You know what’s missing from the holly jolly season that is Christmas? Pure terrifying monsters out for the kill. Luckily, that’s where 1984’s Gremlins steps into make Christmas go from peace on Earth to absolute hell. this film combines humor and horror to give a unique classic that only director Joe Dante could bring to life.
In the small town of Kingston Falls, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is an average teenager who is given a gift by his father Randall (Hoyt Axton) is the form of a creature known as a Mogwai. His dad got the gift from an antique store in Chinatown with three specific rules of never exposing it to bright light, never let him get wet and never feed it after midnight. Billy takes the Mogwai and names him Gizmo (Howie Mandel). Water accidentally spills onto Gizmo causing another five Mogwais, including one named Stripe, to be born. Stripe treats Gizmo like shit from day one and works against Gizmo’s kind hearted personality. Meanwhile, Billy is still living the teenage life asking out the beyond gorgeous Kate Beringer (Pheobe Cates) out on a date and deal with Pete Foutaine’s (Corey Feldman) curiosities. He takes one of the Mogwai to Mr. Hanson (Glynn Turman) where it eats after 2 a.m. and begins to the titular characters with Stripe becoming the leader of the gremlins. This leads to havoc in the townthat disrupts the community from fires, damaged cars, old ladies getting tossed out the window and gremlins devouring citizens. It’s up to Billy, Kate and Gizmo to put an end to Stripe’s madness.
I love this movie to death and enjoy watching it every year around this time. Somehow in my own sick twisted mind do I think this is a great Christmas movie. The standout of the movie is the horror elements throughout the film. The Gremlins don’t care about how much destruction they cause or the chaos they create. Some of their kills range from hilarious with some dressing as carolers to attack to terrifying by eating people out and not in a good. The gremlins themselves are designed rather well.
I admire the look of them and the lengths they went through puppeteer wise to make these little creatures believable. They are scary little buggers and would terrify children. They also have moments of hilarity with them watching Snow White and the Seven Dwares siinging along to the songs as the theater goes to hell around them. They also have their own personalities ranging from just dumb to completely batshit. I just love these guys. Hell, in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, they took what worked before and created even more gremlins including a sophisticated Gremlin voiced by Tony Randall and the Spider Gremlin that is nothing short of nightmare fuel.
The actors take the material seriously, especially Pheobe Cates. Cates must be in a completely different film because she has few light hearted moments. She gives a scary as hell speech about how how her belief in Santa died when her father died. Her father got caught in the chimney and was burned to death. It’s an oddly depressing scene in between the Looney Tunes-esque chaos going on. Howie Mandel vocing both Stripe and Gizmo is amazing as Mandel balances the darkness of Stripe against Gizmo’s naive nature. Dante’s direction is awesome in death capturing the horrific quite well while making it seem like an old B-movie at points.
Gremlins is a fun romp into the horror genre and perfect for a break from the cliched films that will appear on television around this time of year. If you like this one, give the second one a chance. It’s this film on a bigger budget and allows for more crazy antics from gremlins killing Leonard Maltin to a female Gremlin added to the group to Hulk Hogan yelling at the gremlins to put the movie back on. Let the Gremlins terrorize your screens this season.
The next film, however, is straight-up horror and not one for the faint of the heart.