I recently had the opportunity to see Gremlins on the big screen for the first time ever, I’ve seen the movie on television, but there’s nothing is quite like watching it all at the huge venue, and great surround sound features. Then seeing it with a cross-section of the public, parents likely those who saw it as a child or teen bringing their children, it is always interesting who comes out for these special anniversary engagements the same thing happened at a packed theater for Ghostbusters this past summer of 2019. What is incredible is these two movies Gremlins and Ghostbusters both originally appeared on the same day in June, the latter one though achieved a stellar height and popularity while the other earned a cult following. Gremlins, brings its own charm, with light horror in places, though a body count does become established, and a few comedic scenes occur to both the humans and creatures. If one wonders why director Joe Dante (Piranha  and The Howling ) a fan of monster movies, didn’t achieve greater acclaim, perhaps because the film’s setting is Christmas, the release date was June 8, an unwise move by the Warner Brothers studio, however likely they wanted to cash-in on the summer box office. Joe’s film came from the capable hands and mind of Chris Columbus who also wrote the sequel and went to become director & producer in some of the Harry Potter films too. The charm of the movie still exists along with the delight of the story, that lets the monster breathe, roam, and cause a multitude of chaos in a film filled with character roles, and thick cheesy scenes, although one needs to look for a lot little reference to Dante’s passion the bygone era of horror flicks. Even though Christmas has passed on, this film is noted in the massive article I did on this site, which encompass the Holiday Horrors, likely nearly impossible to find any channel playing it, again obscurity reigns supreme when it comes this flick.
The Rules for owning a Mogwai (which in Cantonese means gremlin or demon):
- Never get them wet. (*1)
- Keep them away from bright lights.
- And no matter how much they cry. No matter how much they beg. Never, ever feed them after midnight.
It’s 35-years (at the time of this review’s publishing) and I still recall these rules, and since then parents given similar instruction to their children over pets, though none likely this kind of dangerous animal. Face it, the movie was never intended for a serious set-up, all done in good fun, as the small community mirrors the same of Back to the Future (1985). As for the plot simple enough Billy Peltzer, (Zach Galligan (Waxwork )) a 20-something bank employee, lives with his mother (Frances Lee McCain (Scream )) and his father, Randall (Hoyt Axton (King Cobra )) who is a traveling salesman and inventor. While Randall is making his way home for Christmas and trying to find that unique gift for his son, stumbles upon an antique store run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke (Godzilla Raids Again )) who won’t sell the Mogwai due to the great responsibility that is needed for its care, however his grandson sells the animal thereby we learn the rules. Once home he presents the gift, and there we, the audience, meet cute and very cuddly Gizmo (voice supplied by Howie Mandel) and once more we learn of the rules again. Now the horror fans know how important these rules are, and also that danger is lurking close by ready to have blood drops on snow. It doesn’t take long until Billy breaks the rules, first bright light exposure on day one, by day two Gizmo has water spilled on him, spawning five more mogwais, which Billy repeats again later in the movie. Meanwhile he is very interested in Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), and can’t understand why she hates Christmas and has a problem like everyone else a with the town shrew Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday). Next, he enjoys breaking the rules as he takes one the furballs to his high school science teacher Roy Hanson (Glynn Turman), a horror cliché moment found in the 1950s monster movies, such as Tarantula (1955) he experiments of the sixth monster and the teacher also ignores the rules. A group of secondary character actors fill out the edges of the film such as Sherriff Frank (Scott Brady (The Night Strangler )) and of course trusted favorite of Dante, is Dick Miller (Chopping Mall )) as a nutty neighbor Murray Futterman, your believes foreign products are filled with gremlins i.e. bad parts; and lastly a wonderful appearance by Kenneth Tobey (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ).
Let’s dive further into the movie which seems to portray a naughty and good list of characters, namely Gizmo, Mr. Wing, Mrs. Peltzer, Barney, the family dog (portrayed by Mushroom (Pumpkinhead )) and Mr. Futterman are on the good list while Billy and almost the rest of band of characters are definitely on the naughty to various degrees, with Stripe (voice supply by Frank Welker) leading the hooligan gang of Gremlins. The gremlins truly become the street-gang looting, shooting, burning, attacking and killing townsfolk, when Billy and Kate emerge from the bank it appears as a war took place, the cars in place are destroyed and abandoned. The bar scene is quite comical; however one should wonder why Kate stays in the bar when Stripe and the gang showed up, and there’s spillage of drinks on the them, and why they don’t freak out or start multiplying. In the film’s climax, an add-on scene made it into the movie as homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), noting the effectiveness of it still lays in debate with the fans. Nevertheless, the film plays an opening card for Joe Dante’s love affair with monster movies of the 1950s where audience’s innocence still existed the closing of the card comes from him with Matinee (1993).
First, the gremlins show some of the best puppetry skills, and quite frankly if made today CGI would likely ruin these techniques, aided by practical effects shows a dazzling array of entertainment. In watching the movie, it’s clear that the human actors are more of secondary characters to the two main stars Gizmo and Stripe, and his merry bunch gremlins, the actions and antics of them take center stage and we become more fascinated of what will happen next as they get involved with electronic and mechanical items in one small town and community. However Dante’s film helps by wonderful cinematography by John Hora, who worked before with Joe on The Howling, and knew what he wanted as, always help when someone knows that bond and eye because may have one take to get it right. In addition, we can’t overlook the film score from Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen [1976) as he created wonderful sequences and original scores, but incorporated the treasure classic from Bing Crosby’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” into the kitchen scene and carried over feel of the 80s synth music as well as mixing back to the 1950s monster movie tones.
Some state correctly that Gremlins instituted a return to monster themed movies, namely the small size ones, it actually gave birth to a complete subculture of them, although one such film that isn’t included in this grouping is C.H.U.D. (1984) many trying to incorporate the film, it has nothing to do with this subgenre set. However films such as Ghoulies (1985), Critters (1986), Hobgoblins (1988), Munchies (1987), and Spookies (1986), and countless more, though it doesn’t include puppets and dolls those are vastly different.
When it comes to the horror for the holidays, the true fans choose Black Christmas (1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), but those who seek something for the whole family that is a little raunchy like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) I mention that one because it has a few horror references, but in all seriousness this flick has enjoyment for all. Face it the horror comes after man shows his neglect and irresponsibility basically the gremlins bite the hand that fed them, giving the gift of death. In 1990 the Gremlins returned for a weaker sequel that starred Christopher Lee, but in all that, many waited for a third installment, until then many enjoy the steelbook, Blu-rays or even the 4K-UHD along with all the new merchandise of late for the fans.
Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous.
You can’t get burned seeing ‘Gremlins’!
Steven Spielberg presents
Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous. [Crossed Out] We’re Here!
What you see… isn’t always what you get.
The Gremlins Are Coming!
Don’t get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never feed him after midnight.
They didn’t obey the rules
We’re Back! (1985 re-release)
(*1) – A pure note of humor The Nazgul also share the same rule of never getting the wet, or that they have fear of water – Lord of the Rings books.
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)