notes on Gremlins (spoiler) - (nf)

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Jul 3, 1984, 12:27:39 AM7/3/84
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ism70!steven Jun 25 11:35:00 1984

Ramblings from Lotusland.

GREMLINS

Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton and Frances Lee
McCain.

Also starring Dick Miller, Polly Holliday and Keye Luke.

Directed by Joe Dante. Screenplay by Chris Columbus. Produced by
Michael Finnell. Executive Producers, Steven Spielberg, Frank
Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.

Photographed by John Hora. Production Designed by James H. Spencer.
Edited by Tina Hirsch. Gremlins created by Chris Walas. Music by
Jerry Goldsmith.

From Warner Bros. Pictures. (1984)

There is a key scene in _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s that acts like a litmus test for
the whole enterprise. If it works for you, chances are, the whole
thing will strike you in just the way intended; sick, scary,
funny and very very surreal. Kate, played by Phoebe Cates,
explains to Billy why she doesn't like Christmas. It's the reason
she gives and the whole tone of the scene, with its tilted camera
angle and slat shadowed lighting in the background, that gives
you the impression of very weird things running around under the
shiny surface of this movie.

It's funny/sick. That's a fine line to walk. And setting that task for
itself is certainly a more original goal than many of the current
horror-styled films around. On the other hand, co executive
producer Spielberg is an old hand at dishing out humor and gore
in the same shot. Jaws, for example...

EXT. ORCA STERN DAY

MED. SHOT -- WATER IN BACKGROUND

BRODY mutters to himself as he dishes out a slick of chum behind
the boat. The bucket of fishheads and entrails are beginning to
ripen in the July sun.

BRODY
Full ahead... I can go full
ahead. How'd you like to come
over here and chum some of this
shit?

AS HE SAYS THIS, the HEAD OF THE SHARK rises from the water with
a mighty splash. It opens its MOUTH wide, revealing its
razor-like TEETH.

EXTREME CU

as Brody looks up in amazement.

INSIDE THE CABIN

Brody slowly backs inside. Quint glances up from picking his
teeth.

BRODY
You're going to need a
bigger boat.

BACK TO SCENE

What _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s has that _ J_ a_ w_ s doesn't is the sense of parody to it.
Director Joe Dante shot all of _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s on the lot at The Burbank
Studios and it shows. The thing of it is, it's _ s_ u_ p_ p_ o_ s_ e_ d to show.
Richard Corliss of Time magazine made the point that _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s,
like many movies by young filmmakers, is at heart a film about
films. Dante wants to recreate a small town atmosphere and look
that only occurs on the screen in films like Capra's _ I_ t_ '_ s_ _ a
_ W_ o_ n_ d_ e_ r_ f_ u_ l_ _ L_ i_ f_ e. He didn't want to shot on location like _ J_ a_ w_ s
did. That deliberately cheesy matte shot of Kingston Falls (a
name taken from screenwriter Columbus' childhood memories of
Chagrin Falls) appears under the title card and sets the visual
look for the film.

So what? Why is that important? How does the look of _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s
influence the content of the film, huh? Well, it makes you regard
the film less as a straight horror film than as a takeoff on
those Grandma Moses surroundings. In that sense, _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s is
really about satirizing the dreamy hometown existence that it
serves up so appetizingly.

The content of the film, to rehash it into the ground, is very
simple. Hoyt Axton plays Rand Peltzer, inventor of gadgets ("I
make the illogical logical," he says proudly to Keye Luke), who
discovers an odd little pet for his son's Christmas present.
Home for the holidays, Rand presents his son Billy (newcomer Zach
Galligan) with a Mogwai, a tiny furry little creature with the
endearing big-eye appearance of most baby animals (and humans).
Three rules come with Gizmo, as the little Mogwai is nicknamed.
Well, rules were made to be broken, especially in a film like
this. The little Mogwai eventually turns into a horde (gaggle?)
of nasty Gremlins who overrun Kingston Falls and cause death and
destruction. Pretty standard horror movie stuff.

I got a chance to read one of the final shooting scripts for
_ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s in August of 1983 (never mind how) and while I was
perusing it, I thought, shit this really isn't very good at all.
There was a considerable amount of dumb stuff in the first 60
pages of the script.

Stuff like Gerald (Judge Reinhold, better known as Brad Hamilton,
fast-food king of _ F_ a_ s_ t_ _ T_ i_ m_ e_ s_ _ a_ t_ _ R_ i_ d_ g_ e_ m_ o_ n_ t_ _ H_ i_ g_ h) the young banker
putting the moves on Kate. His character repeats the line "Don't
call me Gerr, my name's Gerald" maybe ten times in that version,
as if it would get any funnier. Mrs. Deagle had a few more
scenes terrorizing people. The kid who walks around with the
christmas tree suit on had his hands full with a town bully who
threw rocks covered with snow (instead of snowballs) at him.
Real lame stuff that didn't have anything at all to do with the
Gremlins except to set up the people that were going to be harmed
by them. One interesting change when they shot it concerned
Gizmo's final showdown with Stripe.

Gizmo "died" in the draft I read. Instead of pulling open the
shades on Stripe, Giz leaped up and grabbed the edge of the
greenhouse canopy. He swung on it like Tarzan, tearing a wide
swatch of it open so that the sunlight fell directly on Stripe
and killed him. Giz landed in the dappled shade, so he was
partially injured. This caused Giz to die heartwarmingly and then
undergo a whole new metamorphosis. He sprouts these lacy wings
like a butterfly and flies off into the sky. Columbus' script
mentions that the new Gizmo leaves a sparkling rainbow colored
trail in the morning sky (much like E.T.'s spaceship). The end.

What the script also didn't have was the wraparound narration by
Rand Peltzer that gave the film the tall-tale-let-me-tell-you-a-
good-one atmosphere that Dante's final version does. Dante
mentioned in a Film Comment interview that Columbus' very first
script was vicious. The Gremlins ate a lot. They ate the dog and
beheaded the mother. He said there was one great scene in the
original script where Billy goes into a McDonald's. All the
people have been eaten, but the burgers haven't been touched!

The final version thus has been considerably Spielbergized and
Danteized. I've never seen a Tobe Hooper movie outside of
_ P_ o_ l_ t_ e_ r_ g_ e_ i_ s_ t, so I can't say whether that film looks and acts like
other Hooper films. Dante I do know as a director and _ G_ r_ e_ m_ l_ i_ n_ s
looks and acts very much like earlier Joe Dante efforts. Part of
that has to do with Steven being involved with _ I_ n_ d_ i_ a_ n_ a_ _ J_ o_ n_ e_ s and
not even coming to the set during shooting (the opposite from
_ P_ o_ l_ t_ e_ r_ g_ e_ i_ s_ t where as line producer Spielberg showed up every
day). Part of that has to do with Dante being able to use his
buddies from _ T_ h_ e_ _ H_ o_ w_ l_ i_ n_ g and _ T_ w_ i_ l_ i_ g_ h_ t_ _ Z_ o_ n_ e_ :_ _ T_ h_ e_ _ M_ o_ v_ i_ e like John
Hora and Tina Hirsch behind the scenes, and Dick Miller, Scott
Carey and his whole stable of old character actors onscreen to
give it the real feel.

I mentioned earlier all the "dumb stuff" character development
for characters that are 1) cardboard and 2) only developed so
that the Gremlins can kill them. Well, the finished product has
virtually eliminated all that stuff. Gizmo makes his appearance
maybe 15 minutes into the film, and things really roll when
Stripe and his buddies turn greenish at about 40 minutes in.
After that, it's a real carnival ride. Somebody wisely stripped
out all that crap, realizing that it was unnecessary and slowed
the story down to a crawl. In that sense, the movie was realized
on film far better than they had it down on paper. It's a
different thing to read a description of the little beasties than
to actually see one onscreen. Galligan gave an interview where
he said that all those scenes he has holding Gizmo were played
with him dragging along about eight technicians through a cord,
"Come on (grunt) Gizmo, (heave) ...let's go upstairs!" Credit goes
to Chris Walas for the constructions that come to life.

The Gremlins now mostly kill through mischieviousness. That's
one of the things that makes this film work; the bad guys are
fascinating. They have a kind of character that hasn't been seen
before (except maybe in the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of
_ T_ w_ i_ l_ i_ g_ h_ t_ _ Z_ o_ n_ e_ _ T_ h_ e_ _ M_ o_ v_ i_ e). They do so much, and there's so much
going on in the film that one is hardpressed to care about the
townspeople. In fact, in fact, it's sort of hard even to
remember how many humans are killed by the little buggers.
Corliss in _ T_ i_ m_ e counts none onscreen, but Mrs. Deagle and Mr.
Hanson the science teacher surely count.

The players in this movie have been embalmed in the Norman
Rockwell world of Jim Spencer's production design and Dante's
casting of familiar faces. Normally, that's disaster. Here,
because you have enough interesting stuff to experience the 1st
time around, it's okay. The film works on that level. It doesn't
however, hold up on a 2nd or 3rd viewing. You begin to see the
manipulative features and you start searching for Jerry Goldsmith
and Steven Spielberg putting in their appearances. You notice
Billy say hi to Dr. Moreau as he goes down the street (as in H.G.
Wells's "The Island of Dr. Moreau"?). You notice Hoxt Axton walk
down that Chinatown street past a car with its hood up in the
opening shot -- a car that's an AMC Gremlin. You see that stuff
and you begin to say, "What's the point?" Good question. Tell me
if you know.

Three out of four stars. Gory? Not by my yardstick. Excessively
calculated at times, but a good time in general. Essentially a
movie for people who get a kick out of S. Gross's cartoon of a
frog on a pushboard coming out of the kitchen of a French
restaurant. Sign on the wall says "We serve frog's legs." Hey,
that's not funny, that's sick!

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