Phoebe Cates’ Santa Claus Speech in Gremlins: The Oral History

Interviews with a point.
Oct. 1 2012 9:33 AM

A Conversation With Joe Dante

Why the Gremlins director’s new horror movie took three years to make it to theaters—even though it’s great.

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Director Joe Dante.
Director Joe Dante at the 66th Venice Film Festival.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Slate: Is trying to “envelop the audience” also why you went with more practical effects and puppetry rather than an overload of CGI?

Dante: We did it for budgetary reasons. We really didn’t have a lot of money and, as we’ve seen with Avatar, if you have enough money you can do anything in CGI, which is fine. But that wasn’t really where we were. CGI is a wonderful tool but, in this case, I think what we were able to do is get the best of both worlds. For instance, the clown character is puppeted by puppeteers who can actually get very close to the character. Now we have the ability to take them out of the picture.

Slate: Was there any discussion about releasing a 3-D Blu-ray for people to see it at home in its intended format?

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Dante: Nobody discussed it with me. I certainly think it would be a good idea. I’m sure it will happen eventually. Maybe when more people get 3-D TVs. I don’t know what the thinking was, but I know there’s not a huge penetration of 3-D TVs in the market.

Slate: The ending of The Hole clearly leaves a little bit open for expansion of that universe. After such an epic struggle to get this film opened here in the U.S., is that something you’d be open to doing if the opportunity came along?

Dante: Sure, but I don’t think that’s very likely because the amount of money that a picture has to make to generate a sequel doesn’t seem to be in the cards for a picture that isn’t playing in theaters. I mean, yeah, sure, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Slate: One of the most harrowing moments of Gremlins is Phoebe Cates telling the infamous chimney story. What was it like filming that scene?

Dante: That story was written in a previous version of the script, and it came out early on. I felt like there wasn’t enough there for Phoebe’s character, and I said, “Why don’t we give her this mystery where she doesn’t like Christmas, but we don’t know why and then we’ll find out and we can have her tell this story.” And everybody thought I was crazy. And then I shot it, and they really thought I was crazy. I mean everybody, including the editors, told me that it would never be in the picture. What’s nice about the scene for me is that it’s not funny to her—it’s a terrible thing to happen to her. It’s funny to us in the way that it’s funny if you see someone fall on a banana peel it looks funny, but if it happened to be you who just broke your back, it’s not funny. And so your laugh catches in your throat.

We had a great preview and even after that the studio said, “Great! Now all you have to do is take that story out.” I told them I didn’t want to take it out. To me, it encapsulates the entire tone of the movie. And so they said, “Well, we’ll get Spielberg to make you take it out.” So I talked to Steven, and he said, “You really want this in the movie, don’t you?” And I said, “Yeah, what do you think?” And he said, “Well, I don’t get it. I don’t know why you want this in the movie, but it’s your movie.” The picture opened huge and there were still memos going around about how we could get the scene cut from the print.

This review was edited and condensed.

Scott Neumyer is a freelance writer and publicist who lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. His work has appeared in ESPN, Wired, Maxim, Popular Mechanics, and Men's Fitness. He has articles upcoming in Parenting Magazine and Rue Morgue Magazine.