Gremlins: A Look at the Original Script

The script is very different from the movie we got
April 01, 2016

Ah, Gremlins, a movie very close to my heart. Not only did it introduce me to the works of Steven Spielberg, but it was also one of my very first memorable movie theater experiences, back at the tender age of seven. Everyone has a favorite scene in the film..The scene where the Gremlins break into a McDonald's and eat all the people there. Or how about the scene where they kill Billy's mom, decapitate her, and send her head bouncing down the stairs?...

What, you say you don't remember those parts? Well, you would have had writer Chris Columbus had his way. His original drafts for the script were a much darker, flat-out horror affair. There's very little humor, there's no "good" mogwai, and the Gremlins are much more vicious little beasts who thrive on human flesh. Steven Spielberg and director Joe Dante ordered Columbus to change the screenplay top to bottom practically, adding more humor, and a good mogwai character for merchandising reasons.

Gizmo didn't have a name, and was not friendly in the original script.

I got a chance to read the script, and let me tell you, Spielberg and Dante were the best thing to happen to this project. Columbus' early draft is definitely darker, but it's also a lot more repetitive, with stock characters we couldn't give a hoot about. It's nothing more than a series of action sequences, near escapes, and "there's a monster in the back seat" scenes that are about as fresh as moldy cheese in the horror genre. When I was done, all I could say is that the filmmakers had the right idea changing this script. Let's take a look, and see if you agree.

The script starts out almost the same as the movie. But don't get used to too many more similarities.

The script begins pretty much the same way as the movie. Father Rand Peltzer (who in this script is a businessman, instead of the "Nutty Professor"-type inventor) is looking for a Christmas present for his son, Billy. He comes across an old Asian storekeeper who sells him a little creature called a "Mogwai". He instructs Rand to keep it out of sunlight, as it would kill the creature, and sends him on his way. During the flight home, Rand asks an Asian flight attendent what the word "Mogwai" means. She ominously replies it means, "Devil". Cue opening credits, and we're on our way. (The scene on the airplane is one scene I personally wish had stayed in the film. It would have made a good lead in.)

This is similar to how the script describes its hero.

Next we meet our hero, Billy. In this version, Billy is your stereotypical nerd complete with big glasses. I kind of got a mental image of the character of Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, personally. Billy has dreams of being a writer, but at the moment, is stuck at a boring job at the local bank. The only good side to his job is that he gets to work near his secret sweetheart, Tracy Allen (to be re-named Kate in the final film). Unfortunately, Tracy's jerk boyfriend, Gary, works there too as a security guard, and constantly harrasses Billy. After work, Billy goes with his best friend, Pete, to visit Dorry Dougal who runs the local antique shop. Billy has an interest in swords, since he has a fascination in the legend of King Arthur, and picks one up that was custom made for him. (Note: In the final film, the bar that the Gremlins invade is called "Dorry's Tavern". Perhaps a reference to this early character.)

Billy returns home, and we meet his mother, Lynn. In this script, Lynn is an extremely nervous and edgy woman who is addicted to Valium. That's about all the characterization we get for her. Like most horror films of this type, the characters use one single character trait before they are bumped off by the monsters. Billy is frusterated with his life, and wishes things would change. Little does he know, his life is about to become a lot more interesting.

Father Rand returns home, and gives Billy the Mogwai as an early Christmas present. (In the script, it does not have a name, not even Gizmo. It's just referred to as "Mogwai".) Billy is not very interested in the strange creature (man, this guy's hard to please), and even becomes enraged with it when the little thing damages his new sword. Billy contemplates killing the furry little Mogwai, but grows sympathetic toward it when he sees how sad it is over what happened. He decides to give it a chance. Of course, very soon after that, the Mogwai is splashed with water, and the multiplication begins.

Now that there are many Mogwais, Pete wants to adopt one of them, and Father Rand sees them as a marketing opportunity. The only problem is the creatures don't like being separated from each other, and howl like crazy when they are. Billy invites his high school Biology teacher, Roy Hanson, over to the house to look at the Mogwais. Mr. Hanson not only discovers that the creatures have a sort of pack mentality (hence why they hate to be separated), but they are also drawn to water.

Sorry, boy, you don't survive in the original script...

With this ominous piece of foreshadowing dancing in their heads, the Peltzer family drift off to dreamland that night. As they sleep, the Mogwais escape from Billy's room, sneak downstairs, gang up on Billy's pet dog, and eat it. (Mind you, this occurs after midnight.) The resulting commotion awakens the Peltzers, and when they head downstairs and see the carnage, Rand takes all of the little demons and locks them up in the attic. He plans to kill them all in the morning by introducing them to the sunlight. The Peltzers go back to sleep, unaware of the metamorphesis that is occurring in the attic thanks to the Mogwais' midnight dog snack.

In the morning, they all head to the attic, and find not Mogwais, but cocoons in their place. Here's where the script loses me. Rand has to leave for a business trip, so the family decides to wait until he gets home before they will do anything about the cocoons. Uh-huh. Okay. The furry little creatures who ate your dog the night before have now changed into slimey cocoons, and you are going to wait a few days until father comes home to even do anything about it. Rand leaves for his trip, Billy heads for work, and mother Lynn starts getting the house ready for Christmas.

Billy's mom doesn't make it, either...

While Billy's at work, he gets a phone call from his mom who is practically in hysterics. The cocoons have hatched, and Lynn is pleading that Billy come home immediately. Our hero races home, and when he gets there, there is no sign of Lynn. We quickly learn that Billy is too late, however, when mom's head comes bouncing down the stairs, landing at Billy's feet. He soon discovers after that that the furry little ferocious Mogwais have changed into green little ferocious Gremlins. Billy grabs his sword, and fends off the attacking creatures, including many deaths made famous in the final film. (The microwave, the blender...) Billy becomes wounded during the brawl, and tries to call the local sheriff, when one of the creatures pulls the phone cord out of the wall. He tries to attack the Gremlin, but it runs off, with the angry Billy giving chase.

At that same moment, we find Pete with a group of other teens singing Christmas carols door to door. As they sing, poor Pete is grabbed by a Gremlin, and pulled away from the group. (He was standing in the very back.) As the creature begins to eat Pete, he tries to call for help, but the others do not hear him, their singing overpowering his screams. A bit hard to believe, personally, but I digress. Pete's dead, and we rejoin Billy's chase after the Gremlin that escaped from the house. The chase leads to the local YMCA. The two fight for a while, and eventually they both fall into the pool. The Gremlin begins to spawn more brothers, and Billy makes a narrow escape out of the building heading for the Sheriff's office.

When he arrives, he tells the story to the Sheriff and his fellow officer. (By the way, in this script, the Sheriff is the father of Gary, Tracy's boyfriend.) They obviously don't believe him, but eventually agree to check out the scene at the Y. The officer takes Billy along with him in his police car to the YMCA, and then handcuffs the boy to the inside of the car while he goes inside the building to investigate. Naturally, the officer becomes a quick snack for the Gremlins, and they then notice Billy inside the car. Our hero struggles to escape as the monsters draw closer, and is eventually able to break the handcuffs holding him with his sword. He escapes, and heads directly for Tracy's house, which is currently being attacked by the Gremlins, as well. (Boy, these guys really get around.) They escape as well after yet another action sequence.
As the two make they escape, they come across the Sheriff's overturned police car. Gary is inside the car as well, as he had been traveling with his father during his search, and they were both attacked by the murderous Gremlins. Gary is injured, but okay, but his father doesn't make it. Realizing that there's no place left in town that's safe to hide from the menacing creatures, the three decide to hide out in Dorry's antique shop, which is located on the outskirts of Kingston Falls, hoping that the Gremlins haven't gotten that far yet. Inside the shop, Billy theorizes that the Gremlins are slowly making their way to the town's water tower, remembering Mr. Hanson stating that the Mogwai were drawn to water. Gary blames Billy for all of this, starting a heated argument between the two rivals until Tracy breaks it up. The group, along with Dorry (who has now joined them), decide their best plan of action is to call the authorities, and try to stop the Gremlins from reaching the water tower. Morning is by now breaking, and the Gremlins go into hiding until nightfall.

Billy and the others explore the ruined and empty streets, trying to find some food. They enter a local McDonald's restaurant, only to find all of the former customers and employees have been eaten. Ironically enough, the food has been untouched by the creatures. The group eventually discover that the Gremlins are hiding out inside a movie theater, and devise a plan to blow it up. They sneak inside, and Tracy turns on the film projector, playing Snow White, to try to distract the creatures while they do their work. Unfortunately, they don't get enough time, and the monsters eventually discover our four heroes. The chase begins, and Gary panics, leaving the rest behind. Dorry is also killed by the Gremlins during the escape. Billy and Tracy manage to make it out right before the theater explodes, but unfortunately, the sprinkler system inside the building activates, creating even more as the old ones are burning.

Escaping from the theater, Billy and Tracy come across the cowardly Gary. Another argument ensues, and this time, Gary has had enough, and tries to kill Billy with his own sword. Before he can, the Gremlins once again show up, and kill the bully. (Good riddance.) Billy and Tracy escape once again in a nearby police car, only to find there's a Gremlin hiding in the back seat. As they drive off, the creature begins to howl, since it's being separated, and the Gremlins give chase. The two heroes eventually stop at a gas station, since they're low on gas. While they do this, the Gremlin manages to escape, sneaks inside the hood of the car, and destroys the engine. Billy and Tracy track down the little monster, and lock it up inside a tool box. A pack of Gremlins are approaching, looking for their missing brother so our heroes (once again) run and hide inside a nearby greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse, the creatures surround, and eventually enter the building. Billy and Tracy try to climb up a tree to escape, but the Gremlins chomp away at the tree, causing it to fall. It looks like our heroes are finished, until the sun rises, successfully killing all of the monsters. Once all the monsters have melted, our two heroes step outside of the greenhouse, and look at the ruins of their hometown. Shortly afterward, Billy collapses from exhaustion. When he awakens, he's in a hospital. Tracy is there, too, and so is Rand who has returned from his business trip. Everything seems a-ok, until Billy remembers the Gremlin locked in the tool box he left back at the greenhouse.

Yes, that's right, it's time for the final "it's not over yet" scene. A worker is at the greenhouse, cleaning up the mess, and discovers the tool box sitting where Billy left it. He puts it in the back of his truck, where it starts to shake and make noises from within it. The worker very stupidly takes the box, and throws it into a lake. As the box sinks, we can hear the maniacal laughter of the Gremlin within as the scene fades out.

A vintage "back to school" ad for the movie from 1984.

As you can tell by that synopsis, this early draft is extremely reptetitive. After the characters are thinly introduced during the first few pages, it's really nothing more than the creatures eating people, while Billy and his friends run away. It gets old fast, obviously, and with none of the wacky or dark humor that made the film so memorable (aside from the scene at the McDonalds), the movie becomes just another generic monster movie that probably would not have been remembered quite so fondly if it had stayed the way Chris Columbus had originally intended it.

The characters also greatly suffer, since they are unsympathetic and stock-types. The father Rand is just obsessed with money, and the mother is addicted to Valium. That's about all the characterizations there. Actually 98% of the characters exist only to be eaten, so it's really no big deal when they become a snack for the Gremlins. It's hard to get attached to anyone, even main character Billy, since he's just a dweeb who fortunately seems to be handy with a sword.

Director Joe Dante with one of his stars.

As mentioned earlier, the script was heavily reworked when Steven Spielberg bought it for his newly founded Amblin Entertainment Studio. And when director Joe Dante came on board, he gave the film a more comical and almost Looney Tunes-inspired vibe. They got rid of Gary, and added crabby old Mrs. Deagle as the human antagonist, which is a smart move on their part. Not only is she a more memorable villain than just a standard bully, but her demise stands as one of the more memorable moments of the movie. I also liked that the Gremlins were given more personality, and didn't just go around eating people. To further add personality to the creatures, they hired comedians and cartoon voice actors to provide the Gremlins' voices, including Howie Mandel, voice acting legend Frank Welker, and Micheal Winslow (aka the guy from the Police Academy movies who does all those sound effects).

I actually had this toy as a kid. His fur was a lot neater, though.

There was a reason behind softening the script a little and making it more comical, and that was of course merchandising. You see, two years before Gremlins, Spielberg did a little movie called E.T., which you might remember made a few bucks. That little alien became a marketing gold mine, and Spielberg knew that there was money to be made off of the furry little Mogwai. So, he insisted that there be a Mogwai who would remain good throughout the movie, so they could market the characters to kids. And thus, little Gizmo was born. I remember falling hard for the little guy when I saw it at the theater, and had not only toys of the Mogwai, but when I started first grade a couple months later, I went to school that fall with a Gizmo lunchbox and backpack.

As a fan, it interesting to read the original script, and see where some of the ideas in the films came from, as well as the stuff that ultimately got left out. But, in the end, I think the changes were for the best. The movie just stands out more to me with its mix of humor and suspense, and just has a lot more personality overall.

Until next time, Retro Junkers, keep the past alive.
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