Joe Dante On His Shout! Factory TV Marathon, The Future Of Gremlins & More [Exclusive Interview]

In the world of cinema, a filmmaker would count themselves extremely lucky to have just one movie that has a longer shelf life than its opening weekend, let alone a film that stands the test of time decades after its release. But Joe Dante, the man behind "Gremlins," "The Howling," and many other classics is a man that gets to say precisely that.

More than a filmmaker who was behind the camera for the likes of "Innerspace" and "The 'Burbs," Dante is also very much a film buff and historian, using his website Trailers From Hell to document and discuss classic films, not to mention his actual collection of film prints. As such, he seems like the perfect man to curate a movie marathon and, wouldn't you know it? That's exactly what he's done.

Shout! Factory TV has partnered with the director for "Joe Dante's Film Inferno," a marathon of seven classic horror and genre movies curated by the man himself, with Dante even providing intros for each pick. The marathon is streaming live this Saturday on the Shout! Factory app, which is available on most streaming platforms, as well as the service's website. The selection includes bonafide classics like "House on Haunted Hill," as well as underseen gems like "The Hitch-Hiker." I had the very good fortune of speaking with Dante about his upcoming marathon, in addition to many other things, such as the burden of choice in the streaming era, "Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai," and much more.

'It's a good excuse for watching movies that you just never got around to'

We're here to talk about the programming block that you put together for Shout! Factory. I was looking over the list, and it's a really interesting group of mostly underseen genre films. So how did you arrive at that selection of films?

Well, when they came to me with this idea, the only caveat was that you have to choose movies from the list of movies that they own. That narrowed it down a little bit. It wasn't like I could just go off and talk about any movie that ever existed. I tried to choose things that I thought sounded familiar but might not have been seen as much. There were some famous titles and there were movies that I think people had heard about, but probably never really sat down and watched. They're all a little offbeat, which I like, and there are movies that I thought, along my way, had meant something to me as I was going through the cinematic history of my life.

Did you have a particular one on the list that you felt meant the most to you or had a particular impact on you when you had seen it?

I'm not so sure that there's any one that stands out. There are some movies that are definitely higher quality than other movies. "The Hitch-Hiker" is one of the best movies on that list. Ida Lupino, she's a very pioneering woman director who started her career by taking over a film from a male director who had a heart attack. Then she just finished the movie because she was starring in it. Then she discovered she really liked all this stuff and had picked up an incredible amount of film lore from just being an actress. So that's probably the "best" picture on the list, but almost all the other ones have something interesting to recommend them.

I'm a big monster movie guy, and I've never had the opportunity to watch "Attack of the Crab Monsters," so when I saw that on your list, I was really happy. It gave me an excuse to finally sit down and watch it. I'm really looking forward to that one personally.

Well, that's what this list is good for. It's a good excuse for watching movies that you just never got around to.

I think part of it too, with all the streaming services and everything, there's just so much. You can watch anything at all times and it's a little overwhelming. So moments like this are nice because you have a curated thing. I think curation is more important than it ever was.

I agree, and that's one of the reasons I agreed to do this. It fits in with my website Trailers From Hell, which is a site where we have filmmakers talking about movies that maybe the audience isn't familiar with and they feel that the people should know about. I do that on my podcast as well. There's so much material available now. I'm thrilled that there's so much available, but it's such a morass of stuff that you really need somebody to cut through the chaff and say, "Okay, this is something you really should pay attention to."

Yeah. I'm not saying I want to go back to the way that it used to be, but at the same time, when you just want to watch something, it's a little tough.

When there were only three or four channels in your local station, if there's some movie that was on, and it was on in the middle of the night, and you had to stay up and watch it, you knew you'd never see it again for another five years or six. Now, you can just push a button on your machine and you can tape it.

What's interesting too is, I have a special edition release of "The Thing," and they have a TV edited version of that on there. It's one of my favorite movies. I didn't realize how often we were watching really compromised versions of these movies we loved. Even if you would catch them on TV, sometimes you were watching a severely compromised version of that film.

There was a whole subset of Universal executives who did nothing but shoot new scenes for pictures that they couldn't get onto the network because they had to cut so much violence and sex out of them that they were too short. So they would actually go back and they would hire new actors, and they would just add scenes to pad out the movies. They did that with horror films like "Kiss of the Vampire." They also did it with classy movies like "Secret Ceremony." They just would run roughshod through the footage and try to make anything they could that would fit in two hours.

'It's fun and I really don't know how to do anything else'

It's amazing how much that's changed. So with the movies you picked, circling back to the Shout! Factory block here, it's mostly 50s, 60s, I think there's a couple 40s in there, but it's very much classic Hollywood stuff. You mentioned the quality varies, but as a filmmaker, do you have a fondness for that era, or is there something about the way that it used to be in terms of the filmmaking that speaks to you?

Well, these were the movies that I saw when I was growing up during a period when you really had to seek out some of this stuff. It wasn't just served to you on a silver platter, you had to look it up. So I started collecting 16 millimeter prints because of that reason. My friends and I would get movies that we liked, and we would see them over and over because we couldn't wait for them to be on television, because they would all be chopped up and they'd have commercials and they'd be compromised in many ways. So film collecting is what sort of started me into film curating. The movies that mean something to me have always been something I've been happy to talk about.

You have your website, you have your podcast, you are still active in filmmaking. You are doing a lot still. It occurs to me that maybe you don't necessarily have to at this point in your life if you don't want to. So you're doing something like this, curating these movies for people to watch. What keeps you going at this point? What makes you still want to be active and still doing this?

Well, it's fun and I really don't know how to do anything else if I wasn't a filmmaker. We used to joke that when the atomic war came and they started asking people, "Okay, what can you do? Can you make a shoe? Can you cook? What can you do?" I couldn't do anything. So I'd be the first one on the menu.

I was looking over your filmography in anticipation of this. What occurred to me is a lot of the stuff that you've touched have gone on to become gigantic franchises. There are eight "Howling" movies.

Yes, there are [laughs].

What does that mean to you as a filmmaker?

That's always rewarding — except financially — because, for instance, on "The Howling," I didn't even get any money for making that movie, let alone all sequels, which I had nothing to do with. But it's still all out there in the zeitgeist. But when you do hit on a movie like "Gremlins," it becomes this cash cow that nobody expected, and it was a huge surprise to everybody involved that it became so popular and then just spawned merchandise and toys and stuff that still goes on today. It's fun to walk down the street and see people wearing a t-shirt with your movie on it.

I can't even imagine what that's like. Because people read the stuff that I write or whatever, but I don't really interact with those people. You get to see "Gremlins" on t-shirts every year. That's got to be nuts.

The initial merchandising was done very quickly because the studio didn't quite know what to make of the movie. Then when they started to realize that it might make money, then they did a crash course in merchandising. Some of the early merchandise was a little shoddy, but now it's made by a company called NECA in Japan and they do the most incredible reproductions of these characters, sometimes in life size. You can see them online. They're so well-made, they could pass for the original.

Yeah, NECA does incredible stuff. I was at San Diego Comic-Con a couple months ago and I got to tour their booth. They had some of the "Gremlins" stuff out because they have a "Gremlins 2" line right now, I believe. It is unreal how good some of that stuff has gotten, especially for high-end collectables. It's great.

Yeah, if I was a kid, I would be moved to take those little fingers and try to make my own little movies.

'There is a Gremlins 3 and it's the animated series prequel'

So only because you touched on "Gremlins" a bit, I know people have asked you endlessly over the years about "Gremlins 3." I remember reading when "Gremlins 2" turned 30, you had said, because the movie wasn't supposed to have a sequel, you did it because Warner Bros. was essentially like, "Do whatever you want." Given that nostalgia is bigger than it's ever been, would you see that there is a reason to do "Gremlins 3" now? Or do you just feel like maybe it's better to leave it alone now?

Well, there was really no reason to do "Gremlins 2," except that it was an offer I couldn't refuse, and I got to make it into something that was much more personal to me than the first picture. But there is a "Gremlins 3," and it's the animated series prequel, "The Secrets of the Mogwai," which I'm associated with and is coming to HBO Max this coming year. It was supposed to be this year, but they've had a lot of turmoil over there, and nobody quite knows what's going on. But they've already done one whole season and they've ordered the second season, which they're working on. I think it's pretty likely that we're going to see it. It's very clever. It's a really smart way to get into that world by not having to do another version of the same story, but to go back to where it started, first meeting the Mogwai, and I think we've done a remarkable job on it.

That's great to hear, because I know HBO Max has been having a bit of a turmoil. That is a good word for it. I actually wasn't sure if the "Gremlins" series was still going forward, but that's good to hear. It seems like it's coming along.

It seems to still be on track, and it's not so much HBO Max itself. It's the parent company [Warner Bros. Discovery]. Discovery is the "Shark Tank" people. So now it's Warner "Shark Tank."

I can't help but wonder, if the show does well, if the bean counters don't look and go, "Maybe now is the time for 'Gremlins 3.'"

I think it's inevitable. The title is too well known to not do something with. So eventually somebody's going to do something with it, which is fine as long as there isn't too much CGI.

Yeah, that's my thing. I watched both of them back to back not too long ago, and it is striking to me when you go back and watch those movies how, as much as computer generated effects have evolved a lot, when you really do have a tangible thing, it does always seem to hold up better. Time is kinder to it.

Well, it's better for the actors for one thing. They don't have to just imagine that there's something there and they actually interact with it. But I think that if there was another one of those pictures, I think it would be a combination of puppetry and CGI, because now with CGI you could put the puppeteers right next to the puppet, and then you could do another pass and wipe them out. Whereas we had furniture and hid them under the walls, and hid them under the floor, and all that kind of stuff that you wouldn't have to do now.

'There was a skeleton that came out on rollers on top of the audience, and it supposedly scared them'

Circling back to the Shout! Factory block here, the film that stood out to me the most was "House on Haunted Hill." I think a lot of people my age are more familiar with the remake, but you're giving people the chance to see the original. What does that film mean to you and do you recall when you first saw it?

I'm so old that I saw it when it was new, and there was a gimmick, which was the skeleton that came out at a certain point in the movie. There was a skeleton that came out on rollers on top of the audience, and it supposedly scared them. Mostly it just made kids throw things at it, but it's a William Castle movie. It made his career, basically, because it was so successful. And he continued in that vein making the same kind of pictures with gimmicks. And I made a whole movie called "Matinee," which is sort of semi-based on the idea of William Castle, and "House on Haunted Hill" is probably the most successful of the pictures he did in terms of entertainment value because it's very funny, and it's very dark, and it's a classic haunted house movie.

"Joe Dante's Film Inferno" kicks off Saturday, September 3 on Shout! Factory TV at 12 pm PT/3 pm ET, and you can tune in at

Joe Dante's Film Inferno Schedule

12:00 pm PT – Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

1:30 pm PT – The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

3:00 pm PT – House on Haunted Hill (1959)

4:30 pm PT – How to Make a Monster (1958)

6:00 pm PT – King of the Zombies (1941)

7:30 pm PT – The Last Man on Earth (1964)

9:30 pm PT – The Sadist (1963)