Zach Galligan is a familiar face to any movie fanatic who grew up in the 80s or early 90s. Having appeared in TV movies and afterschool specials, his life changed forever when Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante cast him as Billy Peltzer in the horror comedy Gremlins. Since then he’s starred in a number of movies, the most notable being Waxwork 1 & 2 and the manic Gremlins sequel, The New Batch. Meanwhile, he’s prepared numerous acting students for their first audition working as a lecturer in New York. 2013 sees Zach return to the screen in BJ McDonnell’s slasher threequel Hatchet III. We got him on the phone to chat about his return to horror, close encounters with fans and how Gizmo feels turning 30...
Simon Bland: Hi Zach, so how did you get involved with Hatchet 3?
Zach Galligan: Well it was funny because I really didn’t have a whole lot of awareness about the previous Hatchet movies. There was an email in my box that said ‘Hatchet 3 Offer’. I thought it was something from Amazon.com offering me a movie called Hatchet 3 for $9.99 so I almost deleted it but then I saw it was from my agent, so I read it and it was an offer to play a part in Hatchet 3 and even then I didn’t know anything about the Hatchet franchise, I didn’t know anything about Adam Green.
So I did some research and I went to see what Hatchet was about, I went on IMDB and started reading about Adam and Will Barratt who’s the DP and BJ McDonnell who was the director and camera operator on the first two. You know, the franchise was really pretty beloved and accepted in the horror community. I thought it was cool and way better than I expected it to be because I expected it to be one of these movies that’s just really poor and not a lot of thought or intelligence was put into it but it was completely the opposite, it was really pretty charming.
And I liked the 80s throwback feel to it to which is why I imagine Adam Green picked me, despite the fact that now that I’ve met him and he’s a Gremlins fanatic - it’s basically one of the one or two movies that he’s really obsessed about. So I spoke to BJ on the phone because that to me is crucial - whether you get along with the director or not - even though Adam was producing it and was there a lot, your interaction is primarily going to be with the director. So I spoke to BJ and he was awesome and I asked if I could do certain things with the character. I had certain ideas about it so it wasn’t just ‘Boring Sheriff Number 12’ that we’d seen in a lot of other movies and it’d be fun for me to play. We also talked a lot about what it was going to be like shooting in the swamp because you know we shot on location down in Louisiana...
SB: How was the shoot?
ZG: The smartest and best thing that BJ MCDonnell did as the director was basically flat out come to me and say ‘I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be hot and it’s going to be buggy and you’re going to be bitten to within an inch of your life and there are going to be thunder storms that come out of nowhere and you’re going to get drenched and it’s going to be muddy. It’s not going to be a picnic but it’s going to be a kick ass movie’. You know that feeling of going to war - that thing where every morning you get up and you’re like ‘oh god, I can’t believe I’m doing this today!’ Whether you’re shooting in the cold or the intense heat or whatever the conditions are, I just decided screw it, you’re not going to get anywhere in life sitting on the couch, so it was time to basically get off my butt and I am so unbelievably glad that I did.
SB: I read that the movie has a little extra genre aspect to it. Do you think the third instalment will take fans by surprise?
ZG: I do. I know cast members who have seen big chunks of it, I know cast members who have seen all of it, I know cast members who have been in the first two and this one so they have the standard of comparison and the consensus opinion is that this one looks way larger. By shooting this one on location and by using big wide lenses it looks huge. It looks like a big-budget studio movie even though we shot it on a much smaller budget, simply because of the anamorphic lens. It’s like a gigantic panorama thing and shooting on location - when you shoot on the set it has a very claustrophobic, closed quality to it unless you do it very cunningly - but we didn’t have a lot of money to do backdrops and green screens. You solve that problem by going into the Louisiana Bayou, that is a gigantic enormous thing, plopping a camera down, turning it on and just panning around the swamp, then you stick people in the frame. People say it gets started and keeps going and it basically never lets up. There’s a much more action oriented spiel to it but without losing the humour and the really dark violence. It’s a pretty deeply violent movie.
SB: What did you want to bring to your character?
ZG: Well what I didn’t want to do was another version of my persona, which is just the straight ahead every-man type of guy. I wanted to play him as deeply Southern and with a little bit of an interesting thing going on with the relationship between myself and my wife because my character’s married and divorced and he runs into his ex-wife. I wanted to make him from Houston Texas and I wanted him to have a deep Southern accent and I wanted him to be a bit more like a guy he used to be, a kind of swaggery bad ass guy who’s mellowed a little bit with age and is older and wiser but still, when he has to, has some serious gravitas.
That’s kind of a pretentious word but somebody who’s got some balls and some guts because if you were really in the swamp and you ran into this thing that was capable of ripping people apart and seemed like it was unstoppable you would have your hands full and you would be afraid and you would be out of your depth. You would be struggling to figure out what to do and you would be struggling with your rational mind trying to solve the problem and your irrational mind telling you to get the hell out of there before you die like everybody else around you. So again to use the war metaphor, it’s like the guy wakes up one morning, goes into the office and by the afternoon is off to war against this thing that he doesn’t understand.
SB: Were you surprised by the reaction when fans saw your name in the credits?
ZG: Well to be honest, I kind of thought that when I signed on for this movie I would have to fight tooth and nail to get anybody to even notice that I was in it. What happened was the first thing the publicist did was call up the Hollywood Reporter and put up a piece that said I had joined the cast and after the first week of that article being on the website it was the second most looked at article. And I was like ‘What do you know?’ Sometimes the best thing to do is go away for a while and build up some good will and make people, shall we say, keen to see you again instead of having seen you all the time.’
SB: Do you think it’s because the people who grew up with your movies are now adults and into all these horror movies?
ZG: Well what’s really interesting to me is that the last four or five people that have hired me are all in their mid-20s to early 30s and they all grew up watching me and they’re all...I’m just quoting them - they’re all like ‘I can’t believe you’re going to be in this movie, I can’t believe we’re working together this is like a dream come true’. So it’s like people who grew up with me as kids who are now like ‘I want to work with that guy’, so how cool is that?
SB: Do you feel like you have to live up to a certain hype?
ZG: You know what’s funny, I actually feel the opposite - some of these people have literally watched these movies - Gremlins, Waxwork - 50, 60 some of them 100 times. Sometimes when they were growing up their mom put it on the VCR and went off to work, so they watched it every other day for a year and a half. So I find the opposite, as I show up to shake their hand they’re like trembling and getting weird and freaking out because it’s like I’ve stepped off of the screen and walked up to them and touched them and said ‘Hey buddy, what’s up!’ It’s like they can’t believe it, It’s really funny. I feel like all I need to do is walk through the door!
SB: There’s no better welcome than that I guess!
ZG: It is so humbling and so flattering and so unexpected and the kindness that has been extended to me from so many different people - people who like the films and when I go to certain conventions or public appearances and stuff like that - but the warmth and affection people have for these movies and the place that these movies have in people’s hearts - and this isn’t me saying it - they come up and they tell me. They say, ‘you have no idea how many times I’ve watched this’ I’m sure this happens to musicians all the time. People come up to them and say ‘Your music got me through super rough periods of my life and your lyrics I have tattooed on my arm.’ People are really, really deeply into something and it really really deeply affects them.
SB: Any extreme fan experiences?
ZG: A lot of people want to hug me, which is fine! I’m not weird about it, I’ll give them a hug and stuff like that. They want to hug me and tell me what an important part of their childhood those films were. One woman said to me ‘I feel like you're stamped onto my DNA’ and it’s an odd experience for me but what more flattering thing could you be told as a human being than for another human being to come up to you, who you’ve never met and the person’s like ‘I feel like I know you and that you’re part of my childhood and you’re like a warm family friend I’ve never met before and it’s such a pleasure to meet you’. That’s an incredible feeling.
SB: What do you think it is about those movies that resonates in people?
ZG: Well I think especially with the first Gremlins, if you really watch it very closely from a time standpoint if you try to pigeonhole when it was made, I don’t really think it’s that identifiably 80s - it’s associated with the 80s but the styles and the hairdos they’re not really all that 80s-ish and the town is almost like a 50s town really, kind of like It’s A Wonderful Life, which is obviously what the movie is modelled after. It tries to do that timeless quality. If you notice we never reference any pop culture thing in the entire movie so it’s not ‘Oh he’s mentioning All In The Family - that’s 70s.’ I don’t mention the A-Team so there’s nothing in the movie that dates it. So every Christmas it comes on and it’s its own little entity. You can see it today and be 8-years-old and it feels like it came out yesterday, it doesn’t feel like it came out 30 years ago. It has a timeless quality.
SB: Do you remember the first Horror movie you ever saw?
ZG: I loved horror movies growing up as a kid; I would argue I was pretty obsessed with them. Here in New York we had a channel, I’m pretty sure it was Channel 11 and every Saturday at 8 o'clock they had something called Chiller Theatre. It looks so tame now but back in 1968/69/70 when you’re a 5/6 year old kid...it’s this creepy hand coming out of a swamp, I think it had six fingers instead of five fingers and there’s chiller written in front of it in leaves or mould and the hand comes out of the swamp and it goes ‘C H I L L E R! and then it grabs the C the H the I the LL and the ER, eats them up in its hand, waves at you and then sinks down into this swamp. It’s like a 25 second claymation intro and when I was five or six years old that introduction scared the shit out of me. It would come on and I could remember going ‘NOOO!’ and getting scared and running out of the room.
But the one that traumatised me first was The Blob. The first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie when the old man finds the Blob inside the meteor and pokes it with the stick and it climbs up and he tries to turn the stick the other way and it still climbs up onto his arm. Then he shows up to the doctor and he’s got this horrible thing that’s sucking the life out of him attached to his arm and it won’t let go. When you’re five or six years old, none of that shit’s even occurred to you. That there could be some kind of parasite that could suck onto your arm and eat you or absorb you and there’s nothing doctors could do about it - that was so totally terrifying to me. It totally screwed me up.
SB: Gremlins is still popular today. Considering all you’ve been asked about those movies, do you think there’s anything fans don’t know about them at this point?
ZG: Oh I think there’s tonnes that people don’t know about it. 2014’s going to be the 30th anniversary and I’m really, really weighing whether or not to write the definitive book of the making of the two movies or not...
SB: You should definitely do that…
ZG: I’ve spoken to some people about it and I’ve asked ‘do you think there would be an audience for a book like that’ and their response has been phenomenal. They really think there is a fairly sizable, extremely passionate hardcore group of people that would be interested in reading what it was like specifically from my perspective. Not only would the book be the story of making the two movies which is fun in and of itself but it’s also, I think, what a lot of people fantasise about which is being plucked out of nowhere, out of obscurity and thrust into this hugely popular, enormous film that basically overnight transforms your entire life in the span of about 15 months.
SB: People can’t get enough of it these days...
ZG: Well the weird thing about Gremlins is, and if you had told me this 30 years ago I would have never believed you, is that it seems almost in some respects that the film is bigger today or just as big today as it was 30 years ago. Around Christmas time, from December 10th to Jan 1st every year it’s everywhere. If you look at my IMDB star-meter and silly stuff like that, I go from like 5000 to 1000 in two to three weeks, so I’m like in the top 1000 people that people are looking and talking about for two or three weeks then it dips back down to four or five thousand. I would have thought it would have died out by now but it doesn’t seem to be going away at all.
SB: There’s always talk of a third movie. Fans seem dead against a reboot though...
ZG: Yeah, well I said that they should go for a Tron Legacy approach, where it’s primarily a new movie but you incorporate elements from the old story lines in towards the end. I think the studios are starting to realise that they need to be sensitive to the fanbase that is falling in love with these things, these franchises, and they need to marry the old and the new rather than erase it all and do a reboot. Because with the exception of Spiderman and Batman, basically erasing everything from the old one annoys people. It annoys a large segment of the fanbase when there’s way’s not to do that.
SB: Do you think it might end up like a Ghostbusters 3 situation - constantly in limbo or do you think eventually we’ll see something?
ZG: Well this is Hollywood, people are so risk averse that they don’t want to take chances. Gremlins is perceived as a fairly solid franchise. Even though the second one stumbled badly in the US, I felt that was less a fault with the movie itself than it was a release, timing strategy thing where they were going to originally release it May 3rd and then they decided to push it into the middle of June and open it opposite Dick Tracy which was starring the then hottest person in the world, Madonna. Warner Bros knew as soon as they did it that it was a disaster but I think the movie itself was hilarious.
SB: It really holds up. It’s still pin sharp...
ZG: Yeah, well Gremlins 2 is also one of the densest movies you’ll ever see. Every frame, if you look in the background sometimes, there’s stuff going on in the foreground that’s meant to capture your attention but if you watch it again just deliberately look behind all the people in the front and look into the background you’ll see it’s jammed with little bits and pieces of stuff going on in the crevices and the corners, it’s a bizarre movie.
SB: Do fans ever pitch their ideas for Gremlins 3 to you or have you read any Gremlins fan fiction?
I actually really haven’t, people tend not to pitch stuff to me. I think a lot of people are deeply respectful of the thing and I dunno maybe they think it’s sort of like sacrilegious trying to tell me what the next one should be like...you know what I mean? Would anyone walk up to Spielberg and say ‘By the way I think ET 2 should be this...’ Like I’m going to tell Spielberg what ET 2 should be? So I think people they probably hold me in higher regard than they should!
Want to share some news? Click here to hit us with it!