With Ghostbusters being released in UK cinemas on the 7th December 1984. Gremlins, another fun 80’s film was released on the very same day.
Christmas in 84 was a busy cinema time, especially for monsters and ghosts.
In the UK this film caused a bit of a controversy.
Gremlins was submitted to the BBFC in June 1984, and the issues it raised for examiners were similar to those discussed during the classification of Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom only one month earlier (see the examiner reports for Temple of Doom here). The film’s distributor – Columbia-EMI-Warner – wanted a PG certificate for Gremlins, and it had already been rated PG in the U.S. Reflecting a complex mix of horror, adventure and comedy in an age rating that caters for family audiences is a careful balancing act for BBFC examiners, especially in this case as the examiners saw the film as a clear 15. Without the benefit of 12 and 12A categories in 1984 the BBFC had a much more stark choice to make between the PG and 15 certificates.https://www.bbfc.co.uk/case-studies/gremlins
Basically it had too much violence for under 15s as we didn’t have the 12A certificate at the time. This was mainly due to the kitchen scene in which a Gremlin is blown up in a microwave, plus the attacks on family members which could scare young kids whose parents might take to a PG rated film. This one ended up with a 15 rating in 1984 which did reduce the box office but did get to number 2 in the top ten movies behind Ghostbusters which had a PG rating and was suitable for a broader audience. Thankfully I was just old enough to go see it.
Closely following my visit to see Ghostbusters I was back to the Wallaw cinema to see Gremlins. There was one significant thing about the Wallaw is that at the end of the row there was a motor bike shop, with the long queue you’d start at the end looking in at the bikes until you got further down the wall towards the entrance. I was never into bikes and at that time you didn’t have mobile phones to stare into. Along the wall were upcoming or current movie posters which you could peruse until you got in.
This film introduced me to my first encounter with Joe Dante. I hadn’t seen Piranha or The Twilight Zone movie from the previous year at that point, but the following years included some great films which I eagerly went to see. Innerspace; I saw this at the ABC in Newcastle, Small Soldiers, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and Matinee. I caught up with Amazon Women of the Moon and The ‘Burbs further down the line. With Steven Spielberg/Kathleen Kennedy presenting/executive producing and written by Chris Columbus it became a great production team combination. Chris Columbus also wrote The Goonies and went on to direct Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Bicentennial Man, and two Harry Potter films.
The story, if you really need to know, involves Billy Peltzer’s father, an amateur inventor, who made things that eventually broke down. He was played by Hoyt Axton, who at that time was mainly known as a folk singer songwriter, he brought home a unique pet from a Chinatown shop as a Christmas present for his son. He was given three simple rules that must be adhered to.
- Don’t expose it to light.
- Don’t get it wet
- Don’t feed it after midnight
Simple rules you’d think would be easy to follow. It wasn’t until the less darker sequel when these rules were questioned. It’s midnight somewhere on the planet, right? Also I would presume that drinking beer is fine but water is bad. What percentage of alcohol to water would produce a reaction? And the biggy, SNOW!!! It’s Christmas, surely the snow would melt and they’d get wet….. enough plot holes. What about an iced whiskey?
Speaking of Gremlins and drinking, did you know there is a website that contains drinking games called drinking cinema? This one is for Gremlins….. http://drinkingcinema.com/game/Gremlins
The word mogwai is the transliteration of the Cantonese word 魔鬼 (Jyutping: mo1 gwai2; Standard Mandarin: 魔鬼; pinyin: móguǐ) meaning “monster”, “evil spirit”, “devil” or “demon”.
According to Chinese tradition, mogwai are certain demons, which often inflict harm on humans. They are said to reproduce sexually during mating seasons triggered by the coming of rain. Supposedly, they take care to breed at these times because rain signifies rich and full times ahead.
Gizmo is the cutest furriest little fuzzball you could ever meet. When he sings and makes cute vocal noises it’s the 80’s equivalent to the Mandalorian’s Child aka Baby Yoda.
Who is the cutest? I wouldn’t cuddle the Child. He might look cute but he’d be like cuddling a hairless cat. Not that I’ve cuddled any hairless cats but I get the idea.
In fact the voice of Gizmo was provided by none other than Howie Mandel, better known recently as one of the Judges on America’s Got Talent.
Watching poor Gizmo writhe in agony after the first droplet of water is spilled on him is heart-breaking. He looked so upset afterwards. This incident in Billy’s loft creates five more Mogwai including Stripe, another cute furry mohawked Mogwai with an evil streak.
They don’t treat poor Gizmo well at all.
Through further mishaps involving feeding the bunch of furry meanies chicken after midnight, Stripe and his buddies end up transforming into the Gremlins of the title after spending the night in hideous looking like sticky pods. Lovely. Following a smokey light show whilst poor Gizmo looked on Gremlins were ready to get out of the house after Stripe attacked poor Billy’s mom. That was after she managed to take out two Gremlins in the microwave and blender and Billy decapitates another. Very messy.
With the film set at Christmas, the town of Kingston Falls has a very familiar setting and was actually based on the “It’s a Wonderful Life”‘s town of Bedford Falls. A small town where everyone knows everyone else. In one kitchen scene “It’s a Wonderful Life”‘ is playing on the TV.
This just happens to be another of my favourite films of all times.
The set used for Kingston Falls is also familiar to fans of Back to the Future released one year later. It’s the Hill Valley Square and town hall. This is known as Courthouse Square and is actually on the Universal Studios backlot. It was also used in another film, To Kill a Mockingbird from 1962.
Obviously when you got one evil Gremlin it doesn’t take long before Stripe throws himself into a YMCA pool and creates hundreds more which take over the town of Kingston Falls. This is where the fun begins.
The town is filled with interesting characters most of them encountering the green beasts or meeting their ends.
Mrs Deagle, the Scrooge like cat lady hates Christmas and hates everyone in the town. It’s strange to feel happy that she ultimately gets offed on a super charged stairlift courtesy of the carol singing Gremlins.
Dick Miller plays Murray Futterman, a guy who has hates everything not made in USA and also tells us bout the Gremlins from World War II. He gets his comeuppence when his American made snow plow runs him through his house driven by the Gremlins he knew from the war.
Dick Miller is Joe Dante’s lucky charm and appeared in the majority of his films from Hollywood Boulevard in 1976 to Burying the Ex in 2014.
Dick Miller is one of those actors you’d see in a bunch of TV and films and recognise his face but not know his name. I’ve seen him in tonnes of things. He was a great actor.
We presume he was crushed but thankfully Murray was back for Gremlins 2 and he gets his own back with a gargoyle/gremlin joke. Dick Miller also appeared in many Roger Corman films.
One unlucky victim of the early attacks made by the Gremlins is on the poor science teacher who stays in school until 2:30am in the morning taking blood samples on a caged Mogwai. The teacher is played by Glynn Turman, a seasoned actor more recently seen in TV shows like Suits, Black-ish, Fargo, American Gods and How to Get Away with Murder. I’m sure there are rules on carrying out experiments on live unknown animals in school.
Billy is played by Zach Galligan and his girlfriend to be Kate Beringer, is played by Phoebe Cates, actress and teen magazine model.
In the heat of action there is a bizarre sidestep as she tells a dark and sad tale on why she doesn’t celebrate Christmas and how she discovered Santa Claus didn’t exist. This was visited again in the sequel in an excellent comedic moment.
Another reason kids under 12 shouldn’t see the film. The whole Santa thing.
Corey Feldman 80s teen star plays Pete. This was before his appearance in Goonies and rise ro 80s fame and after his appearance in Friday the 13th.
Last year in 2019 I saw Corey at Horrorcon UK. He was dressed in a gold jacket, slicked hair and mainly talked about his appearances in the Friday the 13th films. He looked quite the Hollywood star. His first Friday was also released the same year as Gremlins, from then he went on to other iconic roles in The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys and also did some voice work like Donatello in the TMNT movies.
Horrorcon was a great event… it’s not every day someone brings out a live snake during the cosplay competition.
Judge Reinhold plays Gerald, a work mate who also has an eye on Phoebe Cate’s character. It was the same year in which he appeared in Beverly Hills Cop and a few years prior to his leading stint in body swap film Vice Versa. A well known face in the movies of that time and still works today.
There are lots of fun nods and cameos throughout the film including appearances by Chuck Jones the voice of Bugs Bunny in a bar scene, Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, and the appearance and apparent disappearance of the classic Time Machine from George Pal’s The Time Machine. In attendance at the inventors convention were exec producer Steven Spielberg and composer Jerry Goldsmith. More on my love of the music later.
One of Joe Dante’s other films, Looney Tunes Back in Action features Daleks. Maybe he just likes robots and borrowing stuff from his other favourite films.
There is a Frank Capra, IAWL’s director’s instructional film being shown in the classroom. With Steven Spielberg executive producing a Gremlin is heard saying “Phone home” before pulling telephone cables out of the wall. Singing Gremlins in the movie theatre watching Disney’s Snow White. They also get to play the Star Wars arcade game in Dorry’s Tavern and there are lots of fun Gremlins vignettes throughout. Particularly when the gremlins take over the town.
The puppets were all practical effects in this film and were created by Chris Walas who worked on Return of the Jedi, E.T. and both Jeff Goldblum Fly movies. The pods and Stripes ultimate demise are very gooey effects and are reminiscent of the icky goo and puss sequences in The Fly.
Its extremely rewatchable on so many levels and I have watched this movie so many times. I originally had the VHS copy of the film until I upgraded to DVD. I presume I got it close to Christmas as this is the cover I ended up with.
My original VHS had the excellent John Alvin poster art with Stripe ripping through the cover and spoiling it. John Alvin also worked on the poster art for E.T.
At least the novelisation retained the soft and subtle artwork. I guess the audiences needed to know that the film contained green monsters and not just a mysterious box.
There is one particular cool idea that runs throughout the film. Rockin Rickie is the local DJ and we hear his radio show on occasion throughout the run time. It starts normally until he mentions the “Orson Welles crap” which refers to Orson Welles’ War of the World radio broadcast in which he was supposed to have reported from the site of a martian invasion. It was a play in which parts of it sounded like a real report. If you just happened to turn over after the intro, you might find yourself in what appears to be a real report of real Martians. Have a listen.
In Gremlins we hear but never see the invasion into the radio station and he tries to keep broadcasting. In the end TV media reports that the whole Gremlin invasion was due to mass hysteria. The New York Reporter reported a similar story connected to the Orson Welles play. Fortunately there was no connected mass hysteria in the mid West. Either way never trust the media.
Don’t forget to listen after the credits.
As usual I bought the poster magazine which were quite popular at the time and a few trinkets.
A couple of pieces were rubber figurines I spotted in a shop in Spain.
I also picked up a cheap Mogwai plushy with really scraggly fur and a mean look. I’d imagine at 12 inches tall it’s probably about the same time as the real thing. The colours aren’t quite right and the ears are a bit too small.
All I need now is one of those full size Gremlins, but they are a little out of my price range.
Let’s talk about something that happened in the late 90s with Toy crazes.
It was the electronic boom and virtual pets were the in-thing over several Christmases. In 1997 Tamagotchi’s were the thing to get banned in schools around the world.
In the UK these didn’t really catch on until later in 1998 with official versions and a slew of knock off virtual pets, Christmas 97 we were too busy trying to get all of the Teletubbies and finding our Argos and Toys R Us shops selling out in the frenzy to get the missing one.
I did get my Spice Girls merchandise. Sporty is currently sitting with my Britney Spears doll. 😀
In 1998 Tiger Electronics introduced a very familiar looking toy…
It’s not like they look anything like Mogwai is it? Who doesn’t want to take their own electronic furry pet home with them? Actually, everyone wanted them and they spent Christmas 98 on their present lists. They were supposed to listen to you and learn from you and over time if you treated them right they would love you. Or constantly say “Nay Nay” over and over again.
Thankfully in 1999 before Star Wars Episode I hysteria hit they released a licenced Gizmo Furby. Slightly bigger ears and the cute recognisable voice.
Gremlins is a great piece of horror comedy and a classic film. The sequel is brilliant too. We may visit that in the future.
One last thing before we scoot off into the snow bound winter. Gremlins wouldn’t be Gremlins without another 80s soundtrack.
Jerry Goldsmith was an amazing composer with some classics behind him in 1984 and many more years to come up until his death in 2004. Prior to Gremlins you will most definitely have heard his scores for Patton, Doctor Kildare, The Man from Uncle, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Our Man Flint, Planet of the Apes, Papillon, Logan’s Run, The Omen, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Poltergeist, and Rambo: First Blood. This is only a small selection of film and TV soundtracks he composed. Following Gremlins he went on to produce more Rambo, Star Trek the Next Generation (which was essentially the Motion Picture theme), Innerspace, Star Trek V (The score is excellent!), Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Star Treks Voyager, First Contact and Nemesis and Looney Tunes : Back in Action and soooo many more.
The Gremlins ragtime track had a very unique sound moving away from his usual full orchestra and moving into a very eerie electronic synth sound even adding strange Gremlin like wailing.
To offset this strange Gremlin sound a more gentler theme was found for Gizmo. Some orchestra and still a mix of synthesizer to add the gremlin edge to the theme. After all Gizmo is really a nice gremlin, who thankfully never eats after midnight. It’s also cute to hear Gizmo actually hum his own theme when we first see him in the Peltzer household.
Mrs Deagles theme is again heavy on the synths. Contrasting the gentle orchestra with the sharp sounds of electronic elephant footsteps.
I could go on, but the full main score wasn’t on the original mini album as it was taken up with some pop music tracks which were heard in the film. Very similar to the Ghostbusters album, a couple of orchestral/synth tracks mixed with pop music.
For Gremlins, the tracks on the mini album were :-
- Gremlins…Mega Madness – Michael Sembello (3:50) – Played in Dorry’s Tavern.
- Make It Shine – Quarterflash (4:10)
- Out/Out – Peter Gabriel – Played in Dorry’s Tavern when Kate is serving Gremlins drinks
- The Gift (4:51) – Jerry Goldsmith
- Gizmo (4:09)- Jerry Goldsmith
- Mrs. Deagle (2:50)- Jerry Goldsmith
- The Gremlin Rag (4:03)- Jerry Goldsmith
I still have this album on cassette.
On the full orchestral score album, available where you can download MP3s, but quite difficult to get in physical form, you get the full score plus additional tracks like Gizmo’s Trumpet… a rendition of Gizmo’s theme on kazoo. All in all a well deserved award winning soundtrack.
Jerry Goldsmith is one of my all time favourite composers alongside John Williams, John Barry, Alan Silvestri, James Horner, Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone and a current rising star Daniel Pemberton. More on these in another blog.
See you next time, don’t get eaten.