Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red
Gremlins is directed by Joe Dante and stars Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, and Francis Lee McCain. Steven Spielberg served as the film's execute producer.
The question, "Is Gremlins a Christmas classic?" is one whose answer isn't definitive in the slightest. Criticism for the film has been all over the place, being praised by some as a witty satire on consumer culture, while being maligned by others as racist and overly-violent. It's a film about fuzzy little critters that appear cute and cuddly, but if certain rules aren't followed, they will transform into mischievous little devils that will cause havoc for everyone. This is a premise that has multiple paths to possibly take, and seeing that the film is rated PG, I'm led to believe that it chose the more family-friendly path.
The horror genre doesn't target children, but if for some reason it ever does (God I hope not), there's most certainly going to be some element of silliness or goofiness to the film, because why in the world would any filmmaker want children to go to the theater, only to get frightened and then go home crying, unable to sleep for days? There are plenty of things that scare children, but if you show them that the scary thing is accompanied with some form of appropriate humor, you'll likely be able to ease their fears.
Gremlins is about as close as you'll come to a legitimate children's horror movie, although I struggle to give a valid reason as to how it's suitable for children at all. Many violent acts happen throughout the film that would garner more of a PG-13 rating, and the Gremlins themselves look like monsters produced from a child's nightmare. Joe Dante acknowledged how some families felt cheated out of getting to see a family-friendly picture, bringing their children but walking out before the film ended. Nonetheless, Gremlins experienced effective merchandising with sales of stuffed animals, action figures, and even trading cards. Merchandising also got a boost from the fact that the film takes place around Christmas time.
We are introduced to Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axon), a struggling inventor who is looking for a Christmas present for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). Randall visits a Chinatown antique store and finds a small, furry creature called a mogwai. The shop owner (Keye Luke) refuses to sell the mogwai, but the owner's grandson (John Louie), knowing that business is struggling, sneaks the creature out of the shop to give to Randall. Randall is told of three rules that must be followed in order to take care of the mogwai.
1.) Do not expose him to bright light or sunlight, because that will kill the creature.
2.) Don't get him wet.
3.) Never ever, no matter how much he may beg, feed him after midnight.
Randall returns home and gives the mogwai to Billy, which is given the name Gizmo. Billy takes good care of Gizmo, but when one of Billy's friends comes over, a glass of water accidentally spills onto Gizmo, causing him to spawn five more mogwai creatures. However, the new mogwai aren't as friendly as Gizmo, being led by a mogwai given the name Stripe. Stripe and his gang trick Billy into giving them food after midnight, causing the new mogwai to turn into cocoons. From these cocoons hatch troublesome little monsters that escape and cause havoc in the town.
- The best thing about Gremlins is how it lends itself to some interesting analysis in regards to social commentary and materialism, largely supported by how the film takes place around Christmas. In some ways, the mogwais/Gremlins are like us as human beings around Christmas: the cute and cuddly Gizmo represents our warmhearted intentions of spreading Christmas joy with family and friends, while the Stripe-led Gremlins embody how we indulge in the spending and sharing of expensive and elaborate gifts, because, after all, Christmas is the season of giving. There's a scene in which all of the evil Gremlins are at a bar, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and wolfing down loads of food. It made me think of what could happen if someone decides to throw a big blow-out party because, y'know, it's Christmas! But at the same time, Gremlins can be seen as having no worthy themes at all, being just an entertaining horror comedy that begs for a bag of popcorn and a large drink in hand. I say to you, however, the film is much more interesting if viewed with a more critical eye.
- When it comes to how dark and violent that Gremlins is, I can only think of it as a low point. Along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins led to the creation of the PG-13 rating, being too violent for a PG rating yet not graphic and horrifying enough to garner an R rating. Steven Spielberg came out and credited himself with the creation of the PG-13 rating, having directed Temple of Doom and producing Gremlins. Because of how cruel and violent that the Gremlins turn out to be, a lot of the fun is sucked out of the film, because no longer are we able to view the Gremlins as mischievous little devils that would draw the reaction of a mother scolding their toddler for making a mess in the kitchen. The Gremlins don't just vandalize buildings and prank townspeople; they're out for blood and won't hesitate to kill anyone that they happen to come across. A couple gets run over in their home by a vehicle that the Gremlins take over, and an old woman gets rocketed off a stair lift and out a window, falling to her death. You know, a kids movie!
If for whatever reason it sounds like I'm not saying that much, it's because I'm doing so on purpose. This is the kind of film that I like to leave as much as possible for the curious first time viewer, because Gremlins sticks with you well after the end credits roll. It's a neat film from top to bottom: being well-acted, well-edited, and offering some quality special effects. If looked at in the right way, Gremlins is a satirical outlook on our dual-nature as humans during the Christmas season. A lot of the violence may be a major turn-off for viewers, but the film still maintains itself as a fun bubble filled with laughs. Gremlins is not an all-time classic, but I'd say it's on the periphery of classic films, and that's something that's hard to ignore.
Recommend? Yes, though it's best not to show it to kids.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: