Directed by Joe Dante.
Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday and Francis Lee McCain.
Young Billy receives a rather unusual Christmas gift from his father in the form of a furry little creature called a Mogwai. Christening the fuzzy pet Gizmo, Billy is given three strict rules on how to deal with a Mogwai: don’t let them near bright lights, don’t get them wet and most importantly, don’t feed them after midnight. A series of mishaps ensures that Billy unwittingly breaks all the rules resulting in a whole horde of fuzzy little creatures being spawned, and after a midnight feeding these fuzzy creatures transform into hideous green monsters intent on causing mischief around Billy’s small town.
It’s Christmas time and I’m doing a series in which I’m reviewing Christmas horror films, and if you’re doing that you’re commanded by law to talk about at least one of the two following films; The Nightmare Before Christmas or Gremlins. Well, I hate musicals and I love Gremlins, so have a guess which one I’m reviewing for today.
In the leading role, we have Zack Galligan as Billy, a well-meaning young man who unwittingly inflicts the gremlin horde upon his town. Galligan is insanely likeable in the lead role, having a kind of affable Jimmy Stewart sort of quality to him. You just like the guy and want him to succeed at everything he does, whether he’s trying to deal with the cantankerous Mrs Deagle or defeating the gremlins before they truly overrun the town.
Speaking of Mrs Deagle she’s a more monstrous figure than even the Gremlins – seriously she’s bloody horrible. The wonderfully named Polly Holliday (seriously that’s a great name) manages to make what is a relatively minor character incredibly memorable and fantastically hateable, playing the part with the maximum amount of venom which makes her eventual comeuppance via super speed chair lift at the hands of the Gremlins all the more satisfying.
The special effects of the film are incredible and still hold up pretty well even after 30 years. The animatronics effects that bring Gizmo to life are especially wonderful, making the little fuzzy monster incredibly endearing and adorable, with every scene he appears in being an absolute delight to watch with his little expressive eyes and adorably squeaky voice.
The film’s pace is wonderfully quick with the story moving at a breakneck pace, with the Mogwai introduced and the transformation into the gremlins being quick, and the humour and set pieces flowing naturally from one to the next. My personal highlight is probably Gizmo driving a tiny little car around a department store in the finale, in an attempt to halt the devious actions of his scaly offspring; it’s just so darn hilarious and adorable.
What’s not often discussed about Gremlins is the huge controversy that originally greeted it upon its initial release in 1984, with many parents angry at the film’s rather dark tone and humour; this controversy ultimately led to the creation in the United States of the PG-13 rating, which acted as a sort of halfway point for movie content, so you would get films that were a bit more adult than a kids film, but not so explicit that kids can still watch it without being traumatised.
While it caused a controversy back in the day, the darkly humorous tone is easily the part of the film I love the most. This film really doesn’t hold back when it comes to killing the gremlins – we have them being blown up in microwaves, cut to pieces by kitchen appliances and being burned alive in an explosion, with more often than not a gruesome gooey mess left behind.
The darkly humorous tone is perhaps best exemplified in the now infamous story Kate, Billy’s love interest, tells him as to why she hates Christmas so much. Brilliantly delivered with a straight face by Phoebe Cates, the story is chilling in the manner in which it builds up, with Kate telling of how her father suddenly went missing on Christmas Eve, only for a horrific discovery to be made in the chimney.
It’s the eventual ending of the story that makes it, though, being both shockingly dark but also really bloody funny, and so you’re torn between laughing and feeling horrified, and it’s a testament to director Joe Dante, who fought against studio pressures who insisted that he remove the scene, that we can enjoy such a memorably twisted moment.
I can’t write enough about how much I enjoyed Gremlins. Led by a likeable protagonist and a fine supporting cast to back him up, coupled with amazing effects and set pieces and a wickedly dark sense of humour, Gremlins is quite simply a wonderful time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★