Gremlins. 1984. Directed by Joe Dante. Screenplay by Chris Columbus.
Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, and Judge Reinhold.
Warner Brothers Home Video.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
★★★1/2 (Blu ray release)Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of horror comedy. While I’ve seen plenty of them they aren’t exactly my first choice when looking to watch some horror. While that’s usually the case, every Christmas I can’t help but put Gremlins on and enjoy every last moment. There’s something about Joe Dante in general I enjoy, however, this movie in particular is some of his best work. This is one movie where both comedy and horror are equally at home. Though the horror isn’t exactly savage or anything, there’s plenty of creep factor within the Gremlins themselves to fill out a few movies. From nasty horror gags to the weird and gross Gremlin pods, et cetera, there is a lot to enjoy here.
For those who’ve yet to see Gremlins, it’s simple: a father (who happens to be a failing inventor), looking for the perfect Christmas gift for his son, finds a rare animal in a small Chinese trade shop, and when he brings it home there are a ton of unexpected complications involved. At first, the family thinks the animal is very cute and cuddly, but when the boy accidentally breaks the rules of his new pet, the Mogwai, things spin out of control faster than anyone could have imagined.
Immediately anybody who watches this movie is going to fall in love with Gizmo. Even if he is voiced by the perpetually annoying Howie Mandel; I suppose he’s good at making weird noises, so that’s how he got the job. But it’s undeniable – Gizmo is one cute little furry dude. One of the first moments of horror for me is actually when Pete (Corey Feldman) spills some water on little Gizmo. The poor little creature wails and screams while his back bubbles up, and soon little furballs pop out. Eventually these produce the Gremlins. It’s just the fact Gizmo is so adorable and seeing him hurt sort of breaks my heart. Of course, things get much stranger and a little more violent later, which really brings more horror than just a cute animal writhing in pain.
I think I love the Gremlins as characters because they’re creepy looking, sort of unsettling really, but they’ve also each got their own personality. I really like this part about the creatures. They could have just had a bunch of copies, all acting the same. Instead, Columbus’ screenplay has them all take on their own character. Most noticeable is the Gremlin character of Stripe (Frank Welker). He is the leader of the Gremlin gang. Probably the most sane out of all the creatures because a lot of them seem like they’re just uninhibited psychopaths. Stripe is no angel, though. The Gremlins are bad ass. I like the fact that they’re small and yet they do so much damage. I guess the best description of them would be pesky. No – they’re assholes. Poor Gizmo, unfortunately, takes the large brunt of their non-lethal punishment: little guy gets pinned to a dartboard and used as a bullseye to start.
I really like the duality between Gizmo and the Gremlins. On one hand you have this bright-eyed, snuggly little ball of fur who you just want to bring home so you can take care of him. On the other end of the spectrum there are the Gremlins – guys you do not want to invite over for a party.
There are always representations of the duality of man in film and literature. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the most famous of these, and very possibly the real start of this trend of exploring duality in mankind through fictional characters. In Gremlins the duality is presented in a much more lighthearted manner yet still staying violent and at times creepy. Plus, no matter what the animal or creature, I always enjoy seeing man against nature in any kind of way.
Certainly nature here, in regards to the Gremlins, has gone terribly off course. It also says something about Western culture as well – the scene nearing the end with the man who sold the Mogwai really nails that home. I won’t go into it much further – better reviewers can do that for you. I just think for all the horror comedy of Gremlins there’s also a part of it that speaks to more than only being an entertaining movie. It’s worth remembering.
In 1984 when this was first released, people seemed to have problems with the cheery Christmas theme mixed with all the violence. I suppose because of the nature of Gizmo being so child-friendly looking and all, this came off as more of comedy than anything horror; a few monsters thrown in for good measure. I believe this movie actually caused a shift in the MPAA ratings system, in some shape or form, though I don’t know to what extent. It’s hard for us now in 2014 to look back even just 30 years and imagine what it was like for audiences seeing the images we now often seem to be immune to because of how much horror has infiltrated mainstream film. Moreover, the fact shows like The Walking Dead, Hannibal, Dexter, and others are some of the most popular and frequently watched shows on the air tends to suggest we’ve either come to accept horror as more legitimate than it was ever believed to be, or we’re simply becoming more desensitised to violence in movies as the years go by. Me? I’d like to think it’s the former.
Regardless, I can sort of see how Gremlins might have been a little shocking to mainstream audiences who went to the theatre expecting a tame horror with a Christmas comedy feel and instead got a real black comedy with heaping bits of weird horror. It’s genius really, to me. Dante made a pretty awesome horror movie that happens to be exciting and funny while also appealing to a broad range of people. In my opinion, kids can watch this. I don’t mean show it to your 5-6 year olds or anything, but I don’t see any reason why younger boys and girls can’t throw this on at Christmas and enjoy themselves. Even though there are a few pretty nasty scenes (one even has a Gremlin expose himself from a trench coat to Phoebe Cates’ character in expertly lewd fashion), I don’t think there’s anything that would traumatise any kids out there. Now they might get a fright at some points depending on their age. Either way, I’d have no trouble watching this with my little step-brother or one of my younger cousins. I think they’d enjoy the comedy, and while some of the horror is pretty violent there’s still an outrageous quality to it that separates it from more serious horror.
The bit with the old lady getting flung from her upstairs window after being flown up her automatic chair lift is absolute gold. It’s over-the-top yet not cheesy; it looked great on film. From there things really ramp up, as the Gremlins make themselves very aware to the police.
I think the epitome of Gremlins is the bar scene where all the creatures are sitting around the bar drinking, some are flying around on the ceiling fans, playing pool, and generally just causing absolute mayhem. Poor Phoebe Cates is stuck behind the bar serving them drinks, trying not to be assaulted. It’s absolute madness! I love every second of it. This is where Dante really shows us how hedonistic the Gremlins are, and even though they’re the villains of the film, you sort of like them because they’re clearly party animals.
One of the most enjoyable parts about Gremlins, honestly, is the score. I find myself humming and bopping to the main theme of the Gremlins for days after I watch this movie. It’s infectious really. There’s something about it that just says chaos. I don’t know why – it just does. It makes you feel like the Gremlins are taking over because the song doesn’t even sound like normal music. More like something Stripe and his buddies might actually listen to on a boombox while they’re partying. The theme fits because it’s as weird and out there as the entire movie itself.
As a film I think Gremlins is most definitely a near perfect horror comedy. They aren’t my bag generally, but this is one of the best out there. I’d put it in my top ten horror-comedies of all-time. One of the only moments I really don’t like in the film is when Phoebe Cates’ character tells her story in last third of the film. I was more involved in the story of the family who ended up with Gizmo. Though Cates is around throughout, I sort of felt like Columbus jammed her character’s back story in there without much thought, as if trying to develop things further. It only comes off as forced, and a bit of a hollow moment. There’s no real weight to it for me. This scene is only one tiny bit; in no way does it ruin the film. I just think that’s a bit of shoddy writing, and sort of a cheap emotional hook that doesn’t have any pay-off or point – for me. Maybe some thought it worked. Other than that, this is a great horror with a lot of dark comedy, and definitely one of the best Christmastime horrors there is – period.
The Blu ray for Gremlins is fairly fun. While it isn’t overflowing with extras, there are a couple highly enjoyable special features. Included on this Warner Brothers release is one making-of featurette, which takes you behind the scenes of the film with Joe Dante. It only clocks in at about 6-minutes or so, but still I liked this because it includes Dante shooting scenes, as well as interviews with the likes of Stephen Spielberg and others. It’s not hugely in-depth, though I really dig a few parts, such as when Dante discusses how his first concept of Gremlins came from a Bugs Bunny cartoon (Bugs is a personal favourite of mine). Plus you get some super cool shots of stuff like Spielberg himself sitting around painting Gremlin fingers, and more cool clips.
Also, the commentaries here are really great because there are two: one with Joe Dante and four or five of the actors from the movie; the second with Dante again, as well as producer Michael Finnell and special effects artist Chris Walas (who is also interviewed during the making-of feature). So you get a really full idea, through commentary, of what it was like to film Gremlins. I always love good features, and this Blu ray certainly has enough to satisfy any fan. Although I would like to get my hands another version, if there is one, with more features. I bet there was some amazing work done behind the scenes, and we don’t get too much of a look at it here. Still, it isn’t all bad.
If you haven’t seen Gremlins, please do so over the holidays. It’s fun for the whole family, honestly. Anybody who tells you different is much too soft to be watching anything with horror in it to begin with – so don’t be fooled. This is an excellently fun & funny horror comedy, as well as a boat load of laughs for the holiday season. I would also suggest anyone who is a fan, whether now or after seeing it for the first time this Christmas, pick up this Warner Brothers Blu ray release. You will not regret it. The picture and sound are on point (great visuals from the Gremlins to the horror gags + a wildly original score), and the special features will entertain you.
Great choice to watch for the holidays, or better yet – give someone the gift of Joe Dante’s Gremlins in their stocking this year. No regrets with this one. I hope everyone else can enjoy this movie as much as I do each and every time I put it in for a movie night.