Comedy Classic ‘Gremlins’ turns 30

Cuddly Gizmo won the hearts of viewers of all ages

Cuddly Gizmo won the hearts of viewers of all ages

In the last exciting installment of Chuck’s Entertainment Chuckwagon, we discussed the thirtieth anniversary of the 1984 classic comedy film Ghostbusters. We now shift from New York City to the small town of Kingston Falls at Christmas time. Another classic horror comedy, Gremlins, also turns the big 3-0 this year.

Gremlins is the story of inventor Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) who, while on a trip to Chinatown, purchases a cute little creature called a “Mogwai” as a Christmas gift for his son, Billy. The salesman warns Rand about the three rules for taking care of a Mogwai: never expose them to sunlight or it will kill them, never let them get wet or they’ll multiply, and never, ever feed them after midnight.

Rand names the Mogwai “Gizmo” and brings him home to Billy. Though Rand passes along the rules for the Mogwai’s care, Billy fails to heed his father’s cautions. The second half of the film centers on Billy (Zach Galligan), his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) and Gizmo and their quest to stop Stripe and the other Gremlins from destroying Kingston Falls on Christmas Eve.

According to the DVD commentary, Chris Columbus penned the original script for Gremlins when he was a film student at New York University. Producer Steven Spielberg read the script, loved it, and wanted to make it into a feature film.

In the DVD Commentary, Director Joe Dante explained he and Spielberg decided to lighten up the tone of Columbus’s original, much darker script. They eliminated scenes including one where the Gremlins ate the Peltzer family’s dog as well as one in which they ate all the customers at the local McDonald’s.

Also in Columbus’s original script, midway through the film, Gizmo turns into Stripe, the evil Gremlin leader. Spielberg wisely decided that Gizmo was too cute a character to turn evil. Dante has described the film as “It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Birds” and there are similarities between Gremlins and It’s a Wonderful Life.

In It’s A Wonderful Life, the town of Bedford Falls is in the grasp of Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a rich tyrant who owns and controls half the town and tries to foreclose on the townspeople’s homes. In Gremlins, the character of Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday) is a female version of Mr. Potter. Inn a deleted scene on the Gremlins DVD, it’s revealed she’s forcing the bank where both Billy and Kate work to foreclose on all the homes and businesses of Kingston Falls so she can sell the land to a chemical company.

Also, the second half of both movies take place on Christmas Eve. Both are set in a small, all American town. Both towns have a movie theater and a local tavern that later play a part in the story. There’s even a scene early in the film where Billy’s mother is watching It’s a Wonderful Life. In one of my favorite scenes, after the Gremlins have gone a destructive rampage in Kingston’s Falls, they all converge in the local movie theater that’s showing Disney’s animated classic, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The Gremlins sing along with the seven dwarfs during the “High-Ho!” musical number.

Earlier in the film, as Billy passes the same theater on his way to work, the two films listed on the marquee are A Boy’s Life and Watch the Skies. A clever inside joke, these were the original working titles for Spielberg’s films, ET and Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Spielberg also appears in a cameo midway through the film.

Gremlins was shot on the Universal Studios back lot, which was also the location of Hazzard County in The Dukes of Hazzard and Hill Valley in Back to the Future.

Gremlins, which opened on June 8, 1984, was a box office hit but still proved to be a controversial film. Many parents felt deceived by the misleading trailers and ads which featured very little of the scary Gremlins and more of the cute and cuddly Gizmo. They were expecting a film more along the lines of Spielberg’s E.T. It’s important to note that at time of Gremlins release, the PG-13 rating didn’t yet exist. There was only G, PG, R, and X. Spielberg directed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – also rated PG and released two weeks prior to Gremlins – which was criticized for being too violent for children. So, in the summer of 1984, the PG-13 rating was established.

Despite the initial controversy, Gremlins was a success, one of the top five films of 1984. A sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, was released in the summer of 1990. Over the years, there’s been talk of either making a Gremlins 3 or remaking the original film but nothing definite has been announced.

Both the first and second films are available on both DVD and Blu-Ray and are chock full of great extras. The sequel (also directed by Joe Dante) is also a great film, but is a little more zany in tone and even pokes fun at the first film.

Happy 30th anniversary Gremlins, and thank you dear reader, for riding Chuck’s Entertainment Chuck Wagon, full of yummy entertainment goodness.
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges

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