Gremlins, Gremlins 2!





Gremlins – I wanted to watch this with Zen because I thought he’d like it a lot. The film started off not-so-great, with the main character at the start being the irritating inventor dad, played without comic aplomb by country singer Hoyt Axton (the guy who wrote “Joy To The World” – apparently he won the role despite heavy competition); but when we get our first view of Gizmo, Zen immediately burst out “cu-uuuuute!!!” He was delighted. Of course, strange things start to happen, and Gizmo gets wet, then his offspring get fed after midnight. The film briefly takes on the aspect of a slasher film when the mom is at home alone (unknown to her) with five freshly-hatched gremlins; we were immediately impressed when she quickly dispatched three of them in rapid succession, the last in a microwave oven (gross!!!). She’s nearly taken out by the fourth, but her son Billy (gosh… his name’s Billy!!!) slices off its head, which lands in the fireplace. Nice.

So that’s the gory part of the film. It then gets surreal, with the tyrannical landlady Mrs Deagle getting catapulted into the heavens by her sabotaged stair-lift, and all sorts of crazy insanity. Great scenes of gremlins getting wasted in the bars (I think that Gremlins should get revived as a metaphor for nutty investment banking scourge/vilification syndrome). Small parts for Judge Reinhold as a bank-knob, and Corey Feldman as a nutty little kid (his first big role – followed by the Goonies, Stand By Me, Lost Boys, etc).

Sadly, the film also contains a superfluous scene when Phoebe Kates’ character explains why she hates Christmas – some story (an urban legend at the time) of a dad suffocating in a chimney when he tried to drop down it like Santa Claus. Brrrr….

Watching the movie with the commentary by director Joe Dante, along with his producer and the creator of the creature effects, is quite educational. According to Dante, the Warner Brothers logo was revived in this movie for the first time in many years, after the “worm logo” had been used. Opening scene was done on a Warner Brothers backlot. They talk about Keye Luke, who had been “Number One Son” in the Charlie Chan movies, and who was a great artist – he had been on of the artists for the King Kong frescoes. Hoyt Axton was cast, against much competition, mainly for his sonorous voice, and this was used to effect for the voice-over in the opening sequence. The designers had to create many fake inventions. Christopher Columbus’ original concept was gruesome, included Billy’s mom’s head rolling down the stairs and the dog eaten. Expensive ambitions – gremlin effects, snow, estimated at $11 million, in 1984 that was still relatively inexpensive. Stephen Spielberg saw The Howling, then hired Dante for this project… which took so long, Dante did his segment of The Twilight Zone movie in the meantime (he described the project as a “blinking green light). Halfway through the production they realized that Gizmo should’t become a gremlin, as had been originally forecast, so they were forced to use a relatively limited puppet to shoot sophisticated shots later in the film. All of the Warner Brothers and Universal Studios and other lots were used for the shoot, did it in the heat of summer with gypsum, so the snow scenes were surreal (although it gets cold in the evenings). The lot was the same that was used for the Back To The Future movies’ town square. Zach and Phoebe were the casting consensus. Mrs Deagle was a joy to work with. Had to cut out her “oh darling” shots, as she gazed at the picture of her dead husband, because it made her caricatured character look too human. The stylized scenes were deliberated, wanted it to look like It’s A Wonderful Life meets The Birds. Barney was a great dog actor, treated the puppets as if they were real. Corey Feldman did the same. Harry Carey Jr, in many Joh Ford movies, was in the film, as was old age actor Edward Andrews, who passed away shortly after Gremlins. He originally had a bigger part. Chuck Jones, the animator, appears briefly at 13:40. At some point the filmmakers realized that they were in over their heads, didn’t have a gudbet or an experienced crew. There was an army of peole icing user the set. Clark Gable movie “To Please A Lady” was used in the scene when Gizmo was watching a car chase film, rather than the Bugs Bunny short “To Feed A Kitty”, where a car scene is also used. A lot of failed techniques were employed, such as mannequins, they were taken out if they didn’t look good at all (most didn’t, such as the marionettes, which hardly appear in the film – easy to spot when they do, because the are so different). Production was immediate after the experiments. A lot of down time. Dante had some input into “The Gremlins Rag”, until he realized that he was dealing with Gerry Goldsmith, he thought “he’s Gerry Goldsmith, he knows what he’s doing.” Insane circus music, like Sergio Leone, write the music before you make the movie. Pre-CGI movie. Gremlins made around the limitations of the time. The filmmakers realized at this stage that, for some reason, they never made fun of the “three rules” of the Gremlins, which came up in the second movie, such as the illogicity of “don’t feed them after midnight”, etc. We find out that the first cut of the film had been 2 hours 40 minutes, many long scenes were cut out. Gizmo couldn’t walk without cables, so he got a backpack. Little location shots were used in the film, as they needed holes for the gremlin mechanisms. Ad campaign was in the same colors as ET, marketed as cuddly, etc. Darts scene was done at the request of the crew (joke?). Having fun, “we don’t have phonographs any more. Still have walls, lighting, knives…” Puppets made great shadows. Mentions reaction of preview audience. Gremlins and Indianda Jones and the Temple Of Doom were responsible for the PG 13 label, since there was nothing between PG and R, a life-saver for a lot of films. Sinking Stripe – took 60 takes, and then they saw that they had forgotten to attach Stripe’s stripe. At carrolers scene, Mrs Dougan is first seen chasing off human carrolers, then she returns to see the caroling Gremlins. This is the start of the tradition of dressing up Gremlins. Gremlins bar scene is the climax of all this. A puppet within a puppet scene with the “jazz Gremlin”, the break dancers, the weird muppet movie of it all. Chris’ original script had Phoebe Cates’ “I hate Christmas” speech, it never left the screenplay. Dante defends speech, and Stephen Spielberg championed it against the many haters, let Dante keep it. “I think it wouldn’t have been as good a picture without. THis is a tie shot of what used to be..”

After this picture came out, it was surprisingly a success. And for years they decided they had to make another one because this had made such a spectacular amount of money. Many attempts were made and unfortunately none of them ever seemed to make up to anything. And finally – a few weeks to take – they came to Mike and I and said ‘Well, you guys must have had something to do with it, why don’t you try to make a sequel and see what happens,’ and we said ‘well, only if you let us do whatever we want,’ and they said ‘okay, fine,’ which has never been heard before or since in Hollywood. And so we made a picture that is a comment on this picture, and is a court of comment on sequels in general and a while lot of other things. And personally, I actually prefer it to the original.”

Bizzarely, the concept of Gremlins was introduced to the world by Roald Dahl, during a short stint in Hollywood in the 1940s. It sure took a long time to get to the cinema…

Gremlins 2: The New Batch – I remembered this movie as being funnier than the first part, and I was right. The first one started out trying to paint a normal town (more normal than normal, actually) before insanity struck. Nothing really interesting or original there, whatever; in this movie the action moves to New York, where there’s real insanity. The film packs it in, often in an incongruous fashion (what are the Gremlins, if not anarchic and incongruous). First off there’s a new Bugs and Daffy intro, then there’s the introduction of Daniel Clamp, the real estate mogul (Daniel Clamp = Donald Trump, with a bit of Ted Turner thrown in… Clamp is the owner not just of New York’s most fabulous buildings, but also the Clamp Cable Network, or CCN; Clamp’s love interest in the movie is called Marla, also the name of Trump’s alleged mistress at the time). Clump wants to build a new complex in Chinatown, “where business gets Oriented”. Ha ha… Clamp Towers is fully automated, the doors talk “Have a powerful day”, the lobby talks “would the owner of the automobile with license plate AW11445 please remove your car, it is old and dirty”; the toilets talk with John Wayne voices “Welcome to the men’s room. Hey – you didn’t wash your hands, you filthy pig.” When the building begins to malfunction due to advanced Gremlin activity, the automated messages start to get really weird. “Please feel free to use the manual doors for all of your entering and exiting needs.” “We are experiencing illumination difficulties, please try not to notice.” There are digs at Ted Turner who was colorizing films, when they announce that CCN would be showing Casablanca “now in color, with a happier ending.” There’s a Grandpa Munster type, Grandpa Fred, who remakes “Mr Clamp only likes color – this guy’s strange.” Naturally, the building has a bioscience lab, Splice Of Life, run by Christopher Lee (nice reverse Star Wars gag when his employees, twins, make jokes about his cloning project, and when the mice start zapping electricity). “Alvin, put down that DNA.” Billy gets invited by his horny boss to a hip Canadian restaurant, where “they clean the fish right at your table. Woody eats there.” A Mountie serves the food, including chocolate moose. “How about some horn. Another Molson?” Gizmo is, of course, continuously tortured, including being incessantly photocopies (wouldn’t he have died from the light?). Weird messages from home, “your father has just invented reversible toilet paper.” EWWWW!!! In the cable TV studios, there is a cooking show, with its “salute to luncheon meats.” “Before we had microwave ovens, this took ages.” There are plenty of moments of satire over the first movie – the geeks micro-pick apart the “no food after midnight rule” (“what if there’s a sesame seed between the teeth, and it gets swallowed after midnight? What if you cross a date link where it’s midnight,” etc etc). Wacky scene where Leonard Maltin being strangled as he pans the Gremlins video release. We get glimpses of metal music – Faith No More’s “Surprise You’re Dead”, and Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”. Awesome. In the investment bank, we get gremlins chanting “Buy! Buy! Sell! Sell!”, and our brain hormone-enhanced gremlin saying “we’re advising clients to put all they’ve got into canned food and shotguns.” There’s a weird interlude with a fake theatre scene, where the film burns, it appears that there are gremlins in the theater, Paul Bartel makes an appearance as the theatre manager, Hulk Hogan is in the audience, “Do you think the Gremsters can stand up to the Hulkster?” as he tears off his shirt. The movie goes back on track, no Snow White will be aired (Hitler’s favorite movie too, it seems). Gizmo gets a little episode of Rambo-inspired lunacy, and Kate is saved from the Spidergremlin by the Gizmo/Rambo. Weird, man. Big Pussy from the Sopranos appears randomly, I don’t think he’s even credited. More weird scenes, like when the gremlins seem to stop their murderous rampage to spontaneously mount a full-on musical number (?!?!?). Phantom Of The Opera gremlin (or Phantom Of The Paradise gremlin?). “Marla… smoke.” “I’m melting…” Bat-gremlin turns into a literal gargoyle. Clamp goes insane after all of it, retrogressing to an absurd neo-conservatist. “We’re going to build the biggest, most sensational quiet little traditional town ever.” He has plans to merchandise Gizmo into a doll… “lose the headband, though.” But Gizmo likes the headband, man…

Incidentally, Roald Dahl’s not the first to encounter gremlins – here’s Bugs Bunny’s meeting with one:

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