Can it really be thirty-three years since Rand Peltzer brought home a special gift for his teenage son Billy, a gift which accidentally unleashed chaos on the normally quiet town of Kingston Falls when they failed to obey the three rules which govern the ownership of a Mogwai?
Although released in the summer of 1984, Joe Dante’s Gremlins found its natural home as an alternative Christmas film alongside such works as Die Hard and Rare Exports, and in celebration star Zach Galligan has undertaken a brief tour of cinemas to host screenings and meet the fans, and on Sunday 10th December he was at the Glasgow Film Theatre for two sold out back-to-back performances.
His involvement with Gremlins coming early in his career he told the audience that all he knew going into his audition was that it was “a hush-hush Steven Spielberg project,” but this was March 1983, mere months after E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial had become one of the biggest box-office hits of all time. “Anything Spielberg was attached to… he had the Midas touch.”
The three pages he was given was the scene where he walks Kate home in the snow and asks her out, and playing it with Phoebe Cates on camera they kept playing after they ran out of scripted dialogue, him placing his head on her shoulder, something which he specifically credits with getting the job when Spielberg saw the tape and how comfortable they were together. “Keep acting until the director says cut.”
Landing the lead in a Spielberg film, something he describes as “simultaneously thrilling and also terrifying,” it had been a speculative script posted by the then-unknown Chris Columbus to Spielberg’s offices, originally a straight-up horror which was substantially reworked to lighten the tone and bring in the comedy elements, though there were still some issues with the tone which concerned the studio executives.
When director Joe Dante screened the dailies of Phoebe Cates delivering the famous “that’s how I found out there’s no Santa Claus speech,” originally written for another character and switched to her as her character was a bit thin, the Warner Bros executives were “completely outraged by this sick and twisted scene,” and demanded that it be removed, but Dante had made a promise to Cates that it would be kept in and used his right of final cut to ensure it.
The original plan to use chimpanzees in gremlin costumes having been abandoned before production even got underway, Galligan recalled that filming was not without hazards, particularly the chain-saw attack in the department store which was improvised on the day, admitting “there was a more casual approach to health and safety back in the eighties.”
For both his co-stars he has fond memories, Phoebe Cates and Gizmo himself, the illusion of life being created by the use of multiple puppets and animatronics, the most complex of which had fifteen operators working to manipulate the expressions as directed by Chris Walas who later created creature effects for House.
The effect so convincing that Mushroom, who played Billy’s dog Barney, thought the mogwai was a real animal, this allowed Galligan and Gizmo to actually act and respond to each other in real time though movement was hampered as with fifteen cables fed up his sleeve and down his trouser leg any time he walked the operators had to keep pace but out of shot.
The finished film a surprise to both Cates and Galligan, their first viewing was in preparation for the press interviews they would be doing immediately before release. “We thought we were doing an action movie, and what we were looking at was like a cartoon.”
Unable to gauge even his own response, Galligan said it wasn’t until a few days later when he saw it at Mann’s Chinese Theatre with an audience of 1,500 people that they realised what they had on their hands and that it would be one of the biggest hits of the summer, yet it was not all plain sailing for Galligan whose next starring role was in Nothing Lasts Forever, a film which to this day has never been officially released, though he has fond memories of the production which also featured Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.
As fate would have it, their paths crossed again when Galligan was attending Columbia University where filming for Ghostbusters took place, one of his proudest moments when Murray saw him waving at them from behind the barricades and saying to the security to let him through, much to the astonishment of his classmates – “It’s okay officer, he’s with us.”
Telling the audience that both Aykroyd and Murray were wonderful castmates to work with, he spoke at length of working with Sir Christopher Lee on Gremlins 2: The New Batch, saying he was “a gentleman and a gentle man, with the best manners of any human being on Earth. Tall, humble and exceedingly kind.”
That production having been the 200th feature film Lee had appeared in, Joe Dante surprised him with a cake to celebrate, and not used to being fussed over in any way the veteran actor was “caught off guard emotionally.”
Looking to the future, with Gremlins currently on re-release in the United States alongside new lines of merchandise, Galligan said that there had been “more rumblings in the last six to eight months than the last twenty years” about another sequel, with Columbus having written a script which is much more like the first film than Gremlins 2, “dark, scary and funny.”
With negotiations about finance ongoing, Galligan did caution that in the world of Hollywood anything can change and deals fall through all the time, but stated firmly if the production did go ahead the gremlins would still be practical effects, with the only digital manipulation the removal of the control wires in post-production, meaning they would be easier to use on set which allow the creatures greater versatility and interactivity with their surroundings.