I had the great opportunity to talk with Knate Higgins, who runs the B Real Series (along with Co-Director Timothy Fife) at the Seacoast Repertory Theater in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We discussed how their upcoming Gremlins event (Wednesday, December 11th), which will feature a talk with film producer Michael Finnell and a showcase of props from the movie, came about and why Gremlins is a great holiday film.
The theater is a professional company that features plays, theater and other events throughout the year. Along with his Co-Director Timothy Fife, he also runs the Red Light Series, which focuses on adult alternative entertainment like burlesque, drag and cabaret acts performed largely by local groups and outfits.
A little under a year ago, The Red Light Series hosted Troma-Fest, a series focused on the films from b-movie juggernaut Troma Entertainment. The event featured Troma creator / trashy film legend and god Lloyd Kaufman. From the success of that event, the B Real Series, which highlights cult and horror cinema and related events, was born.
Side note: I just re-watched Gremlins (which I mention later) and was pleasantly surprised to see that Jonathan “Mike Ehrmantraut” Banks has a small role as a terrified police officer in the film.
Tell me a bit about the Gremlins event. How did it come about?
From our success with Troma-Fest, we were able to make some connections with the horror world. My co-director Tim and I were able to get funding from The Press Room, which is one of our local, independent lounges here in Portsmouth. They really liked what we were doing as far as the film series goes and so they gave to us six months of funding to provide an affordable option for people to come and see various cult and horror films. At our series, we screen the film and then bring in an industry professional when they are available and then offer a pay-what-you-can model, so we are working to make the art of cult film readily accessible to the community.
We had in mind that we wanted to do Gremlins because it is a holiday movie. Through Lloyd [Kaufman], we were able to get in touch with Michael Finnell, the producer of the film. We thought it would be really interesting to have a producer come as our industry professional, because a lot of people don’t know what Producers do on these films or any film, really. We thought it would be interesting for the audience to not only get a sense of what a producer does, but get it from the perspective of someone who worked so extensively on this film, and all of director Joe Dante’s films for that matter.
And I understand that you are also going to showcase props from the film, including Gremlin puppets and some of the “Peltzer Inventions” [which fans of the film will recognize as the always failing, “almost there” inventions Gremlins-protagonist Billy’s father is responsible for creating]?
We really wanted this event to be something that no one had ever seen before at a screening of Gremlins, so Tim and I found some Gremlins props. I went right to the source and I asked Mr. Dante if there were any surviving props around. He said that with the exception of the Peltzer Inventions, the only ones he knows of are those he has given away for auction. So I searched online and found a firm called Tom Spina Designs, which specializes in the restoration of rate movie props. They had done almost all of the restoration of the latex Gremlins props from the 1984 1992 Gremlins films. I told them they were doing the screening and Joe Dante is loaning us his personal props to the screening and that Finnell will be there as well. I told them that we are looking to get a Gremlin and asked if they could help. They were great and put us in touch with a private collector named Richard D’Andrea, who actually has the props they restored. He lives in Amityville, New York and he is coming up with two of his Gremlins, one from the first film and one from the second.
Before restoration (Image by way of TomSpinaDesigns.com)
During restoration (Image by way of TomSpinaDesigns.com)
During restoration (Image by way of TomSpinaDesigns.com)
So wait a second… The guy who is coming up and providing props for your horror screening is from Amityville, New York?
Yes. [Laugs] Yes.
It’s pretty amazing. Also, the Gremlins that he is bringing have both survived Hurricane Sandy. Almost his entire house was destroyed but the Gremlins survived, which I think is pretty amazing. When we asked what we could do to help get him up here, because we are a nonprofit and can’t offer a whole lot, he said that he would love to do it but he hoped we could get in touch with Mr. Dante and ask him where the prop had come from—D’Andrea had won it at a charity option. I said great, I will do some investigating and I talked to Dante and sent the picture of the prop to him. He said that the Gremlin was actually sitting in his editing room and it watched him edit films for 20 years but it finally fell apart and he had to get rid of it.
So I told Mr. Dante the story about how it survived the hurricane and where it ended up and he thought that was awesome and told me to tell Richard that he did a fantastic job getting it restored and to thank him for not letting it get wet. It was the most amazing email I had ever read. D’Andrea totally lost his mind and told us he would bring anything we wanted. It has been a really interesting trip putting this screening together. It is definitely our most ambitious yet, and it will certainly set the bar for how we proceed with the series.
So while the answer is obvious to me—I just re-watched the movie for about the dozenth time—it might not be for the readers, but why is Gremlins a holiday film?
It is a holiday film because it is set during Christmas eve and all of the antics are set around the holiday, from the mother being locked in the house with the Gremlins when all of a sudden “Do You Hear What I Hear?” comes on to the Gremlins popping out of the Christmas tree and attacking her. And then there is the dog being strung up by the Christmas lights and the Gremlins singing Christmas carols [as they terrorize the town]… Most people who never saw it don’t know that it is a holiday film because it was actually released in the summer of 1984…
And there that amazing Phoebe Cates monologue about her father dying while dressed up as Santa Claus.
Oh my God, the monologue to end all monologues. If you’re between the ages of 15 and 25 you should be doing that monologue if you’re auditioning for anything.
There are all of these Santa spoilers, so people who want to bring their kids should probably leave them at home. But yeah, people really forget that it’s a holiday film, Tim and I both immediately thought about showing this during the holiday. You know, we thought that maybe we could do Santa Clause Conquers the Martians or Silent Night, Deadly Night but then we thought, screw it. Let’s show what people want to see and while it is tongue-in-cheek, it’s definitely a holiday film.
Photo Credit: Press photo of Producer Michael Finnell and Gizmo, 1984