Gremlins

“They’re watching Snow White. And they love it.”

Directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg, Gremlins is a Christmas horror movie for children. What is not to love about that?

I first saw Gremlins at just the right age, when was I still young enough to find a lot of it scary, but also old enough to get many of the jokes. The film manages to find a comfortable balance between laughs and scares. It's because of this mixture of comedy and horror that Gremlins has long been one of my favourite festive movies.

The Christmas setting is crucial to the film's appeal. This isn't just a convenient backdrop for the action to take place, but an integral part of the film's DNA. From the moment we arrive in Kingston Falls, Christmas is everywhere. You simply can't escape it. The town is a picture postcard American small town right out of Frank Capra's imagination. It is easy to imagine George Bailey living just a few doors down from Billy. It even has its own Mr. Porter in the form of mean old Mrs. Deagle. The film celebrates this romanticised view of the festive period, before turning it into the war zone.

It is when the Gremlins are unleashed on the town that Dante puts horror aside and goes for all out comedy. There's an almost a Looney Toons quality to the chaos they bring to Kingston Falls. One minute they're firing Mrs. Deagle out the window like a rocket, the next they're taking over the local and doing Flashdance parodies. The film reaches its comedic apex when the Gremlins gather in the movie theatre and start singing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is what makes Gremlins great and stand out from all other little 'monsters on the loose' films like Critters. If the Gremlins had just been a group of murderous little monsters who go around killing people, I doubt the film would've worked as well as it does. These are creatures of pure mischief who revel in the destruction they cause.


As fun as they are, the film never makes the mistake of letting the comedy undermine the threat the Gremlins pose. The attack on Billy's mother and the final showdown with Stripe are played mainly for horror than comedy. But the film never goes too far, just managing to keep on the right side of family friendly. There is violence and gore, but they are kept to a minimum. Well, human gore is. Throughout the film various Gremlins get sliced, diced, stabbed, decapitated, microwaved and I don't even know how to describe what happens to Stripe. All I can say is that it is spectacularly yucky.

Columbus's early script was actually much darker and horrific than the finished film. Billy's mother was decapitated, they also ate his dog, and Gizmo was supposed to transform into a gremlin. We have Spielberg to thank for that being exercised. Billy might be the traditional official human hero, but Gizmo is the true heart and soul of the film. He's just the cutest little movie critter that has ever been. Even the Terminator couldn't look at those puppy-dog eyes without going “Awwww”. And let's not forget, he's the one who ultimately saves the day and defeats the bad guy in his little pink toy car. He may be cute, but this little Mogwai will still kick your ass.

Notes and Quotes

— I credit this film, rather than Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as the reason I had have such a crush on Phoebe Cates.


— Speaking of which, Kate's tale about how she found out there was no Santa Claus has to the bleakest, most depressing Christmas story ever told. Even having your home town invaded by destructive green monsters doesn't compare to that.

— Admit it, some of you are humming Jerry Goldsmith's Gremlins theme right now, ain't ya?

— This film has a nice take on Chekhov's gun. If in the first act you have hung a sword on the wall, then in the following one it should be used to slice off a Gremlin's head.

— Mrs Peltzer is pretty badass. She takes down three Gremlins in less than a minute, whereas Billy struggles with just one.

— So much death and destruction because Corey Feldman was the klutz. I can't believe they later let that kid join the Goonies.

Gremlins and Back To The Future were both shot on the same Universal Studios back lot, meaning Hill Valley and Kingston Falls are one and the same.

— The Sheriff's deputy is played by Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks. I like to think this the real reason why Mike Ehrmantraut left the force.

— Like most of Joe Dante's films, Gremlins has in-jokes and cameos galore. Keep your eyes peeled for the likes of Steven Spielberg, Chuck Jones and even Robbie The Robot.

Gizmo: "Bright light! Bright light!"

Deagle: "I want your dog."
Billy: "Barney?"
Deagle: "Give him to me. I'll take him to the kennel, they'll put him to sleep. It will be quick and painless compared to what I would do to him."
Billy: "What could you do?"
Deagle: "I'll catch the beast myself. He'll get what he deserves, a slow painful death. Maybe I'll put him in my spin-drier on high heat."
Mr. Anderson: "That would do it all right!"

Randall: "Well, that's the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out; before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, 'cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house."

Four out of four bathroom buddies.
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Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

4 comments:

J.D. Balthazar said...

I sort of liked the original Gremlins when I was a kid. I think it was a little too gross for me at the time. Of course my ick tolerance has increased exponentially since then, and the jokes aren't lost on me anymore. In other words it has grown on me over the years.

I love the score, and some of the death scenes were very well done. The kitchen scene in particular was awesome, and totally gross.

However, for me the sequel is my favorite of the two. It went to stranger places, kept up some of the horror, but made it campy fun. Plus it had John Glover as a egomanicial television network CEO.

I still whistle Gizmo's little diddy ever so often when I'm standing in line. I actually spooked one guy out a little several years back. He started to look around in a panic, then spotted me and took a deep breath. I waved at him, while trying not to lose it.

The original Gremlins is one of a kind, and I can tell how much you love it Mark, so thank you for the great review.

CrazyCris said...

Excellent! It's been so long since I saw Gremlins... fond scary memories!!!
Hmmm... I totally forgot it was set around Christmas! Never thought of it as a Christmas film! :p

Mark Greig said...

J,D., there's a lot of things I love about Gremlins 2 (John Glover being one of them), but in terms of story I've always thought of it as the weaker film.

PlatinumRosebud said...

I fell in love with Gizmo after watching this in the theater.

Then named our family dog after him as soon as we got one that year. :)