Gremlins. One of the best non-Christmas Christmas movies ever made. It’s got a bizarre but cemented niche among the classics that somehow stands up after all this time, although Steven Spielberg seemed to be experimenting with genres in those days. Gremlins (1984) isn’t a great movie, but slips into the A range by nature of its utter weirdness and ability to blend low horror, broad comedy, and rollicking adventure into a palatable story. This was new territory at the time and can be considered the anti-E.T.
And it’s memorable. Memorable in the set pieces, that is. Who doesn’t cheer when Mom explodes a Gremlin in the microwave? I didn’t know microwaves did that. (Good life tip when you want to dry off your guinea pigs after a bath. Don’t. Just use a towel.) Mom racked up a 3 Gremlin count all by herself in the kitchen. That’s three times better than most of the victims in this small town “It’s a Wonderful Life” setting — which is shown several times on their TVs in the background. Anyway, go Mom!
The plot’s not important
I didn’t remember the rest of the non-creature bits; that is, who these people were, or what the background was about. From watching it almost anew this week, I see why I didn’t remember anything really resembling cohesive world-building. The ‘mean old witch out to get the dog’ bit was paper-thin — and was really just a small nod to the Wizard of Oz. Billy and his family barely kept the characters moving along far enough to trash the Big Three Rules about keeping a Mogwai. Which is what the narrative pivots on.
Do you remember the Mogwai rules?
- Keep him out of the light. Sunlight will kill him.
- Keep him away from water.
- Most important, never feed him after midnight.
“With Mogwai comes great responsibility.” And so
Spider-Man Billy learns the meaning of having a super-powered pet. But not in keeping it. Gizmo is taken away, mercifully, at the end.
I forget why he’s back for Gremlins 2. Gremlins 2, as I recall, is notable for breaking the 4th wall in the movie theater scene. Remember that? I’ll have to dig up that scene, because as someone who works in the movie industry, I find that inspired.
Okay, here’s the scene. I’m sure no one really thought Gremlins were taking over the theater, but for those too young to get it, movie projectors used to play reel to reel film. Sometimes the lightbulb would make enough heat to melt the celluloid. It looked just like this, and audiences would groan and hope there was a spare reel. Sometimes there wasn’t and they’d just stick in the next set of scenes.
There’s also a version for breaking the 4th wall in home video versions. Both are different; both are cute and worth viewing. (The rest of Gremlins 2 is mediocre.)
Gizmo’s great. But then WTF?
I’d like to know why Gizmo is so sweet, when his ‘children’ are brats. Once hit with spilled water, Gizmo thrashes about in pain (which wouldn’t fly these days — it really looks like he’s being tortured) and fuzzy babies pop off his back. These wack-jobs are on the dark end of mischievous, but only become pure evil when fed after midnight. That’s when the homicides start. (And the running and screaming, as Ian Malcolm so handily put it in Jurassic Park: The Lost World.)
Just so you know, the killings are heartless and nasty, but played for loony laughs. The neighbors aren’t so bad that you root for their demise, but Gremlins assumes you’ll cheer anyway. I’m also wondering if I’m supposed to root for the teacher’s death. I may have a horrid fear of needles, but I don’t think my doctors deserve to be eaten alive. Then there’s a segment with Phoebe Cates that’s a lead doorstop in the story, when she tells an awful tale of why she hates the holidays. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Gremlins kind of takes things a bit far for a PG, family-friendly Spielberg film. But as a horror-lite entry, it’s a rollicking time.
Side note: In the mid-80s there was no PG-13 — only G, PG, and R. It wasn’t until Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out, also in 1984 and by Amblin Entertainment, that a backlash occurred. Temple is just gross. And so PG-13 was created. Gremlins would surely have been a PG-13 film too, but unlike Temple of Doom, it’s all about the discretionary shots.
As I said in the non-Christmas Christmas film article, “Gremlins is kind of a feel-good, feel-weird film.” It’s completely enjoyable on a Looney Toons level that just earns an A-. This is Spielberg being utterly strange and reveling in it. Spielberg also makes a few recursive references to other movies he’s made with Amblin Entertainment, but I’ll save that for another article.
Movie Grade: A-
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Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)