Monday, April 29, 2019

Director Doubles: John Landis & Joe Dante

by Patrick Bromley
Programming a week of double features from two of my favorite directors.

If you've read this site pretty much ever, you probably already know that one of my favorite things to do is to program movie lineups: double features, triple features, 24 or even 48-hour marathons. I also love talking about movies in terms of their directors, because that's how I tend to categorize things. It's how my brain works. If I had my dream job and was able to program a movie theater, I thought it might be cool to try pairing titles from some directors I love just to see how they fit together. In the case of John Landis and Joe Dante, it was surprisingly easy. Their films go together well because they're part of the same class of directors, coming of age and finding success around the same time, and because they share a lot of the same sensibilities. They grew up loving the same kinds of movies, and that love carries over into all of their work. It's a big reason why I love both of them so much.

Double Feature #1:
7 pm - Schlock (1973)7
9 pm - Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
Watching Arrow's recent Blu-ray of Schlock with my wife is actually what inspired this column, because it shares a lot in common with Joe Dante's first feature, Hollywood Boulevard (which Dante co-directed alongside Allan Arkush). They're both scrappy low-budget efforts willing to go to any lengths for a laugh. Both were made to show that their directors could make a movie. Both share an infectious love of movies that would carry through the filmmakers' respective bodies of work. I love how much John Landis' and Joe Dante's movies love movies.

Double Feature #2:
7 pm - Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
9 pm - The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
This one is a little bit of a cheat. I'm programming them together because they're both "sketch" movies, but Landis actually directs on both features. He's the only credited director on Kentucky Fried Movie, but he and Dante share duties on Amazon Women with Carl Gottlieb, Robert Weiss, and Peter Horton. Let's make it a triple bill and tack Twilight Zone: The Movie on at the end.

Double Feature #3:
7 pm - The Blues Brothers (1980)
9:30 pm - Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
The unifying theme here? Anarchy. Well, anarchy and musical numbers. Try to imagine not having the best time during this double feature. These are movies based on existing properties (another movie in the case of the latter, a Saturday Night Live sketch in the case of the former), which would normally carry a set of expectations and "rules" for box office success. Instead, Landis and Dante had carte blanche to go as big and as crazy as they wanted to, and once again the result is total joy at the freedom they were granted and the excess they exercise.

Double Feature #4:
7 pm - The Howling (1981)
9 pm - An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This is a no-brainer. Both werewolf movies, both released the same year, both incorporate a lot of humor, both helped raise the bar on makeup effects for their transformation scenes, executed by Rob Bottin and Rick Baker, respectively. (Baker actually was signed on to do The Howling but jumped ship when American Werewolf was finally given the green light; he recommended Bottin take his place.) These two filmmakers made two of the best -- if not the best -- werewolf movies ever made.

Double Feature #5:
7 pm - Into the Night (1985)
9 pm - The 'Burbs (1989)
This is one of my favorite of all these double bills, both because the movies are terrific and because they pair together so well. They're films about the weirdness hiding in plain sight, whether it's the house next door or the streets of Los Angeles at night when most of us are sleeping. They're about our heroes entering another world they never knew existed. They're funny but approach their humor from off-kilter angles. They both have weird tonal shifts, never comfortably sitting in just a single genre. They're both secret successes for their directors -- movies that are among the best in their respective filmographies that are overshadowed by their bigger hits (though The 'Burbs has a much larger and more vocal cult than Into the Night). This is the double feature you never knew you always wanted.

Double Feature #6:
7 pm - Innerspace (1987)
9 pm - Spies Like Us (1985)
If Innerspace is Joe Dante riffing on old Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedies, Spies Like Us is Landis' take on a Hope and Crosby picture. Both directors filter these buddy movies through their own very specific sensibilities: in Landis' case, it means leaning on his actors' comic personas and getting laughs from his movie stars, whereas Dante dials up the wackiness to put his comedy team inside of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Both movies are very funny in different ways, and I suspect they would compliment each other very well if paired together as a double feature.

Double Feature #7:
7 pm - Trading Places (1983)
9 pm - Gremlins (1984)
A big part of why I love Joe Dante and John Landis so much is that they have such reverence for classic Hollywood, and it works its way into all of their movies. Besides the fact that they're both set at Christmas, both Trading Places and Gremlins are very old fashioned until they aren't: the former owes a debt to the movies of Preston Sturges, while the latter is very much an attempt to turn Frank Capra on his head. These are movies about overthrowing the rich, white status quo and injecting a bit of anarchy into the established system -- sometimes on Wall Street, sometimes right out of an upstairs window.

What other directors would you like to see paired together? Let us know in the comments below! Don't be the person who says something like "Bergman and Michael Bay!" That person is always a douche.


  1. What about john carpenter/laul verheoven

  2. Alfred Hitchcock/William Castle!

  3. People never seem to believe that I'm being 100% serious but there's a big case to be made for the similarities between Wes Anderson & Guillermo Del Toro, from their insistence on hand-making worlds for their stories to exist in (this feels like a need they both have) to the inclusion of bittersweet truths in said stories, where things might be beautiful and somehow heartbreakingly sad all at once (these aspects include but are not exclusive to the endings of these movies).

    The more you consider it, the more they have in common. I've long wanted to write something about it but no one's ever been receptive to that. So it goes.

  4. Up for a challenge? Tarantino and Hooper. Even if it doesn't fit perfectly, they are some damn good movies we'd be watching.