When Gremlins debuted in theaters in 1984, audiences were simultaneously entranced and disturbed. The cutesy nature of the central creature called Gizmo, of the Mogwai species, was an instant hit with children. Yet, the movie also featured grisly scenes of horror and death that scandalized parents. In an interview with Collider, Chris Columbus, who wrote the script for Gremlins, confirmed that his original intention had been to make a hard R-rated horror flick, inspired by his chilling personal experiences with mice infestations.
“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.”
It is interesting to consider that Gremlins was originally supposed to be even gorier than what audiences saw in theaters. Keep in mind that the theatrical version of the movie proved so disturbing that it led to the creation of the PG-13 rating by the MPAA to keep very young children from watching such films in the future. According to Columbus, the fact that he was able to get Gremlins made at all was due to the script title catching Steven Spielberg’s eye, who decided to produce the film.
“My agent sent it out to about 50 producers, and only by luck – I was gonna do a movie with Paul Newman at one point and he said to me, ‘This business is 50% talent and 50% luck.’ And the lucky part of Gremlins is Steven Spielberg was leaving his office and he just glanced to his assistant’s desk and he saw the title, and he was like ‘That’s an interesting title’ so he picked it up and read it over the weekend. I got a call from him like three days later. So that’s how Gremlins happened.”
Fortunately, once Spielberg got on board, Columbus was able to take his story and turn it into a movie. But first, the horror and gore in the script had to be pared down. Columbus credits Spielberg with helping him understand scaling back the horror was in the best interest of the story of Gremlins.
“Steven was very instrumental because I was a young writer and I was like a kid in a candy store getting to work with Steven Spielberg, and he steered me into – he said, ‘This needs to reach a wider audience.’ He goes, ‘What you’ve done could be great, but it’s an R-rated horror film. There’s a way that what you’ve written can reach a much wider audience.’ So we worked on several drafts of the script.”
This news originated at Collider.