When it comes to family entertainment and twisted Christmas movies, few films can hold a spice-scented candle to the brilliance of Gremlins. Taking the idea of “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas” to a twisted extreme, there’s no doubt in my mind that Gremlins is one of the greatest family movies created within my lifetime. But it is far from your usual family movie. It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s quite twisted. It’s also completely brilliant and continuously walks a fine line between excitingly thrill-packed and downright terrifying. Originally envisioned as, believe it or not, a much darker movie, it’s one you can sit back and enjoy with the kids, once you know that the kids can watch it without being severely traumatised.
Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is desperate to find a Christmas gift for his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), when he discovers a strange little store full of curious objects and half-hidden things. One such thing is a Mogwai, a small and very cute creature that Mr. Peltzer knows he must get for his son. Somehow, he manages to get a hold of it and leaves with Christmas sorted and three golden rules for looking after the creature. Don’t get it wet, don’t feed it after midnight and don’t expose it to bright light (sunlight can kill it). Billy is suitably impressed when the time comes to open his gift. He listens to the golden rules and then, unintentionally, breaks them. Getting the Mogwai wet leads to the creature multiplying. Accidentally feeding the new creatures after midnight leads to . . . . . . . . . . well . . . . . . . . . . . a horde of gremlins to deal with. But what exactly are gremlins? They’re devious, vicious, mischievous creatures that enjoy nothing more than causing harm and havoc. Not good for any small town at Christmas.
I don’t know where to begin with my effusive praise of this movie. With the snowy surroundings of Kingston Falls, complete with big meanie and other similiarites, we have a world that reminds us all that It’s A Wonderful Life and yet also hints at something coming to upset people in much the same way as Black Christmas. The effects and animatronics are as fantastic today as they were back in 1984. Yes, you can see mistakes (and puppeteers, occasionally) but that just adds to the charm – you know that blood, sweat and tears went in to making these crafty critters, instead of just a few mouse clicks and hours of computer programming.
The script by Chris Columbus is a great mix of darkness and fairy lights while Joe Dante once again proves just why he is a master of tone when given material of this calibre. This is perfect fare for young teens and will entertain people while also reminding them of the reasons people have for loving the glow of the cinema screen (Dante, in a bit of a meta moment, even goes so far as to remind audiences of their childish enthusiasm for the medium by having the gremlins enjoy some classic Disney material as they relax after a destructive spree).
The puppets and practical effects are, undeniably, the stars but the human cast members also do a great job. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are a great leading couple, reluctantly trying to put an end to the situation. Dick Miller = legend. Fact! Hoyt Axton and Frances Lee McCain are great, caring parents and Polly Holliday is a superb “Grinch”. Judge Reinhold is enjoyably smarmy, Corey Feldman was a great child actor back at this time and Keye Luke is great in a small, but vital, role. Then we have to thank the likes of Michael Winslow and Howie Mandel, Frank Welker and Peter Cullen (and many others) for giving such great vocal stylings to the titular creatures.
I’ve not done what I wanted to with this review. I’ve undersold the movie, I feel. But I really have no idea of how to cram in every single thing I love about it. The Jerry Goldsmith score, the tale of a horrible Christmas past told by Phoebe Cates, gremlins singing along with the seven dwarfs, the Bathroom Buddy. All of these things and much, much more play a part in just why I love Gremlins so much and why it will always be a favourite of mine, to watch in December or any other time of year.
DIRECTOR: JOE DANTE
WRITER: CHRIS COLUMBUS
STARS: ZACH GALLIGAN, PHOEBE CATES, HOYT AXTON, POLLY HOLLIDAY, FRANCES LEE MCCAIN, DICK MILLER, JUDGE REINHOLD, KEYE LUKE, COREY FELDMAN
RUNTIME: 106 MINS APPROX