They struck a nerve we didn’t know needed striking: repellent, anarchist rubber-puppet critters that trashed every sentimental trope established by their nicer green-guy cousins, E.T., Yoda, and Kermit. Gremlins, executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Joe Dante from a script by Chris Columbus (now king of the ”Harry Potter” flicks, then an NYU student), was a huge sleeper hit. But the outlandish gore that ticked off parents and helped trigger PG-13 ratings – pop goes the microwaved gremlin! – still sinks the movie. When doe-eyed leads Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan get clawed and speared by the ugly spawn of cute little Gizmo (whose fur Dante says he decreed should resemble that of Spielberg’s cocker spaniel), their physical peril is played so straight it’s no fun – it’s torture, not horror.
The extras on the disc are mainly old making-of promos, but new commentaries – by Dante, the producers, and the cast – hold fresher tidbits. Catch Galligan droning on about his inexperience and his big ’80s coif (Cates is mostly silent). There’s great detail on how much grosser Columbus’ initial script was, including a scene of the family dog being eaten by gremlins. Apex of honesty: Dante admits he prefers the sequel, but says he ”can’t knock” the original because ”it’s the only [movie] I ever get checks from.”