Back in 2011 Steven Spielberg revealed that his beloved family film E.T. The Extraterrestrial came very close to being a nightmarish horror. The director told Entertainment Weekly of his 1982 classic:
"It was going to be called Night Skies, based on a piece of UFO mythology... where a farm family reported little spindly grey aliens attacking their farm, even riding cows in the farmyard. This farm family basically huddled together for survival... It's a story that's well-known in the world of ufology, and we based our script on that story."
Spielberg was, of course, referring to the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter of 1955, which is considered to be one of the most significant and bizarre UFO cases on record. It is also one of the best-documented.
Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly that he even went so far as to hire legendary effects designer Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) to bring the impish Hopkinsville Kentucky aliens to life on the big screen, adding that E.T. only transformed into a family film when Harrison Ford's then-girlfriend Melissa Mathison came onboard to rewrite the screenplay. "Melissa didn't want to write it,” Spielberg said, “I needed Harrison and all of us to talk her into it."
Now, Rick Baker has revealed some of his original creature designs for the aborted Night Skies project, and they give us a creepy glimpse of what audiences could have been in for...
Clearly, the above design from 1980 closely resembles the E.T. that would grace our screens two years later in Spielberg’s iconic movie, although this little guy (named Buddy) looks rather more menacing than the interplanetary mushroom farmer we know and love today. Perhaps, then, it is Rick Baker who should be credited with designing E.T., rather than Carlo Rambaldi, the Italian special effects artist who eventually got the glory.
Other aliens designed by Baker for Night Skies went by names like Squirt and Scar... and if all this is seeming a little Gremlins-esque, that’s because Night Skies morphed into the Spielberg-produced Gremlins in 1984, in which a small American town is besieged by impish creatures bearing a striking resemblance to the Hopkinsville creatures of UFO lore.