Everybody knows Joe Dante. But few know about this 1999 thriller that shows what a master can do working within a timeworn but much-loved convention. Unlike the recent CABIN IN THE WOODS remake, Dante isn’t trying to challenge the genre. Nor, unlike many of the current crop of horror films, is there much gore, sex, or bad language. It’s more like a similarly-themed portal-to-Hell movie THE GATE, which also had humor and kids caught up in a supernatural adventure. What makes it work is an involving story, an enormously likable cast (young unknowns and Teri Polo and, for like a nanosecond, Bruce Dern) and a psycho jester as one of the monsters. The explanation for what comes out of the bottomless pit in the basement is satisfying, the relationship between the two brothers is warmly portrayed, and there are only a couple of times when a character is left alone with predictably horrifying consequences when you know that wouldn’t happen in “real life”. I put quotes around “real life” because, after all, we’re talking about a Hellgate, so accuracy isn’t all that important. Fun! — Jeff Schultz

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