1. Keep away from bright light.
2. Never get them wet.
3. Never feed them after midnight.
There are some movies I will never ever tire of watching and GREMLINS easily makes that list, one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made and can you imagine how I felt when I was eight years old and I first saw this film. Taking us just over that line into horror territory but never venturing too far to make it scary, it was one of those movies that I remember well from being young to staying with me through my adult life.
The rules of owning a mogwai were simple; no water, no bright light and no feeding after midnight (although it is never explained at what point this enforced fasting comes to an end) and yet Billy Peltzer as Gizmos owner fails to look after him and this is where the movie really kicks off from the cute dynamic between Gizmo and Billy as the mogwai now reproduces gremlins en masse with much more malicious and devious offspring.
There are scenes in this film that are brilliant even now such as the miniature car chase or the old women on the stairlift, as much as this is in essence a horror film there is enough slapstick in there to just keep it this side of being suitable for children.
Even thirty years later this movie still makes me smile, call it nostalgia if you will or even just recognising that it was and still is a brilliant movie even now. What works so well in Gremlins is the fact it’s a punk rock Christmas movie, it’s not all nicey nice and it even has parts to it that are somewhat scary but at it’s heart is a good Christmas film that is a lot of fun, it will make you smile, jump and laugh in equal measure and that isn’t an easy mix to combine and pull it off so well. This movie is all about the mogwai and the gremlins themselves and what they get up to and the cast and story takes a back seat. If you haven’t seen this in a while go check it out again, you will be glad you did.
The classic 80s schlocky monster movie Gremlins, whats not to love? With its madcap and off the wall sequel and (easily marketable) toy possibilities this should of been a wildly successful kids movie. Instead its going to make your child not sleep for weeks.
With executive producer Steven Spielberg and writer Chris Columbus on board the whole thing feels like a bit of a misstep, the movie looks and feels like a kids film. The lead has his canine companion Barney, the hardworking neighbour, the bad job and boss at the bank, the crazy inventions, the evil spinster kicking people out on christmas is just shy of screaming “and your little dog too!” to complete her cartoonishness. Even the score feels like a kids movie, it lollops along using synthesised loops for specific characters that repeat each time they appear. Today its bouncy style would probably be described as ‘Danny Elfman-esque.’ But Gremlins predates his first film by a year.
Then the problem, the film is pretty dark in its tone, and the Gremlins themselves are scary, the little green monsters terrorising the town are (for kids anyway) scary as hell. Its here where it feels like someone screwed up, as you have the (relatively kid friendly) plot of a boy and his dog finding love and fighting an invasion of monsters in his home town, crossed with a bunch of bad guys that is actually pretty scary. It seems that they were intended to be softer and sillier monster when you look at some of the scenes they are put in (carolling, driving trucks, singing Disney songs etc), but someone misjudged the overall tone. Its something that the studio seems to of been aware of on release when you compare Gremlins to its more madcap and farcical sequel. (The Hulk Hogan cameo – need I say more).
While Gremlins is probably too adult in its monsters, and too childlike in its plot, the next film Spielberg and Columbus collaborated on gets the tone about right…. Goonies.
So how does Gremlins hold up after 30 years? Surprisingly well. Unlike monster movies made in the last 10+ years, Gremlins contains no CGI, its all animatronics, puppets and stop motion animation. The filmmakers are aware of the limitations of what they can do, so they push the effects possible to the extreme. If they cant, they show enough to let the audience fill in the blanks as to what is happening with their own imaginations. It works surprisingly well, you don’t have ropey outdated cgi effects ruining the movie. The only part that really dates the movie is the Flashdance parody smack in the middle, so many 80s movies parodied it, its become a cliché.
Oh and if your child hadn’t been already freaked out by the little green monsters while watching the movie, there is always the ending of the film – “Maybe you have gremlins in YOUR house”.
30 Years ago Joe Dante gave us Gremlins, a Christmas tale of having something different and a cautious tale that Christmas isn’t all happiness and good cheer for everyone. While it’s billed as a comedy it has enough elements to push it into the horror genre, these gremlins are nasty little buggers really. Yet it also has a number of interesting sub-plots running through it, in the end giving a bit more gravitas than your average monster movie. Chris Columbus balances the comedy, horror and melodrama with considerable ease, it’s a solid screenplay and Dante does a great job of bringing it to the screen.
Obviously all done with practical effects which gives the film a charm that most monster movies seem to have lost as the digital age swept in and took over (I do miss it, but then I don’t). But from Gizmo to the Gremlins the animatronics are superb, giving the film a host of brilliant scenes; the bar, watching Snow White and the Gremlins attacking Billy’s (Zach Galligan) mother. Of course it looks dated, but it’s easy to look past that, easy to get swept along in the fun and horror of it all. Dante fuses the visual gags with some horror moments and the body count is quite high. Though Dante is careful not to push it too far, he’s still aiming for that 10+ age limit, though it got a 15 in the UK for some reason. Gizmo is brilliant creation, both for the film and for the merchandise sell through. Even kids who hadn’t seen the film wanted one.
As for the cast, Corey Feldman (Pete) who just seemed to be in everything in the mid 80’s is fine as Zach Galligan’s (Billy) friend, though it is Zach and Phoebe Cates (Kate) who give strong performances from the decent script. Cates gets that big dramatic scene just to bring the viewer’s back down to earth after all the fun of the bar! I never knew this till today, Hoyt Axton plays Zach’s father; Randall, in the early 80’s Terry Wogan used to play Axton’s song Della the Dealer and a dog named Jake nearly every day just before I went to school, boy did that song stick in my head! (just some random trivia for you!)
I’m sure everyone and his dog knows that the film was shot on the same set as Back to the Future, but just in case you didn’t, it was.
I did enjoy seeing it last year on the big screen, it’s a great film to watch at Christmas full of fun scenes, great characters and of course one of the cutest little monsters ever; Gizmo!
If you’ve never seen it on a big screen or do fancy watching it this Christmas and you live around Manchester check out The Magical Drive in Movie Spectacular which will be screening Gremlins on the 21st of December.