Joe Dante talks ‘Gremlins,’ movie magic at Hero Complex Film Festival

May 31, 2014 | 9:58 p.m.
Joe Dante reflects on the process of making "Gremlins" at the fifth annual Hero Complex Film Festival (Anne Cusack/LA Times)

Joe Dante reflects on the process of making “Gremlins” at the fifth annual Hero Complex Film Festival. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

The beloved horror-comedy “Gremlins” might be turning 30 this year, but at a late afternoon screening at the fifth annual Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood, the film proved it can still cast a spell over viewers.

Not that director Joe Dante ever expected it to become such a cultural touchstone.

“I was amazed,” Dante said Saturday. “You never know if anybody’s going to be on your wavelength.”

Produced by Steven Spielberg with a script from Chris Columbus, the 1984 film, which starred Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, introduced moviegoers to the race of adorable creatures known as mogwai — and their far more devious counterparts.

The story centers on the pandemonium that springs up in a small town after Galligan’s Billy inadvertently breaks the three cardinal rules for caring for his mogwai Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) and ends up unleashing a gremlin horde on the unsuspecting citizenry.

“The movie is one long suspension of disbelief. These rules don’t make any particular sense.”

Speaking with Hero Complex’s Gina McIntyre after the screening, Dante talked about the making of the film, which he called grueling, particularly the process of shooting with only puppets for weeks on end.

“It was a constant battle of what we could and couldn’t do,” Dante said.

During the conversation, the filmmaker also touched on his subsequent movies, including the madcap, self-reverential and strange sequel “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” which features animation from famed Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones.

It was a fitting inclusion, as Dante said that he initially wanted to be a cartoonist and that the tone of the medium always influences his films.

“There’s a cartoony quality to the humor that pops up, fairly irrepressibly, in my movies,” he said.

Although he spent much of the conversation showcasing his casual wit, Dante made clear that he maintains a sense of wonder when it comes to filmmaking. He described directing as a great job and one that had endlessly exciting possibilities.

“You can create magic,” he said.

Check back in the coming days for video of discussions with the festival’s special guests.

– Justin Sullivan | @LATHeroComplex

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