Joe Dante Thought Steven Spielberg Had Sent Him Gremlins By Mistake

One of the great things about this time of year is that there are a handful of films that straddle the holiday divide between Halloween and Christmas. Family favorites like "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or nasty slashers like "Silent Night, Deadly Night" really lean into the holiday cheer (or fear) and have become year's end viewing staples for movie buffs everywhere. Perhaps one of the most beloved films that fits nicely into the frightfully festive category is the 1984 horror comedy "Gremlins," about a seemingly adorable Christmas present that goes horribly awry.

Directed by Joe Dante, "Gremlins" was a hit amongst moviegoers and critics alike, and it's easy to see why. The film expertly blends elements of horror and playfulness with its reliance on the sickeningly sweet cuteness of Gizmo the mogwai and the crass antics of the evil gremlins. What also makes the movie great is its dark humor (I'm still not over that whole Santa coming down the chimney tragedy) and willingness to really go there with its gore. Despite seeming like a children's film, when you really get down to it, "Gremlins" is most decidedly not

But before Dante directed his most well-known and successful film (and franchise), he was known for another horror flick with perhaps equally menacing furry monsters: 1981's "The Howling," about, of course, werewolves. "The Howling" was no failure by any means, but when Dante — who up until that point had only worked on two other B-movies, "Hollywood Boulevard" and "Piranha" — was offered the role of director for "Gremlins," he was pretty sure they had the wrong guy.   

Who? Me?

"The Howling" tells the story of Karen White, a reporter recovering from the trauma of being stalked and assaulted by a man named Eddie Quist. When she and her husband travel to a resort called the Colony, Karen quickly begins to suspect that what is supposed to be a relaxing getaway is really far more sinister than it seems. The movie features some of the best werewolf practical effects around — thanks in large part to the insanely talented Rob Bottin — and did relatively well at the box office. However, at the time it was made, Dante was running out of money and seemingly unsure of what to do next. He told The Guardian, "I was down to my last few bucks before I got the "Gremlins" job. I'd directed "The Howling," which had done well, but the company had gone out of business before they could pay me."  

Lucky for Dante, Steven Spielberg — who served as the executive producer on "Gremlins" — had him in mind for the film and sent him the script. But when Dante received it in the mail, he was pretty sure it wasn't for him. "I was convinced he'd sent it to the wrong address," he said. The address was indeed correct, and Dante agreed to take on the quirky film. 

"Gremlins" went on to be a huge success, spawning everything from sequels to video games, and to this day, it is still celebrated as one of the best holiday hybrid horror films around. And Dante? The release of "Gremlins" essentially relaunched his career, paving the way for his other future classics like "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," and his fantastic portrait of suburban hell, "The 'Burbs." It turns out all Dante needed after making "The Howling" was a little drop of water in the form of a good script, because as soon as he touched it, his films and his success multiplied like ... well ... gremlins.