Christmas Classic – Gremlins
Well readers, Christmas is almost upon us so I thought I’d give you a Christmas treat and do a retro review of one of my favourite festive films, Gremlins. There are so many I could have chosen from. I considered Die Hard, Jingle All the Way and Home Alone but Gremlins might be that little more obscure. I’ll get to the rest in later years so there’s some incentive for you to read the website at least once a year to see what I’ll review for Christmas.
Gremlins was released in 1984 -the same weekend as Ghostbusters actually- and was directed by Joe Dante. His other credits include Small Soldiers, a part of The Twilight Zone Movie, Looney Tunes: Back in Action and several episodes of the rebooted Hawaii Five-O TV series. The script was penned by Chris Columbus who directed the first 2 Home Alone movies, Mrs Doubtfire, the first 2 Harry Potter movies as well as such classics like Bicentennial Man. He also partly produced Jingle All the Way so make of that what you will. A producer credit was also held by the legendary Steven Spielberg who apparently did more than put his name on it. IMDB trivia suggests that he had some input into the film itself.
The film focuses on a young aspiring comic book artist named Billy (Zach Galligan) who is having his potential wasted working in a bank. His boss dislikes him because he’s such a dreamer and therefore gets easily distracted. You can tell he’s not serious about his job at the bank because he keeps his dog under the desk and wears a clip-on tie. Galligan makes Billy likeable enough but he is lacking a little in personality. He seems sort of blandly charming and is so inoffensive that there’s nothing to dislike about him.
It seems that Zach Galligan was unable to use this iconic role to rocket himself into the stardom he clearly deserves. Instead he was forced to pay the bills by starring in the 2 Waxwork films and the straight to video masterpiece Cyborg 3: The Recycler. At least he gets to be in this film as well as the sequel, means he will always be remembered.
Billy’s love interest Kate is played by Phoebe Cates who didn’t seem to fare any better in the career stakes since this film. Like Galligan she’s pretty bland but completely inoffensive for the most part but there are shades of her being completely messed up. She is the girl who hates Christmas and is quite dispassionate about how much she hates Christmas. She seems like a complete Scrooge until she explains the reason for her hatred. It turns out her discovery of Santa’s nonexistence was a little more traumatic than your average kid. Her Dad was trying to surprise her by dressing as Santa and climbing down the chimney but he slipped and broke his neck then remained undiscovered for quite some time.
How messed up is that? It’s a wonder she’s as well adjusted as she is and not permanently seeing a therapist for something that would surely scar her for life. Then again maybe she is, it’s never actually mentioned. Come to think of it there’s never actually a “getting together” moment. They do agree to go on a date but that’s about as kinky as this film gets folks so I’m sorry to be the one to disappoint.
Now onto the real star of the show. Gizmo is a fictitious creature called a Mogwai and is voiced by Howie Mandel for the random gibberish he utters. Most of the time he repeats what has been said near him or hums tunes that he’s heard.
Gizmo is really adorable and every kid will instantly wish he was real. I know I did and I was sure I could take care of one. I mean how hard can it be? All you have to do is ensure that they never come into contact with bright lights, a single drop of water and avoid food after midnight. Easy stuff!
The consequences of breaking these rules prove to be pretty dire. If you accidentally spill some water on Gizmo then you wind up with some evil offspring. Why are all of his kids evil when he’s so sweet? It’s something that’s never really addressed. Is it that they are immature and haven’t learned their manners yet? Gizmo could be really old and gotten over his youthful evil phase, there is a scene where he’s sitting reading while his kids are misbehaving and he looks at them disapprovingly. It’s like he’s out of touch with the youth and can’t understand their interests because after all, it’s not the way it was done in his day.
Feeding them after midnight is probably a lot worse. It causes them to undergo a metamorphosis into a disgusting vicious reptilian creature by way of a slimy cocoon that looks like a giant dog turd. The creatures immediately go on a murderous rampage but they take the time out to just act like jerks. One particular scene involves them sitting in a cinema watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and they talk, sing along, throw food around and generally misbehave. All I can think when I watch this movie is that I’ve actually been in worse cinema crowds. Murderous reptilian Gremlin creatures are actually better behaved than some humans who go to the cinema.
The midnight issue is probably the most confusing. After midnight is fine but do the Mogwai have their internal body clock keyed to their current timezone? It’s pretty much always midnight somewhere. The sequel covers this in much more detail and asks the question of what would happen if you cross a timezone while they’re eating. It’s never answered but fans have been debating this for centuries, that’s right…centuries. Also, when does “after midnight” end? Presumably sunrise but who knows?
I suppose the best rule to break is the light one. It causes them lots of pain at worst and at best kills them entirely, though that only seems to apply to direct sunlight. It’s a pretty quick way to deal with the problem so bear that in mind in case of a Mogwai infestation. Just ignore your first instance to turn the hose on them, you’ll thank me!
Seriously though, it’s no wonder the rules aren’t taken seriously as no context is ever given for them. Mr. Wing never explains why those rules should be strictly adhered to so how many people would spill some water on their pet Mogwai just to see what would happen? It’s human nature to be curious about these things and after all, how bad can it be?
In all seriousness, the film works as a pretty solid horror comedy. The Gremlins are a silly enough threat to never be taken too seriously so lend themselves to some really good comedy situations. For one thing they fit in the microwave and make a glorious mess when they’re done cooking. Chris Columbus’ script is smart enough to tow the line between slapstick horror and silliness so you can have Gremlins misbehaving in a cinema as well as stalking people with the intent to kill. They live up to their name by causing havoc with equipment which produces some amusing moments. There is also a really fantastic gag involving a Time Machine prop that I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it.
There are other things I could mention such as the villainous landlady character complete with theme music that tells you how comedically evil she really is or the awkwardly racist neighbour but I’ve said enough already. Gremlins is a classic so if you haven’t seen it already then make a point of doing so. Even if you have then watch it again. It’s a lot of fun to watch and Gizmo is genuinely adorable. Let’s hope the planned reboot dies a death. It’s also worth noting that the town is the same one used in Back to The Future.