What is Caffeinated Clint’s Greats?
I’ve had plenty of emails from you guys asking such questions as “Who were your favourite actors growing up?”, “Do you have a favourite movie?”, “You’re producing films now, any particular film that inspired you to take that road?” and “Hey man, Got Kristen Stewart’s phone number?”, and it gave my an idea – why not profile some of my favourite films? (It saves me from flaming a pimply, unintelligent publicist or another fresh-from-junior-high exec over some harebrained remake he’s just greenlit for a couple of weeks, after all) and in doing so, why not make contact with some of the people from these films?
Title : Gremlins
Year : 1984
Director : Joe Dante
Starring : Zack Gallighan, Phoebe Cates, Frances Lee McCain, Hoyt Axton, Judge Reinhold, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman
When you think ’80s Summer blockbusters, “Gremlins” immediately comes to mind (either before or after “Ghostbusters” and “Back to the Future”). It, and for good reason, was everything a tentpole blockbuster should be – original, inventive, fun, blatant escapism. They really don’t make ‘em like they use to.
“Gremlins” I saw at the Village Cinemas in Albury – where my mother worked at the time (as regular readers of Moviehole know, I grew up in the world of cinemas and Drive-In’s, firstly because of my mother’s anointment as a Village ticket-boxer, and later, because of various part-time jobs I had as a teenager, working at various cinemas and Drive-In theaters) and, if memory serves me correct, that cinema was packed (why wouldn’t it be!?). Now these were the days before the internet, let alone a resurgence in Entertainment Tonight/Tabloidy-style shows down under, so all anyone knew about “Gremlins” was what we’d seen in the TV spots, which likely hit the air about a week before. There was a teaser trailer too, from memory, but it didn’t show anything (ha! how times have changed!). I’m almost convinced that the only reason people probably went to see “Gremlins”, and I don’t think director Joe Dante would argue this, is because Steven Spielberg’s name was on the poster. Spielberg, then coming off the hot-hot-hot “E.T : The Extra Terrestrial”, was the king of fantasy blockbuster films at the time – he could do no wrong, or let me rephrase that, he could put bums on seats.
“Gremlins”, somewhat of a throwback to the classic monster movies of yesteryear (“The Blob” comes to mind for some reason), was the perfect blend of comedy and horror. It wasn’t especially scary – but it was suspenseful enough to keep us captivated, and though not-laugh-out-loudy, the film’s few subtle gags worked magnificently. But mainly, it was the highly-original story and, of course, the ‘Gremlins’ – and Gizmo, let’s not forget Gizmo! – that stole the show. Essentially highly-detailed ‘Muppets’, the characters looked and worked a treat on screen… I don’t think anyone even questioned that they weren’t real at the time.
“Gremlins” is right up there as one of my personal favourite films of the ’80s – and I don’t doubt it’s one of yours, too.
A protege of Roger Corman’s, Joe Dante rose to prominence with his crafty horror pics “Piranha” and “The Howling” before becoming ‘the next big thing’ thanks to the success of Warner’s “Gremlins”. Though Dante would never score a hit quite as big as the 1984 blockbuster, his later films – including “Explorers”, “Innerspace”, “The ‘Burbs” and “Mattinee” – are none too shabby, too. In fact, Joe has been a real influence on my career… such an inspiration, so much so that I actually named a character in my first script (which, like “Gremlins”, was at Warner Bros – for a while) after him…. heck, that whole script was a love letter to “The Howling”.
I had a chance to chat to one of my personal favourite filmmakers, and an all-round nice guy, recently.
Caffeinated Clint : Joe, the Melbourne International Film Festival recently held a retrospective of your films. How’s that make you feel? Proud as punch?
Joe Dante : It makes me feel like… it’s all over, that there’s nothing left; that my career must have come to an end [Laughs].
Caffeinated Clint : It’s far from over. When it is over, what film do you think you’ll be forever associated with?
Joe Dante : Oh, definitely Gremlins. The newspaper headline will read “Gremlins director dead in car crash”. There’s no way around it, that’s the most successful film I’ve ever done.
Caffeinated Clint : If Gremlins were made today, would it be the same film?
Joe Dante : No. Those Gremlins movies were such products of the technology at the time. The movie was limited and created by technology. They were puppets. The storylines were based around what we could do with the Gremlins. Now, of course, anything is possible – you wouldn’t be so limited in the story you could tell.
Caffeinated Clint : So, does a ”Gremlins 3” interest you? One that utilizes the advances in technology?
Joe Dante : First of all, I won’t be asked. Second of all, it couldn’t be a sequel to the other two films because it’s too long since they were released. The kids of today would be familiar with the title, and familiar with Gizmo and Stripe, but as far as the actual [live-action] characters and story, they don’t know them…. so we’d have to start again. They’ll probably remake the movie, but I doubt I’ll be involved.
Caffeinated Clint : The original script for ”Gremlins” was a lot darker than the film, wasn’t it?
Joe Dante : Yeah. Chris Columbus had written this script, which Steven Spielberg decided would be the perfect film to help kick-off his new production company, Amblin. Spielberg had planned for it to be a low-budget horror film that would shoot in the North West. But anyway, as we were developing this film we realized that it wasn’t going to be cheap to be able to make all these creatures and have them move around seamlessly on screen. Then Warner Bros got involved – but, of course, they didn’t want it to be a gruesome horror film but something more of a family picture.
Caffeinated Clint : Considering what a tough film it would’ve been to make at the time, due to the limitations you discussed earlier, is Gremlins your proudest achievement?
Joe Dante : I’m glad I got through it; it’s definitely one of the hardest movies I’ve ever made. We shot the live-action stuff first, and then for about three months we shot nothing but Gremlins. I remember Spielberg coming to me mid-production and asking if I would make another one – but at the time, being up to my neck in puppets, there was no way I was going to commit to doing a sequel.
Caffeinated Clint : But you did end up directing a sequel about five years later…
Joe Dante : Yeah, at that stage, the studio was willing to let me do whatever I wanted. You don’t get an offer like that every day, so I jumped at the chance. And my sequel was a commentary of sequels in general. It was more of a straight-up comedy, rather than a comedy/horror like the first film.
Caffeinated Clint : What kind of offers did you receive after the success of both ”Gremlins”?
Joe Dante : After the first one, [Warner Bros] came to make and asked me to direct Batman. It was a good project, so I signed on, but it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t really believe in Batman – I couldn’t swallow the idea of some rich guy, living on a hill, dressing up as a bat – so I asked to be freed from the film. I was offered The Flintstones movie. I said no to that because I wasn’t the biggest fan of the cartoon series – I always thought it was a just rip-off of The Honeymooners – and thought they should chase someone who was a fan.
Read previous CAFFEINATED CLINT Greats interviews :