It's the kind of movie that countless others wish they could be. It has a director and writer that will never be surpassed in terms of pure artistic fun and originality and if you don't buy that, explain it to producer Steven Spielberg. Between all the teen slasher movies and wacky adolescent comedies that clogged the box office throughout the late '70s and '80s, a group of talented pranksters occasionally bucked the trend of regurgitating the same stale baby-puke formula in the hopes of attracting younger audiences. Joe Dante and Chris Columbus were not your average pranksters, though...
At some point in your life you may have been told of the mythological creatures known as gremlins. Some of us are told different things, or the same things in different ways. In this household in particular, the disappearance of objects of varied importance was many a time blamed on the faeries. Gremlins are a little different. In much the same manner, during the Great War and its unofficial sequel WWII, mysterious mechanical failures were often blamed by members of the Royal Air Force on these little bastards. Watch Twilight Zone: The Movie and you will see another interpretation of the gremlin mythology in John Lithgow's segment A Face In The Window. Gremlins are Imp-like creatures that like to throw spanners in the works as opposed to making the TV remote go missing.
The 1984 movie Gremlins goes so far as to unleash these mythological creatures upon unwitting small-town America in the form of a festive fantasy comedy-horror, but with a twist on the mythology itself. Here, artistic teenager Billy Peltzer is brought home a special Christmas gift by his travelling salesman dad. The cutest damn thing ever, it's a Mogwai named Gizmo. He's like what you'd get if you crossed a kitten with a puppy, but it stands on two feet, walks, talks, sings and plays the piano. No shit! The only rules Billy has to follow is 1.) to never expose the Mogwai to sunlight, 2.) not to let it near water, and, 3.) to never, never feed it after midnight. What could go wrong?
Seriously, if you've never seen this before and you say "man, that's stupid, how dumb do they think I am to fall for that?" have a soul and slap yourself. This is old-school fantasy meets real life. It's not there to be believable, it's there to be enjoyed. Thanks to the lush production of Gremlins, it's believable enough; especially when the festivities turn to pure chaos and comedy horror, but it's still fake enough for you to want it to be real enough to the point where it can hit you right in the feels at any given time.
When Billy's friend accidentally splashes water over Gizmo, he gives birth to a spawn of furballs just like him. He's not happy about it either, because as friendly and benevolent as Gizmo is, he seems to know that friendly Mogwai are few and far between, especially when Billy accidentally feeds the whole bunch of them fried chicken after midnight, all because of a broken clock.
What results is often comical but suggestively grisly death and mayhem as Billy and his girlfriend are forced to try and save the town from a full-on horde of scaly and foul-tempered gremlins as they terrorise and murder and have the time of their lives. Nobody is safe. The town's own grouchy pensioner Mrs Deagle (who I imagine Norman Bates' mother would have been like) gets blasted through her first floor window into the street on a rocket propelled stairlift, Billy's own mum is attacked by a gremlin disguised as a Christmas tree, even the poor dog, Barney, is strung up in the snow by fairy lights.
It's essentially what would happen if all of the orks from Lord of the Rings invaded the Muppets universe; endless feasting, drinking too much, playing, singing and dancing and slaying the shit out of anyone that tries to stop them!
Trivia: In the novelisation of Gremlins, Gizmo is said to be of extra-terrestrial origin. Not only that, he's painted as a guardian of the universe. LOL though, because he can't even look after himself.
Gremlins has an all-star cast in the way that some actors have skeletons in the closet - those skeletons being the promising careers they once had. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates were big names thanks to Gremlins but that didn't last too long. As much as they're successful enough today, neither have substantial works under their belt, at least none that can be recognised internationally or away from television. If anybody capitalised on this, it was Corey Feldman, who made Friday 13th: The Final Chapter in the same year before going onto The Goonies, Stand By Me and The Lost Boys, consecutively.
Dick Miller, by then America's answer to Donald Pleasance for classic and modern horror and sci-fi, is a shining light in Gremlins as WWII pilot Murray Futterman, delivering endless moments of hilarity. Of course, he's so brilliant because he bounces so well (pardon?) with co-star and on-screen wife Jackie Joseph (Sheila), who doesn't seem to have many marbles left at all.
You can also find Judge Reinhold and Nicky Katt in there and even Michael Winslow is on gremlin voice-over duties. One of my favourite characters, though, has to be Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks as Deputy Brent. Considering he was most often known to play well-dressed thugs in crime thrillers, his not-too-bright cop in a sleepy town is priceless.
So how did Gremlins change movies as we know them today? I guess all you really have to do is to follow the careers of Joe Dante and Chris Columbus, the latter of whom became a much better director than he was a writer. Dante later brought us the River Phoenix classic Explorers, Gremlins' inevitable sequel, The Burbs, Innerspace and Small Soldiers. All of these were classics that both adults and children could really get into without them being what they call family movies today. In his heyday, Dante was a director that could go either way or alternatively draw his influences together to make something immensely original and adventurous.
Unfortunately, as time went by, the industry took his creative DNA and seemed to use it to blatantly rip off everything successful he ever did. Essentially, Dante's greatness became the prototype for many of the cliches we know of today. That's great if you want your children to be fucking morons, not so great if being forced to watch every Three Ninjas movie back to back, by your very own demon-spawn, causes you to experience psychosis and depression.
Chris Columbus was also one of the industry's most successful creators of the last three decades. The Goonies, Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire, Stepmom, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson; this guy became the fella you go to when you absolutely positively have to catch the attention of every motherfucker in the room between the ages of infancy and senility. It's really no surprise that Gremlins is such an enduring movie and that every related movie since has made a lot of money...
|Barney went on to enjoy a career of improv street theatre.|