Gremlins (1984)

7 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In “Gremlins,” a young man is given a special Christmas present—a little furry creature that comes with three very important rules. The rules are: keep it away from bright light (especially sunlight), don’t get it wet (don’t even give it a bath), and the most important rule of them all—don’t ever feed it after midnight. But then again, it’s always “after midnight,” isn’t it? Maybe they just mean midnight to 6am is when the little Mogwai (as it’s called) shouldn’t be fed.

Those three rules are said right at the beginning of “Gremlins,” as the kid’s father (Hoyt Axton) buys the rare creature from a shop in Chinatown. His son, Billy (Zach Galligan), is amazed and excited by his new pet, which he names Gizmo. Gizmo is unbearably cute in its appearance (with his big eyes and ears) and many talents, which include singing (or rather, humming). You wouldn’t believe that this cute little thing could cause any trouble, but as if inevitably, Gizmo is accidentally wet and produces some more of the little creatures. And those things are fed after midnight, and that’s when things get very dangerous…

The Gremlins of the title refer to the form that a Mogwai transforms into after being fed “after midnight.” They’re more vile, vicious, hateful little beasts with claws and scales. They run amok in Billy’s hometown, causing all sorts of mayhem and injuring/killing many people. So Billy and his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates), along with Gizmo, must race to stop them.

There’s a great contrast between how wholesome the town in this movie is and how it will ultimately be ravaged by the little monsters by the time this movie is over. It’s a Capra/Rockwell-esque sort of town—snowy, pleasant, and yet with a hint of darkness underneath (for example, Kate has a grim overview of Christmas, stated in full detail later). That the story takes place around Christmas makes it even more transforming.

The characters are well-suited for a town like this. Billy is a nice, innocent young man—he’s very polite and looks out for his family; not exactly the hero-type, but he’ll do what he has to do. His father is a zany inventor with inventions such as a handheld toiletry compartment (toothpick, toothbrush, toothpaste, attachable razor, shaving cream, etc.)—my favorite was the “peeler juicer” that is supposed to make quality orange juice if it doesn’t cover the kitchen in orange pulp. There’s also a cranky old man who complains about “foreign technology”; a wide-eyed little kid who is intrigued by the Mogwai and wants one of the copies; and an old ruthless hag whom Billy works for at a bank. Oh, and let’s not forget the blithering sheriff who doesn’t listen to Billy’s warnings at first until he sees something that makes him believe. They’re all basic movie characters—they’re not supposed to upstage the Mogwai or the Gremlins, who are made up of convincing mechanics and special effects.

“Gremlins” starts out light and innocent before it becomes a well-made hellraiser with a few laughs as well. Mind you, there are also some truly disgusting moments—in particular, there’s a scene in which Billy’s mother disposes of some Gremlins in her kitchen by stabbing one to death, throwing another one in a blender, and stuffing another in a microwave, causing it to explode. (That scene alone pushed the boundaries of a PG rating—nowadays, this film would be rated PG-13.) It all leads to a climax in a department store in which Billy, Kate, and Gizmo square off against the Gremlin leader. I love how Gizmo uses a little toy car to come to the rescue when Billy is attacked with a chainsaw.

The executive producer for “Gremlins” was Steven Spielberg, and so while it may seem like another “E.T.” at the beginning, it’s far from it. Another “E.T.” wouldn’t have every possible thing you could imagine going wrong on Christmas Eve. This is a witty, fun B-movie with a dark sense of humor.

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