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Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Joe Dante|
|Produced by||Michael Finnell|
|Written by||Chris Columbus|
Frances Lee McCain
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Editing by||Tina Hirsch|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||106 minutes|
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Joe Dante|
|Produced by||Michael Finnell|
|Written by||Chris Columbus|
Frances Lee McCain
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Editing by||Tina Hirsch|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||106 minutes|
Gremlins is a 1984 American horror comedy film directed by Joe Dante, released by Warner Bros. The film is about a young man who receives a strange creature called a mogwai as a pet, which then spawns other creatures who transform into small, destructive, evil monsters. This story was continued with a sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, released in 1990. Unlike the lighter sequel, the original Gremlins opts for more black comedy, which is balanced against a Christmas-time setting. Both films were the center of large merchandising campaigns.
Steven Spielberg was the film's executive producer and the screenplay was written by Chris Columbus. The film stars Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, with Howie Mandel providing the voice of Gizmo, the main mogwai character. Gremlins was a commercial success and received positive reviews from critics. However, the film was also heavily criticized for some of its more violent sequences. In response to this and to similar complaints about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg suggested that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) alter its rating system, which it did within two months of the film's release.
While searching for a Christmas present for his teenage son, Randall Peltzer (Axton) discovers a small, furry creature called a Mogwai in an antique store in Chinatown. The store owner refuses to sell the Mogwai on the grounds that owning one is too great a responsibility. However, as Randall is leaving the store, the owner's grandson (Louie) sells Randall the creature, stating his family needs the money. The boy gives Randall three specific instructions in caring for the Mogwai: never expose it to bright light (especially sunlight, which will kill it); never get it wet; and, most importantly: never, ever feed it after midnight. Randall takes the Mogwai to his family in the town of Kingston Falls; being an inventor, he names the creature "Gizmo".
The following evening, Randall gives Gizmo to his son Billy (Galligan) and tells him the three rules he must obey. A glass of water is accidentally spilled on Gizmo, causing him to convulse and produce five new creatures from his own body. One of the creatures, dubbed Stripe for his white quiff of hair, acts as their leader, but is very hostile to Gizmo. Curious to learn more about the Mogwai, Billy takes Gizmo to his science teacher, Mr. Hanson (Turman), and produces a sixth new Mogwai. Leaving the new Mogwai with Mr. Hanson, on which he will conduct tests, Billy returns home, and the other five creatures trick him into feeding them after midnight by biting the cord of his alarm clock. In the morning, Billy discovers the creatures have turned into cocoons. Gizmo, having virtuously refused the food earlier, remains unchanged.
In the meantime, the sixth creature steals Hanson's sandwich and cocoons itself. Later, it hatches and breaks out of its cage, hiding in the dark corners of the room. Hanson tries to reason with it and bribe it with a candy bar, but the creature eats it and his hand. Billy arrives and finds the Mogwai has turned into a reptilian monster. Elsewhere, the other Mogwai have hatched into "gremlins", mischievous reptilian monsters with sharp teeth and claws. They attack Billy's mother (McCain), who is able to escape with Billy's help, and the gremlins are killed. Stripe escapes and leaps into a swimming pool, creating hundreds of new gremlins who go on a rampage throughout town. Billy and Gizmo rescue Billy's girlfriend Kate Beringer (Cates) when the gremlins overrun the tavern where she works. Billy, Kate, and Gizmo discover the gremlins have temporarily stopped their rampage and have assembled in the local movie theater to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The three set off an explosion that kills the gremlins and destroys the theater, but their celebrations are cut short when Kate spots Stripe in the window of a nearby Montgomery Ward store.
Billy follows and battles Stripe, who leaps into a water fountain intending to multiply again. Before he can multiply, Gizmo opens a set of window blinds, causing sunlight to pour into the store, killing Stripe. As the Peltzers recover from the rampage, the antique store owner arrives to claim Gizmo, claiming that the Western world is not yet ready for the responsibilities that come with caring for a Mogwai, but that Billy may someday be ready to properly care for Gizmo.
Gremlins was produced at a time when combining horror and comedy was becoming increasingly popular. According to Professor Noël Carroll, Ghostbusters, released the same weekend as Gremlins, and the comic strip The Far Side also followed this trend. Carroll argued that there was now a new genre emphasizing sudden shifts between humorous and horrific scenes, drawing laughs with plot elements that have been traditionally used to scare. Older popular fiction also blended humor with horror, such as the films Bride of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as the 1960s TV series The Addams Family and The Munsters.
The notion of gremlins was first conceived during World War II, when mechanical failures in aircraft were jokingly blamed on the small monsters. The term "gremlins" also entered popular culture as children's author Roald Dahl published a book called The Gremlins in 1943, based on the mischievous creatures. Walt Disney considered making a film of it. A Bugs Bunny cartoon of the era has him battling a gremlin on an airplane. Joe Dante had read The Gremlins, and said that the book was of some influence on his film. In 1983, Dante publicly distanced his work from earlier films, explaining, "Our gremlins are somewhat different—they're sort of green and they have big mouths and they smile a lot and they do incredibly, really nasty things to people and enjoy it all the while".
The story of Gremlins was conceived by Chris Columbus. As Columbus explained, his inspiration came from his loft, when at night "what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy". He then wrote the original screenplay as a spec script to show potential employers that he had writing abilities. The story was not actually intended to be filmed until Steven Spielberg took an interest in turning it into a film. As Spielberg explained, "It's one of the most original things I've come across in many years, which is why I bought it."
After deciding to executive produce the film, Spielberg chose Dante as his director because of his experience with horror-comedy; Dante had previously directed The Howling (1981); however, in the time between The Howling and the offer to film Gremlins, he had experienced a lull in his career. The film's producer was Michael Finnell, who had also worked on The Howling with Dante. Spielberg took the project to Warner Bros. and co-produced it through his own company, Amblin Entertainment.
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. Dante later explained the scene made the film darker than the filmmakers wanted. 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 stubbornly refused to take the scene out, saying it represented the film as a whole, which had a combination of horrific and comedic elements. Spielberg did not like the scene but, despite his creative control, he viewed Gremlins as Dante's project and allowed him to leave it in. A parody of this scene is featured in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Phoebe Cates was cast as Kate, Billy's girlfriend, despite concerns that she was known for playing more risqué parts, such as Linda Barrett in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Spielberg urged the casting of the relatively unknown Zach Galligan as Billy because he saw chemistry between Galligan and Cates during auditions. Galligan later compared himself to Billy, saying he was a "geeky kid", and that being in the film "was really kind of a dream" given "what I get to do, what my character gets to do, blow up movie theatres", adding that he "got to work with great people".
In contrast to Galligan, many of the supporting actors and actresses were better known. Veteran actor Glynn Turman portrayed the high school science teacher whose study of a mogwai leads to his death after it forms a cocoon and emerges as a vicious gremlin. Dick Miller, who was a regular in Dante's films, was another experienced actor on the set, playing a World War II veteran who first refers to the creatures as gremlins. Rand was played by Hoyt Axton, who was always the filmmakers' preferred choice for the role even though it was widely contested by other actors. Axton's experience included acting as the father in The Black Stallion (1979), and he was also a country music singer-songwriter. After an introductory scene to Gremlins was cut, Axton's voice earned him the added role of the narrator to establish some context. Mr. Wing was played by Keye Luke, a renowned film actor. Although in reality, he was around 80 at the time of filming, and his character was very elderly, Luke's youthful appearance had to be covered by make-up.
Corey Feldman, who up to that time had primarily been in commercials, played Pete Fountaine, establishing his early credentials as a child actor.
Polly Holliday, an actress best known for her role in Alice, played Mrs. Deagle. Dante considered the casting fortunate, as she was well-known and he considered her to be talented. Two other well-known actors, Fast Times' Judge Reinhold and character actor Edward Andrews, received roles that were significantly reduced after the film was edited; they played Billy's superiors at the bank.
Some of the performances were shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California (Mrs Deagle's house was one such set as well as the opening street scenes in Chinatown, which were filmed on the Warner Bros. Studios backlot). This required fake snow; Dante also felt it was an atmosphere that would make the special effects more convincing. As the special effects relied mainly on puppetry, the actors worked alongside some of the puppets. Nevertheless, after the actors finished their work for good, a great deal of effort was spent finishing the effects. Numerous small rubber puppets, some of which were mechanical, were used to portray Gizmo and the gremlins. They were designed by Chris Walas. There was more than one Gizmo puppet, and occasionally Galligan, when carrying one, would set him down off camera, and when Gizmo appeared again sitting on a surface it was actually a different puppet wired to the surface. These puppets had many limitations. The Gizmo puppets were particularly frustrating because they were smaller and thus broke down more. Consequently, to satisfy the crew, a scene was included in which the gremlins hang Gizmo on a wall and throw darts at him.
A few marionettes were also used. Other effects required large mogwai faces and ears to be produced for close-ups, as the puppets were less capable of conveying emotion. Consequently, large props simulating food were needed for the close-ups in the scene in which the mogwai feast after midnight. An enlarged Gizmo puppet was also needed for the scene in which he multiplies. The new mogwai, who popped out of Gizmo's body as small, furry balls which then started to grow, were balloons and expanded as such. Walas had also created the exploding gremlin in the microwave by means of a balloon that was allowed to burst.
Howie Mandel provided the voice for Gizmo, and prolific voice actor Frank Welker provided the voice for Stripe. It was Welker who suggested Mandel perform in Gremlins. The puppets' lines were mostly invented by the voice actors, based on cues from the physical actions of the puppets, which were filmed before the voice work. When developing the voice for Gizmo, Mandel explained, "[Gizmo was] cute and naive, so, you know, I got in touch with that... I couldn't envision going any other way or do something different with it". The majority of the other gremlins' voices were performed by Mark Dodson.
The film's score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who won a Saturn Award for Best Music for his efforts. The main score was composed with the objective of conveying "the mischievous humour and mounting suspense of Gremlins". Goldsmith also wrote Gizmo's song, which was hummed by a child actress and acquaintance of Goldsmith's, rather than Mandel himself. Goldsmith also appears in the film (as does Steven Spielberg), in the scene where Rand calls home from the salesman's convention.
The soundtrack album was released by Geffen Records as a specially priced mini-album on LP and cassette (Goldsmith's music comprised all of side two), and reissued on compact disc in 1993 only in Germany.
"Gremlins...Mega Madness" was also released as a single, with "The Gremlin Rag" as its B-side.
In 2011, Film Score Monthly issued a two-disc release of the soundtrack, with the complete score on disc one and the original soundtrack album on disc two (representing the latter's first North American CD issue); this was the label's final Jerry Goldsmith album.
DISC ONE: The Film Score
Tracks 26-34 are listed as bonus tracks.
DISC TWO: 1984 Soundtrack Album
Along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, also rated PG, Gremlins was one of two films in 1984 to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating, with Red Dawn being the first film given the new rating in August 1984. The scene in which a gremlin explodes in the microwave was particularly influential to the idea that some films too light to be rated R are still too mature to be rated PG. The change to the rating system was not insignificant; the rating PG-13 turned out to be appealing to some film patrons, as it implied some excitement without being too explicit.
Film critics' reviews of Gremlins were mixed to positive. Roger Ebert approved of the film, declaring it to not only be "fun", but also a "sly series of send-ups", effectively parodying many elemental film storylines. In his opinion, Gremlins did this partly through depictions of mysterious worlds (the shop in Chinatown) and tyrannical elderly women (Mrs. Deagle). Ebert also believed the rule in which a mogwai cannot eat after midnight was inspired by fairy tales, and that the final scenes parody the classic horror films. He connected Kate's speech about her father with "the great tradition of 1950s sick jokes". Conversely, Leonard Maltin disapproved of the film, and his view was made clear in remarks he made on the television show Entertainment Tonight. He called the film "icky" and "gross". He later wrote that despite being set in a "picture-postcard town" and blending the feel of It's a Wonderful Life (a clip of which appears in Gremlins) with that of The Blob, the film is "negated by too-vivid violence and mayhem"; giving the film two out of four stars. Maltin actually made a tongue-in-cheek appearance in Gremlins 2, repeating his criticisms of the original on film, as an in-joke, before being throttled by the creatures; he later gave the second film a more positive rating, three out of four stars.
While some critics criticized the film's depictions of violence and greed—such as death scenes, Kate's speech, and the gremlins' gluttony—for lacking comic value, scholar Charlotte Miller instead interpreted these as a satire of "some characteristics of Western civilization", suggesting that Westerners may take too much satisfaction from violence. Gremlins can also be interpreted as a statement against technology, in that some characters, such as Billy's father, are overly dependent on it. In contrast, Mr. Wing is shown to have a strong distaste for television. Kirkpatrick Sale also interpreted Gremlins as an anti-technology film in his book Rebels Against the Future. Another scholar suggested that the film is meant to express a number of observations of society by having the gremlin characters shift in what they are meant to represent. At different times, they are depicted as teenagers, the wealthy establishment, or fans of Disney films.
Another scholar drew a connection between the microwave scene and urban legends about pets dying in microwave ovens. He described the portrayal of this urban legend in the film as successful, but that meant it seemed terrible. This is indeed a scene that is thought of as being one of the film's most violent depictions; with even Roger Ebert expressing some fear in his review that the film might encourage children to try similar things with their pets.
Gremlins has been criticized for more than its depictions of violence. One BBC critic wrote in 2000 that "The plot is thin and the pacing is askew". However, that critic also complimented the dark humour contrasted against the ideal Christmas setting. In 2002, another critic wrote that in hindsight, Gremlins has "corny special effects" and that the film will tend to appeal to children more so than to adults; he also said the acting was dull.
Despite the initial mixed criticism, Gremlins has continued to receive critical praise over the years. It currently holds an 83% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1984.
Financially, Gremlins was a commercial success. Produced on an $11 million budget, it was more expensive than Spielberg had originally intended, but still relatively cheap for its time. The trailer introduced the film to audiences by briefly explaining that Billy receives a strange creature as a Christmas present, by going over the three rules, and then coming out with the fact that the creatures transform into terrible monsters. This trailer showed little of either the mogwai or the gremlins. In contrast to this, other advertisements concentrated on Gizmo, overlooked the gremlins and made the film look similar to Spielberg's earlier family film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Gremlins was released into North American theaters on June 8, 1984, the same day as Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters. Gremlins ranked second, with $12.5 million in its first weekend, $1.1 million less than Ghostbusters. By the end of its American screenings on November 29, it had grossed $148,168,459 domestically. This made it the fourth highest-grossing film of the year, behind Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In August 1984, it opened in Argentina and Spain, and in October it premiered in West Germany. Screenings began in Mexico, Australia, and much of the rest of Europe in December. Since Gremlins had an international audience, different versions of the film were made to overcome cultural barriers. Mandel learned to speak his few intelligible lines, such as "Bright light!", in various languages, including German. Regional music and humor were also incorporated into foreign-language versions. Dante credited this work as being one of the factors which helped to make Gremlins a worldwide success. However, many critics questioned the summer release date of the film in America, as the film takes place during the Christmas holiday season, causing them to comment that it should have had a Christmas release date instead.
In addition to this, there were also complaints from audiences about the violence depicted in the film. These complaints were particularly present in people who had brought their children to see the film, many of whom walked out of the theatre before the film had ended. Dante admitted to reporters later that "the idea of taking a 4-year-old to see Gremlins, thinking it's going to be a cuddly, funny animal movie and then seeing that it turns into a horror picture, I think people were upset... They felt like they had been sold something family friendly and it wasn't entirely family friendly".
The film became available to audiences again when it was brought back to theatres on August 30, 1985. This additional release brought its gross up to $153,083,102.
Gremlins won numerous awards, including the 1985 Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Horror Film, Best Music, Best Special Effects, and the award for Best Supporting Actress, given to Holiday's performance as Mrs. Deagle. The film also won Germany's Golden Screen Award and the 1985 Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture (Adventure). Corey Feldman, who played Billy's young friend, was also nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama.
Gremlins was released on VHS in 1985, and made $79,500,000 in video rental stores. The film was released on DVD in 1997, and again in 1999. On August 20, 2002, a "special edition" DVD was released, which featured cast and filmmakers' commentary and deleted scenes. A 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition was released on December 1, 2009.
Since its release, some people have criticized Gremlins as being culturally insensitive. Some observers have argued that the film presents gremlins as African Americans. In Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies, Patricia Turner writes that the gremlins "reflect negative African-American stereotypes" in their dress and behavior. They are shown "devouring fried chicken with their hands", listening to black music, breakdancing, and wearing sunglasses after dark and newsboy caps, a style common among African American males in the 1980s.
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, which had received a boost from Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Manufacturers including LJN produced versions of Gizmo as dolls or stuffed animals. (The latter of which became a popular high demand toy during the holiday season of 1984.) 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/45 records 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.
Atari released a completely different (and more technically advanced) game- also called Gremlins- for the Atari 5200 console. Although this version went to manufacturing in 1984, the turmoil surrounding Jack Tramiel's takeover of Atari's consumer business resulted in it not being released until 1986.
In the 2000s, more games were released; Gremlins: Unleashed! was released on Game Boy Color in 2001. The game was about Gizmo trying to catch Stripe and thirty other gremlins, while the gremlins also try to turn Gizmo into a gremlin. Both Gizmo and Stripe are playable characters in the game. Gremlins: Stripe vs. Gizmo, with both Gizmo and Stripe as playable characters, was released in 2002.
At the time of the film's release, an interactive fiction game based on scenes from the film titled Gremlins — The Adventure (1985) was released for various home computers, including the Acorn Electron, the BBC Micro, the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum. The game was written by Brian Howarth for Adventure Soft and was text based, with full colour illustrations on some formats.
The film was also the basis for a novel of the same name by George Gipe, published by Avon Books in June 1984. The novel offered an origin for mogwai and gremlins as a prologue. Supposedly, mogwai were created as gentle, contemplative creatures by a scientist on an alien world. However, it was discovered that their physiology was unstable, and under "certain circumstances", alluding to the three rules that were given in the film, mogwai would change into creatures that the novel referred to as "mischievous". This origin is unique to the novel but is referred to in the novelization of Gremlins 2 by David Bischoff. No definitive origin for mogwai or gremlins is given in either Gremlins film.
In addition to this, Gremlins brand breakfast cereal was produced by Ralston for a few years concurrent to and after the first film was released in 1984. The front of the cereal box featured Gizmo, and inside were decals of the malevolent gremlins, including Stripe.
The film not only spawned the sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and an advertisement for British Telecom, but is believed to have been the inspiration for several unrelated films about small monsters. These include Critters, Ghoulies, Troll, Hobgoblins, and Munchies. Many of these films were not critical successes, and Hobgoblins was lampooned on the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000. The anime Pet Shop of Horrors has also been compared to Gremlins.
There were rumors that the talking doll Furby was so similar to the character Gizmo that Warner Bros. was considering a lawsuit in 1998, but Warner representatives replied that this was not true. In music, the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai are named after the film's creatures: as for the reason for the band chose this as their name their guitarist, Stuart Braithwaite, comments that "it has no significant meaning and we always intended on getting a better one, but like a lot of other things we never got round to it". Welsh singer/songwriter Rod Thomas performs under the name Bright Light Bright Light, which is itself a direct quote from the film.
Vulture reports that Warner Bros. Pictures is negotiating with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment to reboot the Gremlins franchise. Seth Grahame-Smith has been tapped to produce alongside David Katzenberg.
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