Here’s your annual reminder: If you have young kids and want to show them one of your childhood favorites, Joe Dante’s 1984 creature feature favorite Gremlins, make sure to fast-forward through that “Santa Claus” speech.
A refresher: Billy (Zack Galligan) and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) are taking a break from fending off drunken mogwai when Kate tells a long, dark story about why she stopped believing in Santa Claus: When she was 9, her dad dressed up at St. Nick, slipped and fell on the roof, broke his neck, and got stuck in the chimney, where he died. He wasn’t discovered until they turned on the fire and smelled his corpse.
The infamous, shockingly morbid monologue midway through the otherwise upbeat comedy horror classic has taken on a life of its own over the years.
Gremlins fans ironically share the clip around this year of year (a YouTube clip of the scene, below, has been titled “The Worst Christmas Story Ever”), while also pondering how in the holy holidays that scene ended up in the final cut, given its tonal disparity from the rest of the film.
Galligan has his theory: “If you really look at Phoebe Cates’s role, she doesn’t really have a whole lot to do in the film if you take that story and her Christmas secret away,” he told us during a recent interview at San Diego Comic-Con before recalling his memories of its production.
“So we shot the scene. She had been rehearsing it relentlessly. She had really a phenomenal work ethic for [a 19-year-old]. She would rehearse it every day. She’d say, ‘What about this way? What about that way?’ She probably rehearsed it 100, 150 times. So by the time we got there, she absolutely nailed it and did a phenomenal job.”
The executives at the film’s distributor, Warner Bros., immediately flagged it, Galligan says.
“The studio was like, ‘What is this?’ Some people were like, ‘Is this real? Is this a joke? Is this supposed to be funny?’ So we had to go and tell Phoebe that they were gonna cut the scene … She was not happy about that, and Joe was not happy about it. And basically he had final cut and when it came time to leave it in or take it out, he just decided, ‘You know what? I’m making an executive decision and I’m leaving it in.’
“So he left it in and the rest is history.”
Famed director Chris Columbus, who wrote the screenplay for Gremlins before helming hits like Home Alone and Harry Potter, shared a similar recollection with us in 2020.
Columbus even admitted that it was his favorite sequence in the film, and that both Dante and producer Steven Spielberg helped save it when dealing with the studio.
“I didn’t have much say at the time, I was just a screenwriter [and] it was only my second movie,” Columbus said. “But Joe and Steven talked some sense into them.”