Gremlins – USA, 1984

Gremlins is a 1984 American comedy horror film directed by Joe Dante (The HowlingPiranha). Steven Spielberg was the film’s executive producer, with the film being produced by Michael Finnell and written by Chris Columbus, drawing on legends of gremlins going back to World War II. The film stars Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates.

A sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, was released in 1990.

Gremlins was a big commercial success – taking $153.1 million against a reported budget of $11 million – and received positive reviews from critics. However, the film was also criticized for some of its more violent sequences.

The film’s script went through a few drafts before a shooting script was finalized. The first version was much darker than the final film. Various scenes were cut, including one which portrayed Billy’s mother dying in her struggle with the gremlins, with her head thrown down the stairs when Billy arrives. There was also a scene where the gremlins ate Billy’s dog and a scene where the gremlins attacked a McDonald’s, eating customers instead of burgers.

Also, instead of Stripe being a mogwai who becomes a gremlin, there was originally no mogwai named Stripe; rather, Gizmo was supposed to transform into Stripe the gremlin. Spielberg overruled this plot element as he felt Gizmo was cute and that audiences would want him to be present throughout the film.

A famous urban legend is referenced in the film, in which Kate reveals in a speech that her father died at Christmas when he dressed as Santa Claus and broke his neck while climbing down the family’s chimney. After the film was completed, the speech proved to be controversial, and studio executives insisted upon its removal, because they felt it was too ambiguous as to whether it was supposed to be funny or sad. Dante refused to take the scene out, saying it represented the film as a whole, which had a combination of horrific and comedic elements.

Randall Peltzer, a struggling inventor, visits a Chinatown antique store in the hope of finding a Christmas present for his son Billy. In the store, Randall encounters a small, furry creature called a mogwai (Cantonese: 魔怪, “monster”).

The owner, Mr. Wing, refuses to sell the creature to Randall. However, his grandson secretly sells the mogwai to Randall, warning him to remember three important rules that must never be broken – do not expose the mogwai to bright lights or sunlight which will kill it, do not let it get wet, and never feed it after midnight.

Randall returns home to Kingston Falls where he gives the mogwai to Billy as a pet. Randall names the mogwai “Gizmo” and Billy makes sure to treat him well. When Billy’s friend Pete spills a glass of water over Gizmo, five more mogwai spawn from his back, a more troublemaking sort led by the aggressive Stripe…

Reviews:

“At the level of Serious Film Criticism, it’s a meditation on the myths in our movies: Christmas, families, monsters, retail stores, movies, boogeymen. At the level of Pop Movie-going, it’s a sophisticated, witty B movie, in which the monsters are devouring not only the defenseless town, but decades of defenseless clichés.” Roger Ebert

“Do we enjoy ourselves also? Hell yeah we do. Gremlins is energetic, spirited and hugely rewarding fare and its sequel damn well is too, in a Back to the Future 2 kind of way. Once the first drop of water is spilled and Gizmo enters a hilarious state of accelerated pregnancy, we are sucked in and shaken into submission until the final Christmas decoration has fallen.” A Keeper of the Crimson Quill

“It’s conventional, fun, has its moments of action, but it’s formulaic and has been seen in countless films since. Dante is wont to shoot lots of close-ups of Gizmo and the chief Gremlin hell-raiser named Stripe. They’re cute (or in Stripe’s case, devilish) for the first few instances, but it rapidly becomes a case of going to the well too much for the desired effect.” Ryan Keefer, DVD Talk

“Dante’s wholesale trashing of the Capra-esque small-town setting includes, as usual, a number of swipes at various media-saturated icons, including the YMCA, Walt Disney, Phil Spector’s Christmas Album, Smokey the Bear and Santa Claus.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

” …Gizmo is both cute and likeable while the supporting cast is also strong (including Dick Miller as the paranoid neighbour Murray Futterman, and a young Corey Feldman). Gremlins is a great Christmas horror and has some great monster designs but it feels quite dated in places and maybe should not have been dumbed down from its original incarnation.” Daniel Simmonds, The Rotting Zombie

“While it caused a controversy back in the day, the darkly humorous tone is easily the part of the film I love the most. This film really doesn’t hold back when it comes to killing the gremlins – we have them being blown up in microwaves, cut to pieces by kitchen appliances and being burned alive in an explosion, with more often than not a gruesome gooey mess left behind.” Graeme Robertson, Flickering Myth

“At the time, Gremlins was a revelation. The creature effects were incredible, its sense of humour was the exception rather than the rule and it gained a large following, and for good reason. These days, sacrilegious though it may be to say it, Gremlins suffers from the same problem as Child’s Play in that it spends too long revealing what we already know…” Chris Scullion, That Was a Bit Mental

“The special effects by Chris Walas are amazing. Gizmo is cute, cuddly, and adorable while Stripe and his Gremlin minions are f*cking kick ass. They’re definitely one of the most memorable monsters in screen history. And the final melting scene is pretty spectacular. The cast is flawless.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

  • Zach Galligan as William “Billy” Peltzer
  • Phoebe Cates as Kate Beringer
  • Hoyt Axton as Randall “Rand” Peltzer
  • Frances Lee McCain as Lynn Peltzer
  • Corey Feldman as Pete Fountaine
  • Keye Luke as Mr. Wing
  • John Louie as Mr. Wing’s grandson
  • Dick Miller as Murray Futterman
  • Jackie Joseph as Sheila Futterman
  • Polly Holliday as Mrs. Ruby Deagle
  • Judge Reinhold as Gerald Hopkins
  • Edward Andrews as Mr. Roland Corben
  • Glynn Turman as Mr. Roy Hanson
  • Belinda Balaski as Mrs. Joe Harris
  • Scott Brady as Sheriff Frank Reilly
  • Jonathan Banks as Deputy Brent Frye
  • Harry Carey, Jr. as Mr. Anderson
  • Kenny Davis as Dorry
  • Kenneth Tobey as Smoking Gas Station Attendant

Filming locations:

The backlot of Universal Studios in California (Mrs. Deagle’s house). The opening street scenes set in Chinatown were filmed on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot.

Merchandise:

With its commercial themes, particularly the perceived cuteness of the character Gizmo, Gremlins became the center of considerable merchandising. Due to this, it became part of a rising trend in film.

Manufacturers including LJN produced versions of Gizmo as dolls or stuffed animals. Both Gizmo and the gremlins were mass-produced as action figures, and Topps printed trading cards based upon the film. A product placement deal with fast food chain Hardee’s also led to a series of five book-and-cassette/record adaptations of the film’s story.

Starting in the early 2000s, companies such as Jun Planning and the National Entertainment Collectibles Association produced all-new Gremlins toys and collectibles.

In 2017, Trick or Treat Studios began producing official Gremlins life-size puppets of Stripe and Gizmo.

Legacy:

The film spawned a sequel, an advertisement for British Telecom, and provided the inspiration for several unrelated films about small monsters. These include Critters, Ghoulies, Troll, Hobgoblins and Munchies.

In January 2013, Vulture reported that Warner Bros. was negotiating with Amblin Entertainment to reboot the Gremlins franchise. Seth Grahame-Smith was tapped to produce, alongside David Katzenberg. In January 2015, Grahame-Smith stated that the project has been put on hold.

In a December 2016 interview with Bleeding Cool, Galligan again spoke about a third film saying that “Warner Bros. definitely wants it, Chris Columbus wants to do it because he’d like to undo the Gremlins 2 thing as he wasn’t thrilled with it, and Spielberg wants to.” He claimed Gremlins 3 is being written by Carl Ellsworth.

In an interview with /Film in 2017, a script was written by Chris Columbus. His script explored the idea that has been on the fan’s mind for a long time: “if all the gremlins come from getting Gizmo wet and feeding his mogwai offspring after midnight, should Gizmo be eliminated?” He described his script as “twisted and dark”. Gremlins 3 is still unofficially slated for 2019.

In 2017, gremlins were featured in the animated film The Lego Batman Movie, with director Chris McKay explaining he loved the characters.

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