The Concession Stand

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: No Food After Midnight!

Warner Brothers was undoubtedly shocked when it saw the first cut of Gremlins. The slightly scary family film they thought they were getting was a full fledged horror picture with comedic touches. The licensees were definitely not going to be happy. While director Joe Dante didn’t have final cut on the film, he answered to Steven Spielberg and his production company and the only restriction placed on them was to bring in a PG film. Warner Brothers could have pressured Spielberg, but he was a hot commodity and they were loathe to make him mad. The last chance they had to get a less violent film was in the hands of the MPAA. If they gave it an R, Spielberg would have no choice but to order the picture be recut.

The MPAA provided no help in that regard. The film was given a PG. The picture went out on the same weekend as Ghostbusters and it was most likely seen as the more family friendly film released that weekend. The studio’s promotion and marketing had put the adorable Gizmo front and center. That’s why many people were shocked at some of the films’ violent scenes. That controversy, however, did little to dampen enthusiasm for the film. It was a monster success and its merchandise flew off the shelves. 

The negative reaction to the violence in this and another Spielberg produced film- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom- led to a re-evaluation of the ratings system and resulted in the creation of a new rating- PG-13- that could be used for films deemed too intense for those younger than 13 years of age but not quite deserving of an R.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: Don’t Get Them Wet

While Joe Dante was making his horror film, Warner Brothers set about finding licensees who would be willing to produce merchandise tied to Gremlins. When the licensees saw the cute Gizmo, they lined up to slap him on just about anything.

Even toilet paper.

When Spielberg’s mega hit E.T. hit theaters there was not much merchandise on store shelves. Universal and toy manufacturers rushed to remedy this problem, though much of the merchandise was produced after the initial craze began to subside. E.T. had been a hard sell to licensees before the film was released because he wasn’t seen as being particularly cute. That was a mistake since his merchandise still sold quite well once it was produced. Nobody was willing to pass up the opportunity this time, especially since Gizmo was so adorable.

While some of the licensees did have some reservations about the actual gremlin character designs, they still went forward with putting them on merchandise. It probably wouldn’t be too risky- after all, how scary could a film with little Gizmo be?

Warner Brothers would not be caught off-guard when it came to merchandise. Kids would be able to march out of the theaters and into the stores to get instant gratification, taking a plush Gizmo (or two) home with them. Warner Brothers would be caught off-guard by the anger over the violence in the film, however. The controversy would lead to big changes in Hollywood.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: Bright Light!

As pre-production began on Gremlins, it almost seemed as though everyone believed they were making a different film. Director Joe Dante and the cast were making a horror picture that was slightly comedic. Steven Spielberg and his Amblin Entertainment seemed to believe the film was more of a comedy with horror elements. As for Warner Brothers, they saw the adorable Gizmo and saw a family film with some scary elements in it.

While it might seem bizarre that the three groups had gotten such different ideas about the film, it’s not so farfetched when one considers the script. It didn’t spend too much time vividly describing the horror elements. Warner Brothers was especially calm since Steven Spielberg had eliminated the most gruesome death scene that would have taken place in a McDonald’s and decreed that Gizmo would remain alive and a hero until the end. They just assumed that Dante would stage the scary scenes with a soft touch and wouldn’t provide too many production notes or supervision because they didn’t want to annoy Spielberg. These assumptions would stir up a wasp nest of controversy later on.

Strangely enough, the decision that caused the most controversy at Warner Brothers was the casting of Phoebe Cates. Perhaps in an early sign that the studio misunderstood what kind of picture they were getting, they protested her casting because she had starred in more “adult” pictures. Spielberg insisted on her being in the picture so the studio relented. Relative newcomer Zach Galligan was chosen due to his chemistry with Ms. Cates. The rest of the cast was filled with Showbiz veterans like Hoyt Axton and Polly Holliday who added a veneer of respectability to the production. Joe Dante was pleased that he had some seasoned veterans in the cast; their presence would make some of the more complex special effects scenes go smoother than they might have otherwise with a less experienced cast.

Amusingly, the original plan was to use trained monkeys in costumes to portray Gizmo and the Gremlins. Early tests were disastrous; the monkeys went berserk. The setback added to the film’s cost as expensive animatronics would have to be used. The finicky animatronics bedeviled the crew. The most troublesome animatronic of all was Gizmo, who frequently broke down and caused delays. The scene in which the gremlins attack Gizmo was added to the picture as an inside joke. The crew got to let out some frustration on the Gizmo animatronic. 

While production was underway, Warner Brothers was preparing a promotion and merchandising package for the family friendly movie it thought it was getting. The diverging visions of the film would be on a collision course that would ignite controversy in Hollywood and beyond.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Cheer up, Giz!

We’ll return tomorrow- promise!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Never Fear!

We’ll be back tomorrow with the next part of our Gremlins Deep Dive!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: The Rules...

Chris Columbus was surprised when his story about cute little critters who turn into menacing monsters was picked up by none other than Steven Spielberg. Spielberg saw the project as being one of the most inventive ideas that had come across his desk in, well, ever. He snapped up the movie rights and began the process of setting it up at his new production company- Amblin Entertainment. Chris Columbus would have to wait, however, as Spielberg had used up some of his cred earned with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind by making the box office failure 1941. Spielberg would eventually earn it all back by making E.T. After E.T. became a box office sensation, Steven Spielberg could make any film he wanted anywhere he wanted to make it. Warner Brothers would eagerly snap up Gremlins.

Joe Dante had directed The Howling, which had been seen as a novel, low budget horror film. His career, however, had seen better days by the time Steven Spielberg chose him to guide Gremlins forward as the film’s director. While Spielberg mostly liked the script, he did have a few problems with it- it was originally much darker and violent. Spielberg wanted that toned down. Originally the main cute character- Gizmo- was supposed to turn into an evil gremlin like the others. Spielberg didn’t think that was a good idea. Joe Dante had originally thought that the film could be a low budget horror film but quickly saw that the complexity of the creatures and the vision that Steven Spielberg had for the film would make it much bigger and much more expensive than he thought it would be when he signed on.Would he be up to the challenge? Stay tuned!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: Gremlins

It was an unlikely hit film; premiering the same weekend as Ghostbusters, the film Gremlins was overlooked by most industry types despite its pedigree. Produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Spielberg favorite Joe Dante and written by Chris Columbus, the film didn’t quite fit into a neat and tidy box. Not quite a comedy and not quite a horror film, the movie seemed to be about a cute little creature named Gizmo.

The idea of gremlins came out of World War II. “Gremlins” were the personification of random malfunctions that took place in military equipment. These gremlins were the mythical creatures  Roald Dahl and Walt Disney had considered making a film about them back then, but the idea was shelved with only a book getting released. By the late 1970’s, the stories about gremlins had been long forgotten. Chris Columbus, meanwhile, was trying to make his way in Hollywood. Inspired by the mice who infested his loft nightly, he wrote a screenplay about these imagined creatures beginning life as cute and cuddly animals who turned into horrific creatures. Columbus never intended for his script to become an actual film. He wrote it as a spec script meant to show Hollywood that he could write an entertaining screenplay. Little would he know that his script would become a huge franchise and one of the biggest films of the 1980’s.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: The Queen Mary

One of the most haunted locations in Southern California is the Queen Mary. The ship was built in the 1930’s and was used to shuttle travelers from the U.K to New York City in luxury. A who’s who of Hollywood elite would take the trip aboard the elegant ship.

During the dark days of World War II, the ship became a saving grace for Jews trying to escape from Nazi Germany’s clutches. While the ship always tried to do its best at pampering its guests, the ship faced several treacherous voyages through U-Boat infested waters, which often forced it to travel with its lights turned off. During one particularly grim trip, Bob Hope did his best to entertain the guests who were facing possible death. By the time the ship was decommissioned, it had hosted thousands of guests, a handful of which didn’t survive the trek due to illness. The ship had a full surgery that would (most of the time) be used to provide medical care to its guests. Occasionally it might be used to store the bodies of unlucky guests who didn’t survive the trip. While their bodies might have been removed from the ship, some of the unlucky spirits didn’t disembark.

The ship ended up in Long Beach, California after it was decommissioned. Hollywood luminary Jack Wrather, who had heavily invested in the DISNEYLAND Hotel at the urging of his friend Walt Disney, renovated the ship and turned it into a unique hotel and attraction, offering tours and hotel rooms aboard the ship. While the ship had always had a reputation for hauntings, it was at this point that the ghosts seemed to become more active.

The most haunted room is said to be visited by a little girl who tugs at the blankets on the bed, providing a chilling “wake up call” to hotel guests. She is believed to be a child who died on the ship and is forever looking for her family. The room was never rented out for years, but has recently been re-opened for brave guests.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Precarious Situation

We have to get out of a sticky situation. We’ll be back tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel wasn’t actually in Hollywood, but it was meant to take advantage of the show business gold rush that was streaming into town in the late 1920’s. Unfortunately, the Great Depression intervened. While Hollywood wasn’t affected as much as other sectors of the economy, some belt tightening was needed and the money streaming into Hollywood was just a trickle by the time it got to the Cecil. The hotel quickly went into decline, no longer hosting the who’s who of Hollywood. Instead, the hopefuls and the cast offs found their way to the Cecil Hotel.

One of the Hollywood wannabes who frequented the Cecil Hotel bar was Elizabeth Short. Ms. Short had arrived in Los Angeles hoping to get a job in Pictures. During World War II, she helped out at the Hollywood Canteen, hobnobbing with brave soldiers and the Hollywood elite. None of these opportunities ever panned out and by 1947, Ms. Short was still crashing on couches, meeting gentlemen in seedy places like the Cecil Hotel and trying to make ends meet. Sadly Short would gain the fame she sought in life due to the horrific circumstances of her death. Her mutilated body, bisected in half, was found several blocks away in an empty field. She reportedly still haunts the hallways of the Cecil Hotel, her ghost looking for the fame and stability that eluded her in life.

As the Cecil fell into disrepair, so did its surroundings. Los Angeles had undertaken a cruel citywide sweep of the homeless, shoving them into an area unofficially known as skid row. The Cecil Hotel was right in the middle of it all and began getting a reputation as a place you’d want to avoid. The LAPD began referring to the place as the “Suicide Hotel” because it became the place to end one’s life among the locals. The ghosts of those who committed suicide still allegedly roam the halls of the hotel at night. One suicidal woman actually became a murderer on her way out; she landed on top of a poor bystander who was crushed under her body.

The hotel would continue to House some infamous people like serial killer Richard Ramirez whose “Night Stalker” murders would terrify Southern California in the mid-1980’s. Jack Unterweger, a serial killer who operated under the noses of the LAPD, stayed in the hotel while he committed a series of prostitute murders.

Do some of these stories sound familiar? If you’re an avid watcher of American Horror Story, the Cortez Hotel was based on the Cecil Hotel and many of its stories were based on incidents that occurred there. Today, the current owners of the Cecil are trying to distance it from its haunted, shady past. Would you stay in a haunted, seemingly cursed hotel?


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: The Chateau Marmont

One of Hollywood’s most glamorous and elite hotels is also its most haunted. The famed Chateau Marmont has been catering to Hollywood’s elite since its golden age. Its policy of not allowing those without reservations onto the property made it an ideal spot for the A-List to engage in wild behavior away from prying eyes. Its guest list is a who’s who of Hollywood. So is its ghost list.

Among the famed ghosts haunting the premises are Marilyn Monroe and Howard Hughes. Marilyn was known to frequent the place in life and apparently still chooses to do so in death. Howard Hughes spent much time at the hotel, rarely leaving his favorite room and reportedly still haunts the room today. The character of James March from American Horror Story is reportedly based on Howard Hughes, though the hotel from the series itself is based on the Cecil Hotel, which we will cover tomorrow. 

Guests who claim to have experienced supernatural phenomena have described ghosts who slip into bed beside them, unexplained noises and visits from long dead celebrities. Angela Bassett recalled a frightening visit in which a harmless ghost had neatly folded and put away some clothes she had left out overnight. The most infamous death to take place at the Chateau has also produced the most chilling ghost sighting.

John Belushi seemingly had a successful acting career ahead of him. His career and life would be cut short after he overdosed on heroin in 1982. A family staying in the bungalow where Belushi died reported that they caught their child laughing and seemingly talking to nobody. When they asked him who he was talking to, he told them that it was a “funny man” who was telling jokes. Remembering that John Belushi had died in the bungalow, they showed the kid a picture of him and asked him if that was the “funny man” he was talking to. The boy nodded his head. Apparently Belushi likes making people laugh, even from beyond the grave.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: Haunted Hollywood

The lure of Hollywood has been a strong one for over 100 years. Millions of people from around the world have answered the siren call of the entertainment industry, arriving daily to try to make a go of their show business dreams. Some of them succeed- most of them do not. Hollywood’s glitz and glamour are huge magnets for the living and also, seemingly, for the dead. Tales abound of the famous, the not so famous and the infamous who, after leaving the mortal world, still couldn’t resist the urge to stay in Tinseltown. This week we take a deep dive into the haunted side of Hollywood.

One might assume that ghosts would stay away from a comedy club, but they apparently wouldn’t agree. Even Hollywood comedy clubs have hauntings associated with their buildings. In the old days, people used to erect what were called ‘buildings’. Inside these so-called buildings were often spaces known as ‘offices’. People used to drive to these ‘offices’ to do what was called ‘work’. If you’re a fan of old Groucho Marx, you might have recognized the patronizing tone he often took in his later years. When Groucho was still among the living, he had offices at 8001 Sunset Blvd, the current home of the Laugh Factory. Some say that he still haunts the facility, leaving behind a trail of his trademark cigar ash around the facility. Employees working at night have reported hearing strange noises coming from rooms known to have been used by Groucho. There’s no known reason why Groucho would haunt the building. Perhaps he still feels a need to work because his brother Chico needs the money.

The Laugh Factory isn’t the only Hollywood comedy club that has hauntings associated with it. The Comedy Store has a history of bizarre and unexplained phenomena, though there’s a more interesting reason for that. The club sits on the spot of the notorious Hollywood restaurant Ciro’s, which was a hot spot for both Hollywood and the mob.

The ghosts typically seen at The Comedy Store are described as being big burly mob types, possibly confused about what happened to Ciro’s. The ghosts typically wander the building, move things around and slam doors shut. The most bizarre aspect of the hauntings involve Sam Kinison’s act. Apparently the ghosts didn’t like him and would cause bizarre malfunctions throughout the building whenever he performed. Mr. Kinison was being heckled from beyond the grave.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: Psycho Unleashed

While the production of Psycho went relatively smoothly, post production did not. Paramount Pictures was never fully supportive of the film and didn’t provide a defense when the Hayes Office objected to certain scenes in the film. Hitchcock had to deal with them himself, though he seemed to relish the challenge. When he was asked to cut down the signature scene where the homicidal “Mother Bates” kills Marion Crane in the shower, Alfred merely waited a couple days, then resubmitted the film with no changes, claiming he had cut it down. They approved the film as is.

Faced with a studio that didn’t want to promote or release the film, Alfred took the unusual step of actively putting himself into the picture’s advertisements, admonishing audiences to be on time to watch the film and requiring theaters to not allow stragglers into the auditorium. It was a promotion more suited to a William Castle cheapie than a film directed by a living legend.

When Psycho was unleashed on the world, the initial critical responses were mixed. Some critics saw the artistry behind the film, while others got lost in the gore of the shower scene. Regardless of what the critics thought, audiences went wild. The film was made for about $800,000. With Universal’s “embellishments” made to woo Hitchcock, the budget might have barely hit $1 Million. The film ended up grossing $15,000,000. It was an enormous success and cemented Sir Alfred’s place atop the list of legendary directors. Universal’s extra expenses resulted in them successfully wooing Sir Alfred Hitchcock to their lot, where he would happily stay for the rest of his life.

Even today, Norman Bates’ ominous house and motel stand on the Universal backlot, attracting millions of guests from around the world to its legendary tour. Not too shabby for a film that no studio wanted to make.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Movie Deep Dive: “A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother.”

When Alfred Hitchcock swept onto the Universal lot, he was the talk of the town. The lot was mostly being used for television productions at the time and a major motion picture from a big name director was big news. Since Universal’s Lew Wasserman was eager to make Hitchcock feel at home on the lot, the production was a dream.

Strangely enough, even a young Jerry Mathers lent the production a hand or two. In his spare time, he would bike over to the Psycho set and assist in the production of the film’s most gruesome prop- Mrs. Bates herself.

While the production was a breeze, the path forward would be rockier. Paramount, not Universal, would be responsible for promoting the film and they were not too thrilled about the gruesome, violent film.