Release Date: June 8th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Joe Dante Actors: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Harry Carey Jr.
s with many creature features, the innovative titular monsters (here, the Gremlins and the cuddly little Gizmo) are more memorable, iconic, and influential (and merchandise-driven) than the lead characters or the movie itself. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg (known for more carefully choosing projects during the ‘80s than in recent years), the film is not without its highlights, humorous moments, and terror-filled showdowns. But it runs overlong and the predicaments caused by disobeying the three principle rules for Mogwai caretaking result in a tedious third act. Written by Chris Columbus (“The Goonies,” “Home Alone,” “Adventures in Babysitting”) and directed by Joe Dante (“Piranha” , “The Howling,” “Explorers”), the film possess a clever darkness to it (as if the cast of “Sesame Street” was transported to the world of “Blue Velvet”), though having characters redundantly battle the alien troublemakers for the majority of the running time doesn’t create a cult classic that can transcend mere effects-heavy visuals.
Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), an inventor whose creations never seem to function properly for very long, narrates the film as he makes his way into a small Chinese emporium and purchases a tiny creature – against the shop owner’s wishes. Three major maxims exist for the mysterious, cute, and clever Mogwai: don’t expose him to light, don’t get him wet, and never, ever feed him after midnight. Upon receiving the little critter as a gift, Randall’s son William (Zach Galligan), a timid bank clerk, quickly sets about breaking all three rules. In short order, the Mogwai, nicknamed Gizmo, has spawned countless other malevolent furballs, called Gremlins, that metamorphose into reptilian atrocities and run amok – and it’s up to Billy and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) to save the unwitting townsfolk.
The underlying message is spelled out for the viewer toward the conclusion, informing audiences that William and his family did with the Mogwai what society has done with all of nature’s gifts. Failing to understand it, not retaining any accountability for mistreatment, and being wholly unready for such great responsibility can only lead to corruption and chaos. It’s not terribly far removed from the standard examination of a superhero’s super powers, aided by authority figures (primarily the sheriff’s department) expectedly refusing to acknowledge the danger. Never has the annihilation of an entire town (dubbed the “Christmas Eve Riots”) come in such a darkly humorous form (except, perhaps, for the apocalyptic marshmallow juggernaut in “Ghostbusters” from the same year).
“Gremlins” is wittily set against a Christmas theme, contrasting the generally enjoyable holiday spirit with black comedy and semi-horror elements. It’s further fueled with brutally gruesome makeup effects (along the lines of “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s” melting-face ghastliness) for predominantly animatronic puppets, which are occasionally mixed with stop-motion animation. A human villain arrives in the form of wicked witch stereotype Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), while no-holds-barred fight sequences flesh out the shocks (including a firefight in a department store and a green-blood-filled melee in the kitchen that makes use of various household items for repulsive revenge). For its efforts, “Gremlins” is a singular, thrilling anti-Christmas product, effectively mocking other no-nonsense evil alien endeavors to become a staple of the horror comedy subgenre.
– Mike Massie