as you described but it left me curious as to what exactly you were going for. I think that anytime you get a reaction from your audience, other than maybe anger or resentment, you’re doing something right. In previous interviews that you’ve done, you had mentioned that you have not seen the short film on which the script for Burying the Ex is based.
Joe Dante: I still haven’t gotten around to it.
WH: That left me curious–a lot of actors and directors deliberately stay away from the source material when it comes to any kind of adaptation or reimagining because they don’t want it to inform their creative process.
Joe Dante: The Hammer Films people didn’t watch Frankenstein and Dracula before they remade them. They just didn’t want to be influenced.
WH: Right. I was curious if that was your reasoning for not checking out the short beforehand?
Joe Dante: Pretty much. Especially since the producer and writer [Alan Trezza] is also the guy who directed the short. I mean, he’s had his say. And now this is my turn. And interestingly enough, if you told me today that I should watch it in the next five minutes, I wouldn’t even know where to go to see it.
WH: I wouldn’t know either. Good point. I also read where this was actually a project seven years in the making. What were some of the complications that kept the film from getting made sooner? I’m assuming that financing was a major one.
Joe Dante: Well, seven years in the making off and on. It wasn’t like I got up and every morning tried to get it made. You have to have a bunch of projects to juggle in Hollywood if you want to get anything made. So, if you meet someone who wants to make a picture with you, you can say, ‘Well, how about this script?’ And if they don’t like it, you have to have another one. [It] was one of my faves in my bag that I would pull out whenever I met someone that was financing movies. We came dangerously close several times and then it would all fall apart, which is very common. Then, at one point, when World War Z came out and zombies were all the rage, a deal came to fruition where we would have a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time if we made the movie immediately. So, we cobbled it all together really quickly and managed to get it done in the amount of time allotted and for the requisite amount of money. And it was sort of a surprise. I think three weeks before we started shooting, we weren’t sure whether we were really going to do it or not.
WH: Speaking of financing and putting together a film on a budget, you licensed a lot of clips throughout the runtime of the film. I know that some of them are in the public domain. But did that chew up a substantial chunk of your budget right off the bat?
Joe Dante: Well, no. Because when we started, we specifically wanted public domain. We didn’t want to have to pay for anything. But even after we had managed to secure the public domain rights, the lawyers insisted on paying somebody. There’s really no such thing as public domain when you want to use clips in movies because the lawyers insist that they have somebody to pay because otherwise, it’s not a real business deal. So, for each one of those clips, there’s some money or some compensation sent to whoever happened to own whatever iteration of the clip we used.
WH: I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between Burying the Ex and the early EC Comics. Was that a conscious influence for you or perhaps just coincidence?
Joe Dante: Well, it was conscious on my part only because I grew up with EC Comics, which I wasn’t allowed to read. I had to sneak them. And sometimes I would find them ripped up in the back yard if my parents had found them. There was something deeply creepy about EC Comics to kids. They were much scarier than movies. They depicted things that were just incredibly gross that you just didn’t find anywhere else. They stuck with me. They haunted me. I think that those images and that kind of imagery has found itself into a number of projects that I’ve done because it’s just hard to shake.
WH: Awesome. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you!
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dogs, and cat hat(s).