June 8, 1984
Gremlins is a horror comedy film directed by Joe Dante and released in 1984 by Warner Bros. Pictures. This is the first film of two in the Gremlins film franchise.
Randall Peltzer is an inventor of very modest abilities and questionable success. From the fictional community of a New York state called Kingston Falls, he travels to Chinatown in New York City to sell his inventions and pick up a present for his son, Billy Peltzer. A young Chinese boy there takes Randall to his grandfather's small shop, where Randall takes interest in a small cute furry creature called a mogwai. Mr. Wing, the Chinese boy's grandfather and owner of the shop, refuses to sell the mogwai, even when Randall offers $200 for it. This is money that the Wing family desperately needs, however. Therefore, Wing's grandson secretly sells the mogwai to Randall. Though the creature seems innocent enough, the grandson then warns Randall that he must not let the mogwai near bright light, especially sunlight, which can kill the mogwai; must not allow water to touch the mogwai; and, most importantly, must never, ever feed it after midnight.
Randall names the creature Gizmo and brings him home to his son Billy. Billy has taken up a job at the bank to provide money for his parents, with whom he lives. He has a dog called Barney whose mischief makes him and Billy the targets of harassment by Ruby Deagle, an elderly woman wielding much financial influence. Billy's coworker and love interest Kate Beringer, a local bartender, sees directly the misery in the town caused by Mrs. Deagle's business practices.
Billy is very fascinated with Gizmo, who is highly intelligent, can hum a tune, and proves to be a very gentle and a well-behaved creature. Unfortunately, Billy's friend, Pete Fountaine, accidentally spills water from a paintbrush jar over Gizmo. This causes Gizmo to go into convulsions and instantly multiply, spawning five new mogwai by a process that appears painful to him. These new mogwai are just like Gizmo. They are led by the mogwai Billy calls Stripe, who has a white mohawk hairstyle. Billy later brings one to Pete's science teacher Roy Hanson, who aggravates the mogwai by sticking a needle in it for a blood test. Ignoring Billy's cautions, Roy leaves food out, which the mogwai promptly steals and eats after midnight.
Eventually, the new mogwai trick Billy into feeding them after midnight by stopping his alarm clock. All the creatures, except Gizmo, who refused to accept the food, soon form cocoons around themselves. While Billy is at the bank, the cocoons hatch, and the mogwai emerge, having transformed into "gremlins". In this form, they possess fangs, claws, red eyes, and dark green reptilian skin, and are extremely reckless. Billy travels to the school to talk to Mr. Hanson, only to find him killed by the gremlin at the school. Billy is injured and races to warn his mother, Lynn Peltzer who is now alone with the gremlins, and comes into conflict with them. She manages to kill three of them, one by killing it in a blender, another by stabbing it with a knife and a third by blowing it up inside the microwave. While she is being strangled by a surviving gremlin, Billy arrives and saves her by decapitating it with an ornamental sword. The only remaining gremlin in the house is Stripe, who escapes. Billy follows him to the local YMCA, but the creature escapes once more by jumping into a swimming pool. Realizing what is about to occur, Billy flees, while Stripe multiplies into a multitude of gremlins.
Billy then takes Gizmo to the police station, in an effort to warn the townsfolk. The policemen ignore them to investigate a series of bizarre accidents, which Billy insists are the work of the gremlins. Meanwhile, Stripe and his gremlin army attack the town, assaulting the population. Billy then rushes to Dorry's Tavern to rescue Kate, who has been bartending that night. The gremlins have taken over the tavern, are behaving in an exceedingly vulgar fashion, and force Kate to serve them. She eventually discovers they are frightened by light when she attempts to light one's cigarette. She then knocks down several through flash photography, and is later reunited with Billy. The two seek shelter in the bank while the gremlins wreak havoc upon Kingston Falls. Notably, the creatures kill Mrs. Deagle by launching her through a window, and nearly kill Billy's neighbors, Murray Futterman and his wife Sheila Futterman, by driving his snowplow through their house. When Billy, Kate, and Gizmo reemerge, they find that the gremlins are gone from the streets and are happily watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a local theater. Billy manages to explode the theater, whereupon all the gremlins burn to death except Stripe, who had left briefly to obtain candy.
Billy pursues Stripe through a department store, but Stripe escapes again and again and he finally reaches a water fountain, hoping to reproduce once again. By this time it is morning, and Gizmo, having escaped with the help of Billy and Kate, opens a window blind and exposes Stripe to sunlight before he can spawn new gremlins. Screeching and groaning in agony, Stripe perishes, slowly melting into a puddle of green ooze.
At the end of the film, Mr. Wing returns to collect Gizmo and his brothers and sisters to prevent any recurrence of trouble. After giving back the $200 that Randall paid, Mr. Wing observes that while Western society is not ready to properly care for a mogwai, Billy may one day be so. Randall, in a narration, ends the story warning the audience to take precautions in the case of any machinery failure in their homes - because a gremlin just might be present.
- Phoebe Cates as Kate Beringer, Billy's girlfriend and the dueteragonist.
- Corey Feldman as Pete Fountaine, a child and Billy's friend.
- Hoyt Axton as Randall Peltzer, Billy's father who narrates the story.
- Frances Lee McCain as Lynn Peltzer, Billy's mother.
- Dick Miller as Murray Futterman, an alcoholic and World War II veteran
- Jackie Joseph as Sheila Futterman, Murray's wife.
- Keye Luke as Mr. Wing the owner of Gizmo, (credited as "Grandfather"; the character does not have a proper name until the sequel).
- John Louie as Mr. Wing's Grandson (credited as "Chinese boy"), the boy who sells Randall Gizmo.
- Don Steele as Rockin' Ricky Rialto (disc jockey, voice only)
- Scott Brady (in his final film) as Sheriff Frank, the sheriff of Kingston Falls.
- Jonathan Banks as Deputy Brent, Frank's assisstant.
- Harry Carey, Jr. as Mr. Anderson
- Polly Holliday as Ruby Deagle, the cruel and greedy businesswoman.
- Belinda Balaski as Mrs. Harris, with her hungry child
- Edward Andrews (in his final film) as Roland Corben (bank manager and Billy's boss)
- Judge Reinhold as Gerald Hopkins
- Chuck Jones as himself
- Glynn Turman as Roy Hanson (science teacher)
- Frank Welker as the voice of Stripe, the villain and most other Mogwai and Gremlins seen throughout the film**
- Frank Welker, Fred Newman, Mark Dodson, Michael Winslow, Peter Cullen, Bob Berger, Mike Sheehan and Bob Holt as the additional special vocal effects
- Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert and Eddie Collins as the Seven Dwarves (seen only in their cartoon form in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as seen in the film)
**Michael Winslow also claims to have done some of Stripe's lines. He is credited among the other voices of the gremlins, however during commentary both Howie Mandel and Steven Spielberg have said that Frank Welker performed most of Stripe's lines and sound effects.
- Robby the Robot as himself
- William Schallert as Father Bartlett
- Steven Spielberg as the man in motorized wheelchair at the inventor's convention (cameo)
- Kenneth Tobey as the gas station attendant who buys Randall's ashtray (cameo)
- Jerry Goldsmith as the man wearing a cowboy hat and making a phone call at the inventor's convention (cameo)
Director Joe Dante is a great fan of classic films (especially horror films) and puts many references in his own movies. He also frequently casts the stars of classic horror films in small roles. Examples in this film include Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph (co-stars of the original The Little Shop of Horrors), Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, William Schallert of The Incredible Shrinking Man, Scott Brady of Journey to the Center of Time, prolific Western star Harry Carey, veteran Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones and Kenneth Tobey, star of The Thing (From Another World). Towards the end of the film, Jim McKrell makes an appearance as TV reporter Lew Landers, the same character he played in Dante's 1981 horror movie The Howling (1981).
Gremlins is PG for mild language. The complaints of excessive violence (particularly in the infamous kitchen scene) in this film and in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led to the MPAA creating the PG-13 movie rating.
Gremlins was produced during a time when combining horror with comedy became increasingly popular. The film Ghostbusters, released on the same weekend as Gremlins, and later Beetlejuice (1988), The 'Burbs (1989), and other such films, were part of this growing trend. The new genre seemed to emphasize sudden shifts between humorous and horrific scenes, and/or drawing laughs with plot elements that have been traditionally used to scare. The comic strip The Far Side indicated this was a broader cultural phenomenon. However, this drew from older precedent, such as the film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and 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. Gremlins entered popular culture as children's author Roald Dahl published a book called The Gremlins in 1943 based on the mischievous creatures. Dante had read The Gremlins and claimed this book was of some influence to his film. Dahl's story is referenced in the film when the character Mr. Futterman, played by Dick Miller, drunkenly warns Billy and Kate of foreign technology sabotaged by gremlins: "It's the same gremlins that brought down our planes in the big one... That's right, World War II." Falling Hare, a Merrie Melodies cartoon short featuring Bugs Bunny and a gremlin, was released by Warner Bros., also in 1943. In 1983, Dante publicly distanced his work from earlier films. He explained, "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 hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy." He then wrote the original screenplay as a "writing sample" to show potential employers that he had writing abilities. The story was not actually intended to be filmed until Spielberg took an interest in it. As Spielberg explained, "It's one of the most original things I've come across in many years, which is why I bought it." Spielberg chose Dante as his director because of Dante's experience with horror-comedy; Dante had directed The Howling (1981), though, 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. Spielberg took the project to Warner Bros. and also produced it with 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. Scenes were cut portraying 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 what the filmmakers wanted. There was a scene where the gremlins ate Billy's dog and a scene where the gremlins attacked a McDonald's, eating the customers but not the burgers. Also, instead of Stripe being a mogwai who becomes a gremlin, there was no Stripe Mogwai and Gizmo was supposed to turn into Stripe the gremlin. Spielberg overruled this plot element because he felt Gizmo was cute and audiences would want him to be present at all stages of the film. There is a famous urban legend referenced in the film, in which Kate reveals in a speech that her father died on a Christmas when he dressed as Santa Claus and broke his neck climbing down the family's chimney. Later, the filmed speech would be controversial, as 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 left it in. A parody of this scene is featured in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. As said in the special edition DVD, originally during the scene with Stripe's destruction, Billy leaped over the potted plants and opened the second shade that Gizmo hadn't, exposing Stripe to the rest of the sunlight. However, the scene was cut for audience appeal to make it that Gizmo was responsible for the destruction of Stripe. Originally, no-one knew how the movie would end. Not even Chris Columbus. After trying a few, they filmed the ending that we have now and they didn't want to take time analyzing it because they would see its flaws. Consequently, it was sent straight to the editing department.
The character of Kate is played by Phoebe Cates. She received the role despite concerns that she was known for playing more risque parts, such as Linda Barrett in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Spielberg urged the casting of the relatively unknown Zach Galligan for Billy because Spielberg saw the chemistry between Galligan and Cates during auditions. Galligan later compared himself to Billy, saying he was a "geeky kid- and so being... in this picture for me was really kind of a dream, I mean what I get to do, what my character gets to do, blow up movie theatres... got to work with great people." In contrast to Galligan, many of the supporting actors and actresses were better known; many were longtime character actors. Veteran actor Glynn Turman portrayed the high school science teacher whose study of a mogwai leads to his death after it forms a cocoon. Dick Miller was yet another experienced actor on the set, playing a World War II veteran who first refers to the creatures as gremlins. With so many experienced actors on the set, Galligan had the opportunity to query them about their careers. 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. Because 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 he was around 80 in reality and his character is very elderly, Luke's youthful appearance required make-up to cover. Corey Feldman, whom up to this time had primarily been in commercials would play 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. Ironically, 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.
The performances were shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California. 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 work 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 the 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. Mandel also chose the type of voice for Gizmo, which was baby-like, based on what had been done. 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. I didn't try a few different voices."
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 humor 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.
- 1. Gremlins...Mega Madness – Michael Sembello (3:50)
- 2. Make It Shine – Quarterflash (4:10)
- 3. Out/Out – Peter Gabriel (7:00)
- 4. The Gift (4:51)
- 5. Gizmo (4:09)
- 6. Mrs. Deagle (2:50)
- 7. The Gremlin Rag (4:03)
"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.
Gremlins won numerous awards, including the 1985 Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Horror Film, Best Music, and Best Special Effects, and Holliday won the award for Best Supporting Actress. The film also won the 1985 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 and audiences
The DVD cover in 1999, featuring the character Stripe Gremlins was a commercial success. It was filmed on a budget of $11,000,000, making it more expensive than Spielberg had originally intended but still relatively cheap for 1984. 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. Conversely, 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). Afterwards, Gremlins was released into US theatres 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, after Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In August 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. As 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 such as German. Regional music and humor were also incorporated into foreign language versions. Dante credited this work for Gremlins' worldwide success. Many critics questioned the summer release date when the film takes place during the Christmas holiday season and thought it should have had a Christmas release instead. Still, there had also been complaints among audiences about the violence. This was particularly true among 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, "So 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 brought back to theatres on August 30, 1985. This brought its gross up to $153,083,102. It was also released on video that year, and made $79,500,000 in rental stores. The film was released on DVD in 1997 and again in 1999. On August 20, 2002, a "special edition" DVD was released featuring cast and filmmakers' commentary and deleted scenes.
- 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 released with the 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. There were other scenes too, that were considered intense, such as the death of the lead gremlin, Stripe. 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 going too far.
- The film not only spawned a sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but is believed to have been the inspiration for, or at least similar to, several later unrelated films about small monsters. These include Critters, Ghoulies, Troll, Hobgoblins, Beasties, Kamillions, Spookies, and Munchies. None of the films were critically acclaimed like Gremlins, and Hobgoblins was lampooned on the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000. Both Critters and Ghoulies actually began development before Gremlins. The anime Pet Shop of Horrors has also been compared to Gremlins.
- During the scene where Kate Beringer was turning up lights in the toy store where Billy was fighting Stripe, you can see Jim Davis characters Garfield and Odie on T-shirts. The comic strip Garfield was about six years old in 1984, and released its first TV-special, Here Comes Garfield.
- 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. Furby is not well-received by Gremlins fans. Although, there is an official Gizmo Furby.
- Gremlins have become a significant cult character in Asia, especially in Singapore, Hong Kong and China. A popular industry has developed in Thailand where skilled craftsmen make gremlin ice cream and toffee resin.
- British entrepreneur Peter Jones from Dragon's Den appears with the gremlins in an advertisement for British Telecom, where they ransack an office whenever Peter is not looking.
- The Scottish post-rock band Mogwai are named after the creatures who make an appearance in the film Gremlins, although the guitarist of the band, 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."
Home Video releases
- first release (1985)
- second release (1999)
- final release (2005)
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