REVIEW – Gremlins
Produced by: Michael Finnell
Written by: Chris Columbus
Edited by: Tina Hirsch
Cinematography by: John Hora
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Francess Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, Polly Holliday, Keye Luke, Frank Welker, Howie Mandel
Don’t expose them to bright lights. Do not get them wet. And never, ever feed them after midnight. The three rules about owning a mogwai are pretty well-known, even to people like me, who went a couple decades of their lives before seeing either of the Gremlins films – one of the most often cited Christmas films for people who don’t want a traditional Christmas film – much like Die Hard or even last year’s Krampus, itself kind of an adult Gremlins. I wasn’t allowed to see this movie growing up – the combination of monsters, magic, and the fact that it was a horror film were pretty critical factors in that. And probably in a lot of other kids’ lives, too, since it was a major reason why the PG-13 rating was created. Alongside Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, due to their scarier and more violent content than the usual PG-rated film, Steven Spielberg collaborated with the MPAA and created a rating between PG and R due to the films he was producing. I only ever got around to seeing it as an adult – not, mind you, because my mom told me I couldn’t all my life (that had long since passed, even as a kid). I just never got around to it until then! Luckily, I think I’ve held on to my inner child…
On a night just before Christmas, an inventor named Rand, hoping to sell his devices in Chinatown, happens upon a mystical shop where he’s introduced by the shopkeeper’s grandson to a strange, cooing little creature: a mogwai. Though it translates from Cantonese to “monster,” the little guy seems harmless enough, and so the salesman takes the creature home as a gift for his son, Billy, but only after much warning from the old man. Of course, there are those three aforementioned rules, but… those should be easy to adhere to, right?…
That the movie is called Gremlins is enough to forecast the plot of this film. The creature, dubbed Gizmo, and Billy get along great, but accidents of course happen, resulting in a whole mob of the creatures, having mutated into freakish monsters, invading the tiny town of Kingston Falls. The film walks a fine line between family entertainment and horror. The gremlins are mischievous and get into all sorts of mostly silly shenanigans. Most of the harm that comes to the humans is cartoonish, complete with silly sound effects, but it’s still somehow fairly gruesome when, say, one of the creatures is reduced to a gooey mess. Guns and knives are wielded, and it’s still pretty darn creepy when the ravenous creatures do their thing.
The film never loses its sense of fun, however, even amidst the darkness and relatively considerable violence. Gizmo’s just barely cute and endearing enough to not be creepy himself, particularly in the shadow of the grotesque mutant versions of the mogwai, and the film never takes itself seriously enough lose sight of its comedy, even when some of the stuff gets pretty damn grim. (Yes, I’m referring to that scene.) If the creatures weren’t so horrific looking, you’d swear they were Muppets. The mayhem totally prevails, and there are some amusing setups, such as the chaotic bar scene and the late night showing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The action is ridiculous but satisfying, particularly if you’re in a family that doesn’t mind enjoying a bit of demented cartoony gore.
The leads are solid, too. Zach Galligan plays Billy, a young man who’s either just about to or is in the early stages of becoming an adult. He is an appealing and generally kind everyman we can all root for, even when dealing with his father’s wacky inventions he keeps around the house. Naturally, Billy’s also got the hots for a local girl, Kate, who happens to be a coworker. Phoebe Cates plays Kate, another nice person in a town full of them (and one mean old lady who seems to own everything), but, as with all of the characters, she’s never bland, either, and gets that one particular memorable scene that people still talk about today.
There’s not much to dislike about Gremlins unless you find fault with its scariness. While you could analyze the film and see the moral about responsible pet ownership and the exploitation of exotic animals backfiring, or how the holiday season is really kind of a nightmare, its appeal is really pretty simple: It’s Christmas, it’s chaos, and we should all just bear with it and enjoy what we can, while it lasts. Because when it all comes down to it, Christmas isn’t presents or having a perfect holiday. It’s about spending time with our loved ones. And killing all the tiny, wacky monsters who would threaten to ruin it for us all.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5