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40 Things We Learned from Joe Dante’s ‘Gremlins’ Commentary

“Is this not annoying that we’re talking about the movie while people are watching it?”
Monster Gremlins
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 8th, 2016

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter has an after-midnight snack with the commentary for Gremlins.

Gremlins (1984)

Commentators: Joe Dante (director), Zach Galligan (actor), Phoebe Cates (actor), Dick Miller (actor), Howie Mandel (actor)

1. The commentators introduce themselves and yes, Mandel does speak in his Gizmo voice. I’m hoping it’s a one-time thing.

2. Hoyt Axton was Dante’s first choice for the role of Billy’s father having seen and loved him as the dad in The Black Stallion. They auditioned others including Pat Hingle who gave the best reading and “played this character as a sort of Saroyan-esque, failed inventor whose life was fading fast, and he was brilliant, I mean he was incredible. He was so good we couldn’t hire him because that wasn’t what this character was about.”

3. Keye Luke, who plays the shop keeper where Randall (Axton) finds the Mogwai, started in Hollywood as a mural artist. “His first picture was The Painted Veil.” Galligan adds that beneath the makeup Luke “had incredible skin and looked very young” and asked the actor what his secret was. I braced myself for an “ancient Chinese secret!” joke, but instead Galligan reveals it was “no fried foods.”

4. Mandel is not the one doing Gizmo’s singing.

5. Dante wonders what happened to little John Louie who plays the shop owner’s grandson and spoke about wanting to be a director. Per IMDB, he became an M.D. instead.

6. There was the concern that audiences wouldn’t “buy” the rules set forth for the title creatures. “One thing about movie audiences,” says Dante, “they plunk down their money and they really do want to be entertained, and they really do want to have a good time, and you really have to make a series of catastrophic mistakes to lose them this early in the picture.”

7. Galligan is the first to point out that the “don’t feed after midnight” rule is silly because it’s always after midnight somewhere. “Well we make fun of all that stuff in Gremlins 2 anyway,” says Dante.

8. The film was shot on the Universal lot the same time Walter Hill was shooting Streets of Fire.

9. Scott Brady, who plays the town’s sheriff, was Lawrence Tierney’s brother. I say “was” because they’re both dead now.

10. The titles on the theater marquee are an in-joke for producer Steven Spielberg’s benefit. A Boys Life was the working title for E.T., and Watch the Skies was the one for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “I think we did this mainly so that when Steven saw the dailies he’d be happy.”

11. The dog wouldn’t follow Galligan across the street, so they attached the pair with a mono-filament line. Also, the dog’s name was Mushroom. I say “was” because Lawrence Tierney is still dead.

12. Everyone lets out an “aww” when Cates appears onscreen, including Cates.

13. Galligan blames the film’s hair-stylist for his embarrassing “pre-Kirk Cameron” look.

14. Judge Reinhold’s part was originally much bigger, but currently he disappears around the halfway point for no reason after being set up as a bad guy. Also, this is the first time I realized that this film marks a reunion for Reinhold and Cates after 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

15. Cartoonist legend Chuck Jones is the guy at the bar teaching Billy (Galligan) how to draw. There was originally more of a plot involving Billy’s hopeful career as an artist.

16. Galligan recalls Cates teaching him the importance of always having your character add a little something to the scene, “so she bent down and she picked up a piece of sawdust and put it on my shoulder.”

17. Galligan also recalls Dante repeatedly telling him to close his mouth when he wasn’t speaking. “The editor used to come up to me and say ‘can’t you get him to keep his mouth closed? He’s always got his mouth open and I gotta cut around it!’” says Dante. The actor blames a book about Montgomery Clift.

18. The sound of Cates giggling randomly is my favorite part of this track.

19. Mandel had to record his dialogue in multiple languages for different territories. “I didn’t think I was speaking English to begin with,” he says. Dante adds that one of the reasons the movie did so well overseas is that they tailored parts of it specifically for each country. “So for instance in Germany in the bar scene they were singing German beer songs, and we found local jokes and local references.”

20. Dante still owns the Peltzer Peeler Juicer.

21.Corey [Feldman] was at this point, before he was a teenage kid, when he was just a pubescent kid, was actually one of the best child actors in Hollywood.” Just after Dante says this you can hear Feldman’s character say “What happened?” It’s the most perfectly-timed thing ever in the history of always.

22. Producer Frank Marshall’s nickname was apparently “Doctor Fantasy” which is why Billy mentions it when talking comics with Pete (Feldman).

23. The original script had Billy as a thirteen year old, and Dante points out that even after his age got bumped up vestiges of him being younger remain. “For instance, why is his best friend ten years old?” Mandel adds that he figured “Feldman would be his connection to strippers.”

24. Cates does not recall auditioning with Galligan.

25. Galligan was almost beat out for the role by Emilio Estevez. Spielberg saw his audition tape though and said “Look, he’s internalizing,” which was apparently a bad thing. Judd Nelson also tried out but displayed a bit too much anger in his audition.

26. The film opened against Ghostbusters, and while that movie did better in most cities “in New York City where people were furious about having their traffic disrupted while that picture was being made for all those months we always did better than Ghostbusters.”

27. The shot of Gizmo on the dartboard “was a little gift to the crew, they were so disgusted with Gizmo.”

28. The mom (Frances Lee McCain) dies in the original script during the gremlin attack. Murray Futterman (Miller) originally died too.

29. Galligan and Cates gave T-shirts to the cast and crew with “Hurry Hora!” written on them as a nod to Dante’s constant refrain to cinematographer John Hora. “DPs love to light,” says Dante. “They’ll light as long as you let them light.”

30. The swimming pool scene was filmed at the Warner Bros. ranch, and Dante says he used the locale again for Small Soldiers. “I built Phil Hartman’s house over it.”

31. Cates recalls hearing some studio concerns that after Fast Times at Ridgemont High she might not be “wholesome enough” to play Kate. Dante had seen the movie and felt that she was “awfully wholesome.”

32. Kate’s story about her dead father ‐ one of cinema’s greatest monologues ‐ was a point of contention for the studio. “We worked so hard on this scene,” recalls Dante, “and tried to make it have just the right touch of pathos and goofiness, and I was really happy with it and thought this really encapsulates the tone this movie has for me. On the way back to the editing room the editor turned to me and said ‘this will never be in the picture.’ And it became my quest to make sure it stayed in the picture.” He says the studio kept harping on it and wanted him to cut it.

33. Cates’ parents gave her a moped during production, but they took it back after she had numerous crashes on-set.

34. The shot of the theater seats filled with gremlins moving in unison involved “every crew member we had.”

35. Dante told Galligan not to break the window with the “Candy” sign because it was an expensive prop, “and now watch what you do.” He breaks the Candy sign.

36. Cates says kissing Galligan was like kissing your brother, and he blames a set visit from Spielberg for making him feel nervous. “As I recall, his main concern was to make sure Gizmo was in the shot,” says Dante.

37. Galligan is (jokingly) bitter because they shot a scene where Billy opens a second shade after Gizmo and actually kills Stripe. When he first watched the finished cut he was shocked to discover it had been edited so that the heroic move rests solely with Gizmo. “Would you like to take a guess as to whose idea that was?” asks Dante. “Um, no because I’d like to work again for him in the future,” replies Galligan.

38. Mandel returns to talking like Gizmo for the final few minutes.

39. Dante says the studio wanted a sequel immediately after the first one proved to be a hit, but Dante was in need of a much-needed rest. WB didn’t want to wait though so they began moving through writers and directors without him in search of the right premise including “Gremlins go to Las Vegas, Gremlins go to Mars, and Gremlins go to various places, and it never really worked out.” They returned to him two years later ‐ “two years too late I think,” he says ‐ and by the time it was released in 1990 nobody cared.

40. Miller gets the biggest laugh in the final few seconds of the track saying “Gee I remember a funny thing that happened…”

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“I’m Phoebe Cates, and I play Kate Baringer. The girl in Gremlins.”

“I gotta confess, I never really liked the Gremlins logo.”

“I don’t know why Dick is in this scene.”

“I remember how dirty the carpet was.”

“I didn’t know that making movies was so involved.”

“I have no idea why this picture was successful.”

Gremlins [Blu-ray]

Final Thoughts

Cates doesn’t speak enough, but as I mentioned above her giggling is pretty great (and nearly matched pitch for pitch by Dante). Mandel is almost as quiet saving most of his contributions for jokes which land about half the time. Instead the track really belongs to Galligan and Dante, and that’s not a bad thing as the latter is always a fun listen and the former has quickly become one of my favorite commentary speakers. He’s just incredibly knowledgeable about movies and has a terrific memory of the film’s production ‐ give this a listen along with his track on Waxwork to hear what I mean. Highly recommended.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.