The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973; 88% Tomatometer)
This happens to be a Warner Bros movie [like Gremlins]. William Friedkin is one of my favorite filmmakers, I love everything that he does. I loved Killer Joe, I loved a lot of stuff that he did, he’s just great. But The Exorcist is really one of the few perfectly done movies. I also had a huge thrill because later in my career, Ellen Burstyn played my mom [in Surviving], so I got to know her. She’s magnificent. Lee J. Cobb is great in the movie, Jason Miller is incredible, Max Von Sydow is also amazing in the movie — the guy’s like 40 years old and they made him up to be a 70 year old man. Now he actually looks like Father Marin, but back then, he was 10 years younger than I am now. Everyone goes “Oh, Brando is great in The Godfather because he does the accent.” He was 47. He plays like a 66 year old man, maybe a little older, and he’s three years younger than I am now. Google “Marlon Brando Godfather makeup” and there’s a series of pictures of him sitting in the chair, this handsome late 40s guy, and when he’s done the transformation is unbelievable. It’s so trippy.
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorcese, 1976; 98% Tomatometer)
Certainly Taxi Driver would be on the list, because it’s probably the greatest character study ever put on film, with some of the most surprising twists and turns. It also has such a perfect exploration of the feelings at the time of the mid-70s. Politically and socially, it just captures that time in an amazing way — captures New York, which is my home town, in an amazing way. It’s an incredible time capsule.
Do you remember the first time you saw it?
I was pretty young. Too young. There was this cable channel called Uptown, and it was only available if you lived on 86th street or 79th street in Manhattan and above, which is how it got its name. To be perfectly candid, it catered to a combination of exploitation film lovers and cult film aficionados. So those types of movies were pretty well represented. My guess is, they chose Taxi Driver because it was gritty, was set in Times Square, and had an urban flavor to it. And it also had a lot of shooting and violence in the conclusion. So I would watch the trailer relentlessly and they would show Steven Prince, who played the gun dealer; he’d do the scene with DeNiro where he’d lay the guns out and kind of whip off his kind of gun dealer patter. The trailer absolutely fascinated me, and then I finally saw the movie, and I think for the last hour my jaw was open. I saw it at midnight, and my mom had gone to bed, and I’d kind of snuck into the TV room and was being naughty and was watching something a 14-year-old had no business watching. That made me think, “Is Manhattan really like that? Is Times Square really like that?” And at the time I was 14, yeah, Times Square was exactly like that. The first few times that I would go on auditions, in ’81, a lot of them were on 42nd street, and I can tell you 1981 was exactly the same as 1979 — nothing really changed in Times Square until about the mid ’80s. It was a scary neighborhood man. It was tough.
And then came [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani.
Right, and he cleaned it up and turned it into a big outdoor mall.
A perfectly executed movie; flawlessly executed. Incredible movie. And the thing — haha — the aspect of it that I like the best, is that I love the ending. I absolutely adore and love the ending, where you’re left ambiguously hanging and wondering what’s gonna happen. Kurt Russell is so underrated as an actor; he’s such a great anchor in every movie. I love him in just about everything he does.
I remember one of my fondest memories of shooting Gremlins. I’ve never really talked about this. Right next door to Gremlins was the movie that Kurt Russell met Goldie Hawn on, a movie called Swing Shift. Their trailers were right next to us, so we were on Stage 16, and Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn were on stage 15, and we were literally 20 feet away from each other. You would exit the stages and walk towards the commissary and you’d have to walk past them. We’d have frequent breaks from Gremlins because the special effects would snap sometimes and there would be fixes that were needed and whatnot, so I would go outside and get some sunshine because it’s LA and it’s beautiful. So I’d go outside and sit on the steps and play with my Calico football or whatever game thing I had, and because I loved Kurt Russell already from The Thing and I loved Goldie Hawn, I was this interloper. Somehow I’ve managed to star in a movie — I don’t know how I did it — and I would watch Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn and their relationship unfold. I’d see them chatting a little the first couple of weeks, and the next couple of weeks they would go to the commissary together. A few weeks after that, they’d walk to the commissary a little slower holding hands. I thought even then, “That’s some chemistry right there.” And they’re still together. You’d see bits and pieces everyday, and if you had any inkling about how to read body language, it was pretty self-evident.
A Clockwork Orange. I was absolutely stunned by the entire thing. That’s a Warner Bros movie too, so they’re smiling right now. That’s an amazing movie. Everything about the execution is flawless.
You would have been way too young to see that when it came out.
I saw that at a revival house when I was about 19 years old. There was a theater on 99th and Broadway called The Metro and all they did was show old movies, so in 1982 I went and I saw something from 1971 and it was 11 whole years old, and it was considered an old movie. Can you imagine seeing something from 2003 and having it being considered an old movie? That movie just blew me away. I couldn’t believe the level of violence at the beginning, then I couldn’t believe the social satire and everything, the execution, the slow motion, the way it was composed. And Malcolm McDowell’s performance? I was just riveted by the whole thing. It blew me away.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977; 95% Tomatometer)
I have to throw more Spielberg in because he’s such a genius filmmaker. There’s so many other movies that I could say: The Godfather, The Empire Strikes Back, Inception–but I would go with Close Encounters because the movies of your youth are the ones that really stay with you, the same way that the music you listen to when your brain is forming at 12, 13, 14, 15 years old is the music you always go back to. What decade is that for you?
The ’90s. Salt n’ Pepa, baby.
Oh man. I did a movie with Salt called Raw Nerve, with Mario Van Peebles and Nicolette Sheridan.
Oh my gosh.
You want a real ’90s moment? I was at the Sunet Marquee, 1997, and I’m at the bar. This guy comes up and taps me on the shoulder and goes, “Uh, hey, Brian wants to meet you.” He grabs my sleeve and tugs me through the crowd, as I’m weaving my way through the crowd with a drink, saying, “Excuse me, pardon me, I didn’t mean to spill on you,” et cetera, and I get to these couches over in the corner surrounded by candles. This is where the old Whiskey Bar used to be; I don’t know if it’s still there. Anyway, sitting fully dressed in all of his glory and makeup is Marilyn Manson. And I walk up and I go, “Hi,” and he goes, “Hey I’m Brian.” In this hair and makeup and costume, he doesn’t go, “I am Marilyn Manson,” he just goes, “Oh, hey dude, I’m Brian.” He goes on to say, “I’m just wondering if you would you sign my Gremlins lunchbox?” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “If you can get it, I’ll sign it.” He said, “Cool man. I’m trying to get Corey to sign it too.” Probably the least likely thing you’d ever expect to hear coming out of Marilyn Manson’s mouth.
It’s nice to know Marilyn Manson is just a guy with lunchboxes.
I was amused by it. I asked if he had the thermos too and he said he didn’t. So here we are in this nightclub, having a long detailed discussion about whether Marilyn Manson has the Gremlins thermos or if he lost it. It was madness.
That’s how you know your life is complete.
You know you’ve made a cultural impact, at the very least.
Gremlins 30th Anniversary Edition is available for digital download now.