Two of the biggest horror-comedy films of the 1980s debuted on the exact same weekend in June 1984. Ghostbusters was the bigger success of the two, but Gremlins has remained a fan favorite amongst ’80s kids, and for good reason. It’s silly, with eye-catching character designs that just scream MERCHANDISE OPPORTUNITIES, but it’s also a pretty wicked and nihilistic horror movie. I remember both reveling in and being quite frightened by it as a boy. Gwendolyn Kiste, too, was heavily influenced by Gremlins in her youth, and she’s got some pretty cool ideas for carrying the long-dormant franchise forward.
Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and the occult horror novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, from Nightscape Press. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Vastarien, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Unnerving, Interzone, and LampLight, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE: What book/movie/show/etc. got you into horror?
GWENDOLYN KISTE: One that was very near and dear to my heart growing up was Gremlins.
That’s great. I love Gremlins. How old were you when you saw it?
I think I was around four years old when I first saw it. I have this very clear memory that the version that we had taped off TV was from New Year’s Eve in 1988, and that was just a little over a month before I turned five.
What about it appealed to you then? Did it scare you at all?
It was the creatures that really kept my interest. I loved both Gizmo and the Gremlins themselves. It also certainly scared me at points, but more than all the mayhem that the Gremlins cause, the metamorphosis was what really terrified me. The idea that something small and cute like Gizmo could undergo this horrifying (and horrifyingly sticky and grotesque) transformation was nightmarish but also fascinating for me as a kid.
Do you have a favorite scene in particular?
The scene when the cocoons open is a major favorite. It’s so strange and sticky and scary. I also love the scene right after that where Lynn Peltzer takes on the Gremlins and actually dispatches several of them. Something about the yellow icing on the Christmas gingerbread cookies was really creepy and stuck out to me as a kid.
The kitchen scene is epic! Definitely a grisly scene for a “Christmas movie.” Have you watched Gremlins in recent years, and if so, do you think it still holds up?
I just watched it this past Christmas, and I do think it holds up, especially the creatures themselves. The main thing that I didn’t notice when I was a kid is that Billy makes a lot of bad choices, in particular early on. He almost immediately breaks all the rules, and there aren’t even that many stipulations with Gizmo! Other than that, though, it holds up so well. I love the special effects (I’m a big fan of the puppets), and the acting is great too. It’s such a perfect blend of horror and comedy, with a healthy bit of nostalgia now that it’s over 35 years old.
Have you seen Gremlins 2? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
Not only have I seen Gremlins 2, I’m fairly sure I saw it on opening weekend back in 1990 when I was only six years old. I was already such a huge fan of the first one, so my parents couldn’t possibly deny me from seeing the sequel. It was a major family outing. I enjoyed Gremlins 2 as a kid — not as much as I’d loved the original — but I still thought it was fun. What’s surprising to me now is how ahead of its time it was in terms of reality TV and meta/self-aware media. I don’t think it got enough credit in 1990 when it came out because it wasn’t clear yet how on the nose it was in so many ways.
It’s a really meta, bonkers movie. I think they told Joe Dante he could do whatever he wanted.
Have you explored any of the themes/tropes of Gremlins in your own writing? Any weird creatures or random rules that characters have to follow?
No random rules, but I definitely use a lot of transformation and metamorphosis themes in my work. I hadn’t even thought about it before now, but that definitely might have its genesis in my childhood love of Gremlins. As for weird creatures, one of my earliest published stories was called “Black Door,” and it was inspired in part by the Hopkinsville Goblins, who were supposedly the inspiration for Gremlins, so there’s that connection too.
That’s pretty cool! If you could write a Gremlins 3, what would it be about?
Oh, wow. That would be tough. I think the first two are so good! If I had to, it would probably be about Billy and Kate’s kids and exploring how they would or wouldn’t continue the same cycle from their parents. Would they make all the same mistakes that Billy always did? Also, how long do Mogwai live? I’m not sure that’s ever addressed in the movies. Would Gizmo even still be alive now? Would it be Gizmo’s children that Billy’s kids would have? If he was still alive, would Gizmo have an Instagram account? Because Mogwai are clearly very photogenic. So putting all of that together, I suppose my Gremlins 3 would be about the continuing cycles of mistakes passed on from parents to children along with the meta influence of the social media age and how everybody would indeed want a Mogwai just like Billy’s dad predicts in the first movie. And obviously, that would all go awry so that we could end up with Gremlins. Gremlins with Twitter accounts, which would seriously be art imitating life!
Those are some really cool ideas. I’d watch it!
Okay last question. If someone gifted you a Mogwai, would you accept it or is it not worth the risk?
Wow. I actually don’t know. My concern would be if I didn’t accept, what would happen to the Mogwai? Truly, owning a Mogwai probably isn’t worth the risk, but unless there would be a safe place for the species, what would happen to them? So I guess the answer is yes, I would accept the Mogwai and then do my best to start a Mogwai preserve for my Mogwai as well as others, where the entire species could be free to roam and eat only before midnight, with no water and no direct sunlight in sight. A place for Mogwai to be happy (and you know, hang out with me sometimes if they’d like). That’s probably a far-too- elaborate plan, but if there are Mogwai in the world, then there could be Gremlins, so it’s good for all of us to do our part in helping!