Monday, December 20, 2010

Gremlins (1984)

Starring: Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates
Director: Joe Dante

Don't you hate it when all you want for Christmas is this...
...and you end up with this?
Well, that is pretty much what happens in "Gremlins," the 1984 classic produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus of later "Home Alone" fame, that introduced everyone to the fury little creatures that become a big problem.

The movie starts off with Randall "Rand" Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) shopping around for a Christmas gift for his son in a sketchy area of Chinatown (I guess Macy's is closed at that hour). He ends up in a shop where he finds a strange creature called a Mogwai. He is told that there are three important rules that must be followed in order to care for the creature:

1) It cannot be exposed to bright light
2) It cannot come into physical contact with water
3) Most important of all, it cannot be fed after midnight

Gee, I don't see any of these rules being broken during of the course of the movie, do you? He nicknames it Gizmo and the cute creature is a hit with his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). However, when Gizmo is accidentally exposed to water (what a shock), five new Mogwai are formed from him and are much more devious in nature. Using sneaky tactics, they manage to get a hold of food after midnight (double shock), and multiply into a whole army of Mogwai, now called Gremlins, who go about terrorizing the town.

The movie is, in short, fun. While technically classified as a horror comedy, it is more the latter than the former. The Gremlins are not so much scary as they are obnoxious (in a good way). While they do attack people and cause a few deaths, they spend most of their time trashing the places they go to and partying. For instance, they sabotage a local bar by drinking, smoking, throwing things around, shooting each other (yes, they have guns, don't ask me why), and acting generally very rowdy. It is actually more of a dark comedy than anything else, with the Gremlins and their victims dying in several gruesome yet funny fashions (which are fair tame by today's standards). I think my favorite part is when they tamper with the stairlift of the Scourge of the town, Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday), sending her flying out the window of her house. Yes, that sounds a bit cruel, but believe me, its funny when you see it.

The most stark example of this type of format is the now infamous scene where Billy's love interest, Kate (Phoebe Cates) tells about a tragedy from her past that explains why she dislikes Christmas. This scene was very controversial, with apparently both studio executives and even Spielberg himself being very unhappy with it, but director Joe Dante fought to keep it in and that is where it remained. To be honest, I thought the scene was a little out of place; most of the humor comes from cartoon violence, not from a girl's childhood trauma of losing a parent. But I guess that is why it works: it comes almost out of nowhere to hit you over the head and then it is never spoken of again. So even though it is a rather bizarre scene to include in a movie about creatures that look like an 80s version of Furby dolls, I am glad they kept it.

Despite the viciousness, the movie also has a bit of heart to it. The characters are all generally very likable; I especially liked the mom (Frances Lee McCain) for her ability to take out three of the little bastards all by herself. And the innocent Gizmo helps bring a level stability to the madness as the one Gremlin who tries to stop his evil counterparts. Despite his problems with the "Kate scene," it becomes quite clear upon viewing that Spielberg had influence over the making of the film. It has a strong "E.T."-like atmosphere, and at least two scenes make a referencing to that particular Spielberg picture. Overall, I say the movie does a good job of juggling the different emotions of happiness, creepiness, and hilarity all within a single story.

Well, I can't think of anything else to say, so I'll just leave it at that. It's a good movie, for the holidays or otherwise, and I recommend it.