13 Days of Christmas 10: Gremlins

Posted: December 20, 2011 by StayFrosty in Film, Reviews

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Ten Mogwai Creeping, Nine Obscene Phone CallsEight Santas BleedingSeven Cookies SnarkingSix Trees-a-Slaying… FIVE GARBAGE DAYS!… Four Naked ElvesThree Death CarsTwo Curling Duels and a Hell Goat in a Pear Tree

Jenny: Director Joe Dante (The Hole, The ‘burbs, Innerspace) and writer Chris Columbus (The Goonies, the Harry Potter series), a dream team of comedic genre work, created Gremlins (1984). The film stars Zach Galligan (the Waxwork series), Phoebe Cates (Drop Dead Fred), Corey Feldman (The Goonies, The Lost Boys, Stand by Me) and a delightful pack of troublesome creatures designed by Chris Walas.

A man buys a Mogwai as a Christmas present for his son. The young boy is told to keep the pet away from water, out of the light and never to feed it after midnight. Inadvertently, the creature is dampened and almost instantly, produces half a dozen furry replicas of itself –which continue to multiply and turn the small town upside-down.

StayFrosty: I was told that writing “Gizmo is adorable” over and over again wouldn’t make for a proper review, so my first idea had to be scrapped.  But the adorableness of the little Mogwai does tie in to part of what makes this movie so great – the excellent and endearing use of puppetry.  From Gizmo (did I mention he is adorable?) to the other Mogwai to the Gremlins, these puppets have personality and still seem up to date.  While watching this, JennyD, Crow and I talked a lot about CGI and how it can be used effectively, but sometimes there is no substitute for knowing that the cute and/or villainous critters are there in the frame with the actors.

Gremlins holds up in part because it rides the line of horror and comedy, something that is infinitely difficult and often unsuccessful.  But in this case, Dante gets the tone just right.  I laughed a lot this time around, but I also recalled many moments from my youth that scared the crap out of me.  I love that he chose to use “the happiest time of year” as a backdrop for the ensuing chaos with the Mogwai/Gremlins and their assault on the town.  Even though this is ostensibly a movie for young people, there is no shortage of blood (or green goop, in the case of the Gremlins).  These monsters are out for blood, and Dante isn’t afraid to kill people and Gremlins alike.  The best deaths are reserved for the Gremlins – a kitchen fight with Billy’s mom ends with one in a blender and one in the microwave.  Billy’s mom is not kidding around.

Make no mistake, this is one of those special movies for us monster kids, and for some was likely a gateway into the world of horror.  It is funny, scary, touching, and holds up more than 25 years later.  Highly recommended.

Crowbait: I was too afraid of Gremlins to watch it when it first came out. I think it was my first PG-13 film and that was new and dangerous ground for me at the time. It really is a fun time though and it definitely is the “kid’s” Joe Dante film. The balance of humor and horror is perfect here and held up by performances that are never outside the Christmas parable framing of the story where bad things happen to good people but deadly things happen to the bad people. The theme is delightfully raucous when it hits it’s stride demonstrating that Jerry Goldsmith is a genius regardless of the scale of a film, epic or intimate.

  1. Frank says:

    I watched an interview with Joe Dante on TCM this weekend where he explained that they were just trying to make a simple 80s monster movie and how they set it during Christmas almost as an afterthought – still, it’s one of my go-to Christmas movies. Amazing!

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