Gremlins are strange little creatures that have marked a whole generation. You probably know that you shouldn’t expose them to bright light, feed them after midnight and put them in contact with water, but do you really know all of these characters from Joe Dante’s classic black comedy? Here are some things that may surprise you about Gremlins and give you the urge, without a doubt, to watch the two films directed by Dante again.
1. Its dark and unexpected themes are partly responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating
In truth, Steven Spielberg is really responsible for the introduction of the PG-13 rating. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which he directed, and Gremlins, of which he is the executive producer, were both rated PG when they came out, and then criticized for not being suitable for children. To avoid having an R rating in the future, Spielberg suggested that the MPAA add a rating between PG and R. On August 10, 1984, Red Dawn became the first film to be released with the new PG-13 rating.
2. The Gremlins could have been a lot darker
The original Gremlins script, written by Chris Columbus, was much darker. For example, before, the Gremlins would eat Billy’s dog, then decapitate his mother and throw her head down the stairs. Spielberg, director Joe Dante and Warner Bros. all agreed that they should moderate the sinister aspect in order to make the film more family-friendly.
3. Chris Columbus did not write Gremlins with the idea that the script would one day be produced as a cinematographic work
He wrote it as a spec script and writing draft.
4. The Gremlins were inspired by the mice that lived in Columbus’ apartment
“The day was quite pleasant,” Columbus said of the Manhattan loft where he lived while attending New York University Film School. “But at night, what looked like a bunch of mice would come out and I would hear them walking around in the dark. It was really scary.” These mice inspired the Gremlins.
5. The script does not include many gremlin dialogues
Much of the chatter between Gizmo and the Gremlins is improvised, or in reaction to what is happening in the scene. Keeping the dialogue free also allowed filmmakers to localize the dialogue for the various international film markets.
6. It’s Howie Mandel who is the voice of Gizmo
It was the suggestion of voice actor Frank Welker, who sang Stripe in Gremlins (and Fred in Scooby-Doo before that), that Howie Mandel be hired for this role.
7. But Mandel didn’t sing Gizmo’s song
The song was written by Jerry Goldsmith, who hired a 13-year-old girl who was a member of his synagogue to sing it for the film.
8. It was Michael Winslow who helped with the musical part of Gremlins
Yes, it’s the same Michael Winslow who’s better known as “the guy who makes all these funny noises in the Police Academy movie series.”
9. Tim Burton was in competition to direct this cinematographic work
After the success of his short film Frankenweenie, Burton caused a lot of ink to flow, so much so that Spielberg wanted him as a director for Gremlins. But the fact that Burton has not yet made a feature film has worked against him. So Joe Dante was chosen.
10. The balloons proved useful
Chris Walas, the creator of Creature, used balloons in an innovative way: they were the secret ingredient of visual effects when the new Mogwai came out of Gizmo’s body, and he used a balloon again to blow up the Gremlin in the microwave.
11. Cates’ chemistry with Zach Galligan is what allowed him to get the role
Although there were more famous actors such as Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson competing for the role of Billy, Spielberg voted for Galligan on the basis of the chemistry he and Cates showed during the auditions.
12. Kingston Falls and the Hill Valley are one and the same
If the fictional city of Kingston Falls in Gremlins seems familiar, it is because it was filmed on the same set as the one used for the city of Hill Valley in Back to the Future, released a year later.
13. The film was originally scheduled to be released at Christmas
As eccentric as it sounds, Gremlins is definitely a Christmas movie, and as such, its release was planned for the holiday season. But when Warner Bros. realized it didn’t have a “summer movie” to show against Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Ghostbusters, it moved up the release date. The film did well and ended up being the fourth most lucrative film of 1984 behind Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
14. Billy was supposed to be the hero
At the end of the film, Gizmo saves the day by lifting a blind and exposing Stripe to sunlight. Originally, Gizmo opened the first store, followed by Billy. Spielberg suggested staging the scene to make it clear that Gizmo, not Billy, is the hero of the film.
15. Mogwai is derived from the Cantonese word “móguǐ”
Mogwai, which actually represents the Gremlins babies, is a word invented by Chris Columbus according to the Daily Geek Show website. The scriptwriter of the film would be inspired by the Cantonese word “móguǐ” which means “demon”, “evil spirit” or “monster”.
Cover photo: WARNER BROS.