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5 Things You Might Not Know About Joe Dante's 'Gremlins'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 8, 2012 at 3:02PM

June 8th, 1984 was a great day for movie nerds, particularly those with an affection for special effects, scares and belly laughs. Not only did they get "Ghostbusters" in theaters that day (as we've already looked at, but they also got "Gremlins," the subversive PG-rated horror-comedy from the A-list trio of writer Chris Columbus, director Joe Dante and producer Steven Spielberg.
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3. The voice of Gizmo was provided by future "Deal Or No Deal" host Howie Mandel.
Of course, the human cast are essentially set dressing to the cute-as-a-button Gizmo, and his less friendly, fed-after-midnight offspring, both of whom went on to grace merchandise the world over (this writer, though born two years after the film's release, fondly remembers his "Gremlins" lunchbox). Again, in Columbus' darker original draft, Gizmo was turned into a gremlin by the film's end, but Spielberg saw how much audiences would love him, and created the Gremlin character Stripe to serve as the main antagonist in his place. To serve as the voice of Gizmo, Dante hired an unlikely source: stand up comic, and star of "St. Elsewhere," Howie Mandel, who would go on to become best known as the host of gameshow "Deal Or No Deal" (while "Police Academy" human sound effect machine Michael Winslow voiced some of the other Gremlins, along with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime). Mandel was undeniably committed to the part: he was allowed to ad-lib some of his dialogue, and learned his audible lines in several foreign languages, in order to dub them himself. Not everyone fell for Gizmo, however: the puppet created for the character malfunctioned frequently during filming (to the extent where the cast fell asleep on set at one point waiting for it to be fixed). As a result, the scene where Gizmo is tied to a dartboard and used as target practice was added to appease the angry crew. Of course, if you've read the novelization to the film, you'll know that this act could have turned into a galactic incident: George Gipe's spinoff book gives the creatures a backstory whereby they were created by a scientist in an alien world, but were physiologically unstable, leading them to turn into gremlins. No, we don't know how they got to Earth.

4. The film inspired a now-discontinued theme park ride at the Warner Bros. parks in Australia and Germany.
Universal and Disney still dominate the theme park world, as far as studios go, but you may not be aware that Warner Bros. did in fact have their own attractions, albeit outside the United States; Warner Bros Movie World, on the Gold Coast of Australia, and Warner Bros. Moive World Germany (now sold, and renamed Movie Park Germany), which each opened in the early 1990s. And when both came into existence, they each had a ride based on Gremlins -- "Warner Bros. Classics & Great Gremlins Adventures," which was renamed "Gremlins Invasion" in Germany. Guests would sit down in a movie theater to watch outtakes from a selection of WB movies, only for Gremlins to invade the auditorium. Visitors were then ushered into a vehicle that would take them through the archive to escape the beasts. It doesn't sound like much of a thrill ride, and it was replaced in Australia after ten years with the "Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster," but remained in operation in Germany until 2004, when the park was renamed and stripped of most of its associations with the studio.

5. According to some, the film is super-racist.
Not everyone fell for the film, however. At the time, and for years afterwards, criticism that the movie used the gremlins as a racist caricature of black youth emerged. In her seminal "Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies," Patricia Turner pointed to the creatures eating fried chicken, breakdancing to hip-hop, and wearing newsboy caps and dark glasses at night as reflecting "negative African-American stereotypes," and as recently as this year, Complex Magazine labelled it as one of the 50 most racist films ever made. One of the strengths of the film, arguably, is the mutable nature of the creatures; most took it as a critique of capitalism, rather than a racially-targeted message, but it does strike somewhat of a sour note on a rewatch (although nothing compared to, say, "Transformers 2"). Certainly when you're being defended by the horrible assholes of white supremacist site Stormfront, it's hard to feel that you're on the right side of history.

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Gremlins, Joe Dante, Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg, Features, On This Day In Movie History


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