A film lives many lives before it ever hits the screen. The script is usually revised multiple times before a single foot of film is exposed (or the digital equivalent thereof). I’m not just talking about smaller stuff like dialogue polishes and the addition or deletion of scenes. Many times the core story is reworked in profound ways. Sometimes it’s downright shocking how different the final film can be from the initial drafts.
In this new (semi-regular) feature for Bloody-Disgusting, I’m going to take a look at some early drafts of scripts for horror films that you may have already seen and discuss the differences, whether they took a turn for the worse, better or just different. There are also a handful of scripts for sequels and remakes that never happened that are worth checking out – just to see what might have been.
These aren’t script reviews, and only rarely will I be breaking the stories down on a beat-by-beat basis. I’m just going to point out some cool, interesting and/or disastrous choices that happened along the way. Each installment will be different, and each installment will be fun. I’ll also be including sample pages (when available)* so you don’t have to take my word for it!
*This applies only to older and previously released films that are already part of the culture. We’re not in the business of leaking or sabotaging projects in development.
First up is Joe Dante’s Gremlins, written by Chris Columbus. Hit the jump to check it out! For years people have talked about how dark Chris Columbus’ first draft of Gremlins was. Many of us have heard the story in which, after the kitchen confrontation scene, Billy arrives home to find his mom’s severed head tumbling down the stairs.
The version I have (Seventh Draft – February 18th, 1983) doesn’t contain that scene – Mrs. Peltzer lives. Suffice to say that brutally killing Mrs. Pelter wasn’t an idea that was going to stay around for more than a pass or two, especially considering that this is an Amblin film. However, some of that darkness is still very much on the page. For instance, it’s very clearly spelled out that The Futtermans die. Even though the film alludes to their demise (and Gremlins 2 obviously retcons their survival), it’s never explicitly stated*. It is here. It’s only a minor deviation (if you can even call it that) but it’s an interesting one.
*EDIT – Reader Adam Harmless has correctly pointed out that they are declared on the radio as surviving in the film. I can’t believe I forgot about that!
One of the huge differences in this draft is the character of Gerald, the douchey Junior Vice President of the bank where Billy works. In the film he’s an enjoyably smug dick played by Judge Reinhold at the top of his affable game. His character is there to provide a counterpoint to Billy’s current path in life, something that’s accomplished handily in the first act. After that, he more or less disappears.
In the February 18th, 1983 draft he has a much bigger role and a more completely developed arc. Not only does he join Kate and Billy in their plan to blow up the Gremlins as they watch Snow White…
… he also gets the monologue. You know what I’m talking about. That amazingly black lump of coal that someway found its way into a PG Christmas movie. In the film, it’s a revelatory moment for Phoebe Cates’ character. But in this script, it’s all Gerald.
In this draft, the speech provides a sense of damage and some motivation for Gerald’s overall profit driven and Grinch-like perspective. It’s much easier to understand why the banker is such a jerk around the holidays if he had to smell his dad rotting in the chimney as a result of playing Santa.
I think the decision to give this speech to Cates in the film (and basically excise Gerald) is a wise one. From the beginning moments we’re rooting for Kate and Billy to end up together, and the personal nature of her disclosing this information to him (along with them taking on the Gremlins sans Gerald) ratchets up the intimacy factor.
So Columbus redeems Gerald a bit, and then he kills him.
Another huge change occurs at the end, in which Gizmo DIES and is reincarnated as glowing butterfly-like creature.
This is a cool effect, but it undercuts one of the major themes of Dante’s film. That American society is too clumsy, irresponsible and exploitative to properly interact with anything delicate or beautiful. In short, “this is why we can’t have nice things”. Because we make them ugly.
This theme is largely diminished, at least as overt text, in the earlier iteration of the story. Here, he simply just flies away.
All in all, I think the February 18th, 1983 draft is a fascinating look at the development mechanics of the project. But personally I prefer the final film that we all know and love.
What about you? Do you think Gremlins is perfect as is? Or would you have liked it better with some of these original elements present?