The question of what defines a classic Christmas film is more difficult than you might think to answer. From the moral tale of It’s a Wonderful Life to the family fun of Home Alone to the violent joys of Die Hard, the limits of a Christmas movie are seemingly not set in stone, suggesting that a festive favourite could be about just about anything. Step in Joe Dante’s Gremlins, creepy Christmas horror featuring adorable creatures that turn nasty if you feed them after midnight.
From the animatronics pioneer of The Howling and Piranha, Joe Dante, Gremlins marked a significant moment in ‘80s filmmaking, with the film being marketed as a commodity on lunchboxes, pillows and pencil cases, much like Ghostbusters and the popular Star Wars series. Starring Zach Galligan in the lead role, the film follows the gift of an unusual creature at Christmas who begins to terrorise a small town when his strict rules of care are broken.
Originally conceived by the Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone director, Chris Columbus, the filmmaker explains in the DVD extras of the film that the idea came about one night when he was, ironically, home alone. In the dead of night, “What sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy,” Columbus reported, an incident that would become the spark for the iconic film.
Writing the story up merely as a spec-script to show off his writing capabilities to potential employees, Gremlins was never intended to be turned into a film, that was until Steven Spielberg, hot off the back of Raiders of the Ark and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, got his hands on it. Seeing great potential in Chris Columbus’ script, Spielberg explained: “It’s one of the most original things I’ve come across in many years, which is why I bought it”.
Having acquired the film and deciding to executive produce the picture, Spielberg chose Dante as the director due to his experience with horror, comedy in The Howling from 1981, and another influential franchise of cinema was born. Inspiring not just the landscape of horror cinema but also a whole other sub-genre of terrifying critter flicks including Ghoulies, Hobgoblins and Munchies, Gremlins and its sequel, The New Batch, remain dark classics of the festive period.
With the possibilities of a third film in the series being considered, writer Chris Columbus told Slash Film in 2017 that he’s already drafted a script that he’s “really proud of”. In keeping with the previous two films, Columbus also adds: “It is as twisted and dark as anything, so we’ll see. It’s always a budgetary conversation when we’re going to shoot it. I wanted to go back to the really twisted sensibility of the first movie”.
Though Columbus gave no indication as to when the final film in the trilogy may come, the everlasting appeal of Gizmo and the rest of the Mogwai make their return highly likely.
Gremlins is available on Netflix now.