Dissecting Actor Zach Galligan!


So friends, as Christmas grows closer by the day, who else is planning to (if not already) get down on the annual screening of Joe Dante’s GREMLINS? I know I am! Shite’s a seasonal must, isn’t it, right up there with A CHRISTMAS STORY and BLACK CHRISTMAS (mad respect to the late great Bob Clarke, who directed both). Anyway, at once a prime example of both horror-comedy and good-natured family-horror done well, one of GREMLINS’ infinite charms is that of the starring turn by Zach Galligan as Billy Peltzer. Dude grounds the outlandish by playing a relatable, shy, unassuming teenage boy, and serves as the perfect conduit for generations of likeminded young audiences. Of course, after such a huge hit (one that helped spawn the PG-13 rating, mind you), Galligan continued to commit to the realm of onscreen chills and thrills through the 90s, appearing in shite like WAXWORK, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, THE PSYCHIC, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME, WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON, CAROLINE AT MIDNIGHT, CYBORG 3, HATCHET III, etc.

And guess what guys and ghouls…Zach is poised for a comeback in 2015 and beyond. All that and more as we Dissect the career of one Zach Galligan below!



Pretty cut and dry here, without GREMLINS, there’d be no other work to speak of. So couple the mega-popularity of the highly entertaining if anodyne Amblin hit with the sequel it spawned, and yeah, GREMLINS is easily Galligan’s best work to date. Certainly the most notable!

GREMILNS is that rare original hybrid of horror and humor that also serves as great crossover of family entertainment. Joe Dante’s perfectly struck tone between the two genres, done so under the producorial aegis of Steven Spielberg, not to mention the ideal “boy next door” casting of Galligan – that to me will always be the strength of the film as a whole. The fresh faced Galligan, who we really hadn’t seen much of in movies heretofore – gave such a natural, everyman performance that really let teenage audiences identify and sympathize with. He also ground the film in a realism that is absolutely needed once the wild animatronic horror is unleashed by the films third act. Therefore, Galligan serves as the emotional center of the film – the foundation – and without his expressive pathos to cling to, I get the feeling the entire production would collapse.


In fact, so convincing was Galligan’s performance in the original, that he was awarded by Dante a half dozen years later the chance to reprise his role in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Bigger, bolder, and of course a bit sillier, THE NEW BATCH also afforded Zach the opportunity to share the screen with the great Christopher Lee, as well as rekindling on the onscreen flame with fine-ass Phoebe Cates. I’ve always dug the hell out of GREMLINS 2, primarily for being one of the very few horror joints to ever take place on and around Easter, not to mention the DEMONS-like single-setting of a high-rise being fully overtaken by the legion of slimy little critters.



No bones about it, Zachy G. has appeared in some straight-up stink-bombs over the decades. Try these titles on for size, beginning chronologically in the late 80s: MORTAL PASSIONS, RISING STORM, ZANDALEE, ALL TIED UP (video), ICE (starring Traci Lords), STORM TROOPER (video), POINT DOOM, G-MEN FROM HELL…and that’s just a few. Really, have you seen any one of those flicks, much less have a kind word to say about a single one of them? Well, there is one “worst-of” in Galligan’s vitae that I have seen, and yup, it’s nothing short of abysmal dreck. Ladies and gents, I give to you the 1994 video release of CYBORG 3: THE RECYCLER!

Now, full disclosure, at least Galligan got to work with solid acting vets like Malcolm McDowell, William Kat and Richard Lynch. That said, CYBORG 3 is little more than a flaming trash-heap, one Zach takes top billing in. And what smarts even more, I’m sure? The fact that Angelina Jolie, who basically made her screen debut a year earlier in CYBORG 2, turned down the role reprisal of her character Cash in THE RECYCLER. Tough pill to swallow! Even so, CYBORG 3 is about as chintzy and uninspired as one can imagine.



To be honest, I’m not really sure here. It’s a tough one, isn’t it? What would you characterize Galligan’s calling card as? I guess you could say he’s the GREMLINS guy, but that feels slightly reductive if not completely tautological. Perhaps early on you could cite Zach’s boyish charm and family appeal, but even that gets subverted with age and each passing project. We could go all meta and say his trademark is not having a trademark at all, and it’s precisely that unpredictable nature that stands out most. I think the most appreciative recurrence though his Galligan’s lifelong dedication to the onscreen genre realm – big screen or small, sci-fi or horror – dude’s done it all. And done it well!



I feel pretty good about appraising TWO particular gems in Galligan’s filmography. The first is the 1991 George Mihalka psychological-slasher joint called THE PSYCHIC, and the other is the oft-panned 1992 horror sequel WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME. Let’s get down to it!

First off, anyone who knows and loves George Mihalka’s slasher classic MY BLOODY VALENTINE as much as I do might have an appreciation for THE PSYCHIC and its similar sensibilities. Though clearly hampered by the PC filmmaking climate of 1991, certainly opposed to when he made MBV in 1981, THE PSYCHIC is actually a tightly woven little horror yarn. I suggest peeping it if you’ve not already. Here’s the setup. When a nasty rash of brutal murders threatens the well being of a small cottage community, a young man with intense clairvoyant visions of said murders becomes the key suspect. Galligan gets top billing as Patrick, the disturbed soothsayer in question. And you know what, Galligan does a good job playing a darker character than we’re used to seeing, even with some subtle shading and emotional stretching we haven’t really seen him do before. Definitely one of his standout performances in one of the better unknown films under his belt.


Likewise, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME is also a good deal of underrated fun. Now, I suppose I could have just as easily called out the 1988 original (well, prequel I guess, as the true OG WAXWORKS came out in the 20s), but I’m guessing that one is a tad too well known. Look, we all know horror sequels often connote inferiority, and maybe my assessment of LOST IN TIME is a result of low expectations, but seriously, when I popped in WAXWORK II for the very first time just a few years ago, I had a fucking blast! Great pacing, some solid FX, some foul bits of gore, and a legit starring continuous turn from Galligan. As he did with GREMLINS so seamlessly, Zach slid right back into the role with ease and effortlessness.


It’s comforting to know that, after only appearing in three pictures since 2011, Galligan actually has a pair of upcoming genre movies in the pipeline. Peep it…

The first flick Galligan is attached to star in, currently in preproduction, is called THE CHAIR. The flick comes from writer/director Chad Ferrin (THE GHOULS, SOMEONE’S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR), and looks to co-star Roddy Piper, Naomi Grossman, Noah Hathaway and Bill Oberst Jr. Here’s the synopsis:

THE CHAIR follows the story of Richard Sullivan, an innocent man struggling to escape execution on death row. Witnessing the torture and murder of his fellow inmates at the hand of the prison’s sadistic and psychotic Warden, Sullivan decides that the only way to survive is to fight back. But as he matches the savagery and brutality occurring in the prison, Sullivan is forced to come face to face with his own sanity.

Expect THE CHAIR to be crafted sometime in 2015.

Also, and it’s worth noting this is merely in the “announced” camp at this juncture, Galligan may play a role in the 2016 Stuart Wahlin thriller SLAY UTTERLY. And again alongside Bill Oberst Jr.

“Slay Utterly” is a modern adaptation inspired by the infamous 1912 ax murders in Villisca, Iowa. At the center of the story is an FBI agent who links the gruesome massacre to others throughout the nation’s heartland. Faced with challenges resulting from poorly-controlled rural crime scenes, the agent struggles to stay on the bloody trail of the brutal “Ax Man,” who spares no one in his path.

Sounds pretty badass to me, especially being based on a true event. No word if and when SLAY UTTERLY will hit production, but keep it here as we’ll likely update on the flick as it moves along. In the meantime, which of the two Galligam up and comers interests you more: THE CHAIR or SLAY UTTERLY?



30 years after charming the world in the mega-family hit GREMLINS, Zach Galligan continues, to this day, to champion the film genre that gave him his name. With a checkered body of genre work dating back three decades – a whole host of both good and bad – it’s really, truly pretty damn cool to see Zach sill involved in a number of genre joints in as we move into 2015. Speaking of, whatever the future holds for Galligan, it will always be flicks like GREMLINS, WAXWORK, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME and THE PSYCHIC that I will always remember the dude for. How about you?

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.