Joe Dante’s ‘80s classic Gremlins is a lot of different things. It’s a horror flick, it’s a comedy, it’s a monster movie and it’s a Christmas film. It’s also a lot darker than is often remembered, but writer Chris Columbus has revealed that his original script was even more violent and macabre.
On the off-chance you’re unfamiliar with the film, it sees young man Billy gifted an odd but adorable creature for the holidays that he names Gizmo, which multiplies when wet, and if any of them are fed after midnight, they transform into the titular chaotic Gremlins. Of course, such transgressions come to pass, and all hell breaks loose in a small town.
Speaking to Collider, Columbus had this to say about his original vision for the story:
“I was living in New York at the time with these mice running around the floor, and I was watching old Universal horror films on TBS and my friend said to me, ‘You love monster movies so much, why don’t you write a monster movie?’ I was thinking about these mice running around at night, they would scurry by my finger if my hand was hanging over the bed, it was really creeping me out and that’s how I came up with the idea of Gremlins. So I wrote it as a straightforward horror film. Hard R, mom’s head comes rolling down the stairs, Billy and Kate go into a McDonald’s and none of the food is eaten but all of the people are eaten (laughs). So it was very dark.”
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He went on to explain that he was convinced to tone down the violence by executive producer Steven Spielberg, who argued that the film had the potential to be retooled to appeal to and be suitable for a far wider audience than Columbus had envisioned.
That said, some of what’s seen in the movie itself is far from family-friendly, with deaths of the featured critters including being repeatedly stabbed with a kitchen knife, blown up in a microwave, minced in a blender, whacked with a sword and burned in a fireplace. Elsewhere, a particularly memorable scene sees Billy’s girlfriend Kate explain that she’s hated Christmas since she was a little girl when her father broke his neck climbing down a chimney dressed as Santa Claus, while the climax has the gremlin leader Stripe attempt to murder Billy with a chainsaw.
Such was the unexpected violence of Gremlins that it partially led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. If you’ve seen the movie enough times, you’ll have moved past being blinded by Gizmo’s cuteness and know it for the gruesome ride it always was, but when you put it on next, just remember how much more brutal it could have been.