My Favorite Movies – Gremlins (1984)

3 Dec

By Tanner Smith

“Die Hard” is technically a Christmas movie, but I’ll watch it anytime. “Gremlins,” however…even though it was initially released in the summertime, it just feels right to watch only in Christmastime. (That’s probably just me though.)

I DO think of Christmas when I think of “Gremlins.” The pleasant small-town setting looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. Christmas tunes are either hummed by characters or played in the playground. It even begins with the adorable little creature Gizmo being given as a Christmas present.

But I guess I can see why some people don’t like to associate “Gremlins” with the holiday season. The little red-eyed monsters attack Santa Claus, they tie up the dog outside in Christmas lights (poor pooch), and then there’s that random hella tragic speech about how the female lead found out there was no Santa Claus!

But that’s kind of why I love to watch this movie each Christmas too. I already have “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story,” “Arthur Christmas,” and whatever “Christmas Carol” adaptation I feel like watching–why not a twisted horror-comedy about little monsters raise hell in a quiet little town on Christmas? I need a little variety! (And hey, why not a little dark comedy like “Bad Santa” or “The Land of Steady Habits” to go along with it? Those take place on Christmas too.)

“Gremlins” is a Spielberg production directed by Joe Dante (who made another favorite of mine: “Matinee”). It begins with a Spielbergian touch as young adult Billy (Zack Galligan) cares for his new pet, a strange big-eyed little creature called a Mogwai, named “Gizmo.” Right off the bat, Gizmo is freaking adorable–he reminds me of my late beloved Shi Tzu puppy.

But there are rules that come with owning a Mogwai: keep it away from bright lights (and sunlight will kill it), don’t get it wet (just let it clean itself like a cat), and NEVER feed it after midnight. (Whatever you want to say about how it’s “always ‘after midnight'” is pretty much moot–“Gremlins 2: The New Batch” already had fun with analyzing the concept.) When all three rules are broken, that’s when Gremlins gets more fun, as Dante goes with a sci-fi thriller approach, paying homage to 1950s monster films.

Oh, not just with the small town being invaded by otherworldly beings–Dante literally throws in Robby the Robot and the infamous Time Machine at random spots of the movie! (Dante always likes to fit in references to such in each of his films.)

“Gremlins” has a body count–don’t show this to kids unless you’re sure they can take it. When the Mogwai multiplies into more of them, they become vicious fanged beasties with scaly claws instead of furry paws. And they do kill people, and many of the Gremlins themselves get killed in pretty grisly ways too, especially when Billy’s mother (Francis Lee McCain) defends herself against some of them in her own kitchen. There’s also an intense scene in which Billy is nearly sliced by a Gremlin with a chainsaw. This film is rated PG, but this was back when PG didn’t just mean “Practically G” and also it paved the way for the PG-13 rating (along with Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which came out the same year as “Gremlins”). If you want to show this to your younger family members, keep that in mind.

I guess you could say “Gremlins” is a lovely bit of coal to fit into your Christmas stocking–and I enjoy it as such.

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