If you’re reading this Joe Dante likely played a significant part in your childhood. He directed “Gremlins,” the even better “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” “Explorers,” “Innerspace” and more, and had a segment in “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” and had a hand in shows like “Amazing Stories” and “Eerie, Indiana.” Over the years he’s gone from big studio movies to indies and television. His latest, “Burying the Ex,” brings him back to his roots: it’s a low-budget horror comedy about a young movie buff (Anton Yelchin) haunted by his dead former girlfriend (Ashley Greene) when she returns as a zombie.
This, like several of your films, involves young people, in this case 20somethings. What keeps you coming back to films about the young?
I don’t know. It’s one of those things where people point things out about your work and you look back and you go, “Yeah, that’s true.” I didn’t set out to make movies with lots of kids in them. And I don’t have any of my own. Maybe that’s why. But for whatever reason I’ve been attracted to films about kids coming of age. I guess it’s because childhood was when I fell in love with the movies. Maybe it’s a way of keeping my childhood wonder.
The character Anton Yelchin plays is a horror movie buff, just like you. Did you see him as quasi-autobiographical?
Well, I would like to say I found it autobiographical, especially in the sense that two gorgeous women were interested in me and I was a nerd. [Laughs] Bit of a fantasy.
The character Alexandra Daddario plays, who throws herself at Yelchin’s character and is as into horror movies as he is, is very much a male fantasy.
All of us film fans have been looking for her our entire lives and very seldom do we find her. [Laughs]
The visual style of your films tend to be influenced by cartoons. Was there an inspiration here?
This was made on the run, this picture, so there wasn’t a lot of time for finessing the visuals. Particularly with the set in the apartment, which is where half the movie takes place. We didn’t build that. We couldn’t afford to build a set. We had to modify one that was already there. We couldn’t even take out the walls. The style is a little more cramped than I’m used to. But the idea was to make the movie look bright and cheery at the beginning, then once she comes back as a zombie it becomes a little darker. The camera angles change a little bit and it gets a little more of a horror movie look.
Did the low budget on this film harken back for you your days working for Roger Corman, or even when you’ve done TV?
Television is fast, like a Corman picture, but it’s not quite as cheap. When Roger saw this he said it was just like a New World picture. It’s true!
This isn’t as gory as some zombie movies, though it has its moments. When you made “Gremlins” you even tamed down the violence from what producer Steven Spielberg originally wanted. Do you tend to be wary of going too gory?
I was a huge fan of “The Wild Bunch” when it came out. It was very shocking, and today it’s probably tame, I guess. I’ve never shied away from it, except when the distributors want a PG-13. Sometimes they want a PG. That becomes difficult to do in this genre. The audience expects a certain amount of mayhem. In this case the producers would have liked to have had a PG-13. So I didn’t put a tremendous amount of gore, but then I showed it to the ratings board and they gave it an R. We asked if we could get a PG-13, and they said we’d have to reshoot a lot of it, because of all the talk of f—ing. Then of course when you have an R the audience says, “But there’s hardly any gore in it!”
Ashley Greene’s character spouts off a lot about environmentalism. Were you making fun of people who are especially green?
It’s not bad that she’s green. What’s bad is she’s so excessive about it, so bossy. He agrees early in the picture that it’s great she’s concerned about the environment. But when she paints their room green with hypoallergenic colors, it’s a little much. She goes overboard with that stuff.
The part where she destroys his import posters is one of the saddest moments in the film.
[Laughs] It’s true! They’re my posters, so I wouldn’t really let her destroy them.