It was a good night to see the special showing of Gremlins (1984) yesterday, the air was wet with a fog that shimmered with tiny frozen particles that would not have looked out of place on an 80’s Hollywood back lot. The movie itself is filled with snow and fog as it is set at Christmas. Most of the guys I work with came to see it, and there was a huge amount of excitement beforehand. Gremlins was on late night TV a lot in the 90’s and many had been fans of it since their youth. Gremlins is unique in that it is essentially a comedy, horror, Christmas movie. In many ways it is as sentimental as the Home Alone’s of this world (directed by Chris Columbus) and based on a lot of the content of the movie Gremlins could easily be interpreted as a kids film. But then there are the dead bodies… Gremlins is a much more sinister film when you scratch beneath the surface.
This unique mix of Spielbergian childhood joy and what is often referred to as ‘nasty’ 80’s style horror (my favourite kind) could be down to the mash up combination of director Joe Dante, best known for horror classic The Howling (1981) and writer (and now director/producer) Chris Columbus famed for kids classics The Goonies (1985) and the first two Harry Potter films. Gremlins is produced by Mr. Spielberg and if you look at a lot of his 80’s and 90’s output many of his family orientated blockbusters including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Jurassic Park (1993) to name just a couple contain some dark moments, and even moments of horror especially where the later film is concerned. But Gremlins goes further somehow, tipping the scales. It can’t really be called a kids film as it is still to this day rated 15! Time for a brief pot synopsis:
Billy Peltzer is a good, hard working young man experiencing the normal problems all teenage boys have getting along like a car that doesn’t always start, running late for work, and a wicked old woman wanting to take his dog away (in what can only be interpreted as a reference to The Wizard of Oz, just one of many film references) It’s almost Christmas and Billy’s dad, an equally hard working but eccentric inventor, decides to cheer his son up with an extra special present. Whist on a trip to China town Mr. Peltzer finds himself inside an out of the way antiques shop run by a mysterious old man and his grandson. There, attracted by it’s singing, he comes across an adorable furry Mogwai in a box. Impressed by the unusual nature of the creature Mr. Peltzer attempts to buy the animal as a pet for his son. The old man refuses stating that the Mogwai is a big responsibility but his grandson sneaks out and sells the animal to him anyway as they need the money. He tell Mr. Peltzer the three important rules needed to care for the creature; Don’t expose him to bright light, especially not sunlight. Don’t get him wet. And most importantly don’t feed him after midnight. These rules are passed on to Billy when he receives the mugwai, now named Gizmo, as a present but an accident occurs and Gizmo gets wet. The water causes Gizmo to multiply. The new Mugwai look just as innocent as Giz but their behaviour is more unpredictable. The new Mugwai, with Stripe as their leader, cook up a plan to get fed after midnight, the feeding causes them to change into scaly, nasty Gremlins (Gizmo is still a friendly Mugwai) that run around causing havoc and bumping people off.
Up until a third of the way in Gremlins is all nice and ‘cutesy,’ with Gizmo singing and pulling faces. As soon as Billy gets a little careless or irresponsible if you like, he is quickly faced with the consequences, the Mugwai become Gremlins and the film get much darker. There are a few human deaths hinted at. We see the lower half of a presumably dead body on the floor and we see a couple of other characters about to meet their demise. Billy’s mother is quite viciously attacked by the Gremlins in a carefully built up scene that contains what the BBFC would probably describe as ‘threat.’ Billy arrives to save her just in time. Most of the violence which likely contributed to the age rating of the film happens to the Gremlins themselves. We see one ‘blended,’ and another cooked in the microwave. There was also a great moment where love interest Kate reveals to Billy the really reason behind her dislike of Christmas which caused one of our party to break into a 5 minute laughing fit. There is defiantly an undertone to Gremlins which, though perfectly complimented by the black humour of the film, reminds me as I mentioned of the 80’s ‘nasty,’ or as Murry put it; at some point it feels as if something is missing, or vacant that you just can’t put your finger on and that knowledge leaves you with a creepy, unsettled feeling.
Before the showing yesterday I had seen bits of Gremlins and bits of Gremlins 2 (1990) a long time ago but I was looking forward to seeing it properly the whole way through, and I wasn’t disappointed. Gremlins has a lot of things going for it. Firstly it was made in 1984, 1984 was a good year, I was born for a start. Gremlins is in my opinion hugely charming, hilarious and disturbing which is usually all I want out of a film. It also manages to have heart unlike a lot of it’s contemporaries which is why it has endured. As we sat in the pub afterwards looking out at a landscape that can only be described as that of Silent Hill we discussed the main plot holes; Why don’t the Gremlins multiply when they touch snow, which is essentially water? Why did Corey Feldman have such a small role? But at the back of my mind I just kept thinking; ‘why don’t they make films like that nowadays?’
Well, that’s the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out; before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, ’cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house.
– Randall Peltzer