Joseph James Dante Jr. (born November 28, 1946) is an American film director, producer, editor and actor. His films -notably Gremlins (1984)- often mix fantastical storylines with comedic elements. Dante’s films also include Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981), Explorers (1985), Innerspace (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Matinee (1993), Small Soldiers (1998), and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). His work for television and cable includes immigration satire The Second Civil War (1997) and episodes of anthology series Masters of Horror (“Homecoming” and “The Screwfly Solution”) and Amazing Stories, as well as Hawaii Five-0.
Dante was born in Morristown, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby Livingston. His father, Joseph James Dante, was a professional golfer, though Dante was more interested in becoming a cartoonist. Dante began his film career working for legendary, low-budget producer Roger Corman, who provided similar opportunities to future directors Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron. He made The Movie Orgy in 1968. He then worked as an editor on Grand Theft Auto after co-directing Hollywood Boulevard with Allan Arkush. His next feature film, Roger Corman-produced Piranha, was released in 1978. Inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the film was written by John Sayles. Dante then invited Sayles to rewrite the script for werewolf tale The Howling, loosely based on the novel by Gary Brandner.
Dante directed episodes of cult television series Police Squad!, before Steven Spielberg invited him to join the directing team on anthology movie Twilight Zone: The Movie. Dante’s segment, ‘It’s a Good Life’, featured cartoon-style special effects, and revolved around a woman (played by Kathleen Quinlan) who is ‘adopted’ by an omnipotent boy. Gremlins proved one of Dante’s biggest hits to date, being the third-highest-grossing film of 1984. Combining horror and comedy elements, the film revolves around Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan), who is given a strange creature he calls Gizmo as a pet. After Billy fails to follow the rules for looking after Gizmo, the creature spawns other creatures, which transform into destructive monsters who then begin rampaging through the local town. Six years passed before Dante directed the even more anarchic Gremlins 2: The New Batch, set this time in a New York high rise. Aside from the Gremlins films, Dante also worked with producer Steven Spielberg on comedy adventure Innerspace (1987), in which Dennis Quaid’s character is miniaturised and injected inside a human body. His 1985 boys meet alien tale Explorers marked the film debuts of actors River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke. Dante would later work with Tom Hanks on The ‘Burbs (1989), a black comedy in which Hanks’ character deals with nightmare neighbours.
Dante directed the 2003 live-action/animation hybrid, Looney Tunes: Back in Action. A box office bomb, the film received mixed reviews. In 2007, Dante launched the web series Trailers From Hell, which provides commentary by directors, producers and screenwriters on trailers for classic and cult movies. He is also a contributor to the website. Dante’s 2009 film The Hole received positive reviews, and was awarded the Premio Persol at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. The new award was for the “3-D feature deemed the most creative among those produced globally between September 2008 and August 2009.” With Roger Corman producing, Dante also directed the interactive web series Splatter for Netflix. The series stars Corey Feldman as a rock star seeking revenge on those he thinks have wronged him. Various projects Dante is officially involved in are struggling with funding for years, among them the anthology film “Paris, I’ll kill you”, the werewolf feature “Monster Love”, and the Roger Corman biopic “The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes”. In 2014, Dante made Burying the Ex, a horror comedy about a young man whose controlling girlfriend suddenly dies in a freak accident but when he tries to move on with his life along with his new partner he discovers that his now undead Ex has come back. The film stars Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene. It was selected to be screened out of competition at the 71st Venice International Film Festival, and was released in 2015. Dante served as executive producer on the independent feature length thriller Dark, starring Whitney Able and Alexandra Breckenridge, directed by Nick Basile. The film is set in New York City during the 2003 blackout. The film was released by Screen Media Films on June 7, 2016. In 2019, Dante released Nightmare Cinema, a horror anthology film starring Mickey Rourke and featuring shorts directed by Dante, Alejandro Brugués, Mick Garris, Ryūhei Kitamura, and David Slade. In 2020, Dante returned to the world of Gremlins serving as a consultant on the HBO Max prequel series Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.