Retrospective Review: Gremlins

Year: 1984
Runtime: 106 Minutes
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Chris Columbus
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton

By Kristy Strouse

We all know the rules, and instructions can be important: No water, no bright lights, and no eating after midnight (though, when does that one- end?). If you break these very important details, you’ll take an adorable fuzzy creature and trade it with a hellion set to ensue chaos and eat everything in sight.

Of course, I’m talking about “Gremlins.” (1984)

As a black comedy, a satirical look at consumerism, and a movie bursting with Christmas cheer, no matter the descriptor- Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” is a classic. It’s also a film I revisit every holiday season, among many others.

How can anyone not love the sheer creativity involved? When Billy’s (Zach Galligan) inventor father (Hoyt Axton) is seeking a special Christmas gift and comes across the charming Gizmo, a mogwai, it’s tough not to take him home. Despite his awareness of the rules, Billy is a little careless (and also tricked) and eventually the cute and cuddly become the scary and violent. When they get wet they multiply ( in a rather disturbing fashion I might add) and when they engorge themselves after midnight they cocoon and transform into something entirely different.

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“Gremlins” whether it’s something you are re-familiarizing yourself with or hatching for the first time, is 80’s movie magic.

Phoebe Cates is Kate, and much like Billy, she’s got a big heart. Over the course of the movie, as they try to protect the town from these little green monsters, their love story develops. It is such an entertaining film to watch if you are looking to be reminded of the childish wonder of the holidays and the nostalgia of a different time. This snowy quaint little town isn’t expecting the bedlam it gets on Christmas Eve, especially due to the mishandling of a new pet. It draws inspiration from earlier films like “E.T” (1982) but has its own Joe Dante style. Written by Chris Columbus, it’s got all the makings of the towns in films like “It’s a wonderful life” (1946) injected with a sci-fi/fantasy element that makes it something all its own.

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There are some incredible effects used, especially given its 1984 birth, that make you feel as if these little creatures could be real. It’s also quite funny at times, despite there being actual mayhem being incurred. It doesn’t lessen the warning here but instead reminds us to not take it too seriously. There are messages to be found within this cautionary tale, but at the end of the day, it is a fun creature feature. “Gremlins” also has a gloss of innocence about it, making the town’s folk feel like they need to be saved even before the madness starts. It’s borderline corny at times but in the most affable way. There are some oddities in the dialogue occasionally (and a strangely dark trauma with Kate), but it’s to be taken at face value: it’s cheeky and sets out what it aims to do.

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The wonderful score should also be mentioned, because it’s instinctively mischievous, incorporated throughout the film to coincide with their devilish plans. Mostly, they want to wreak havoc and eat everything in sight, with no care for others, but there is an awareness of what they are doing. These are not mindless beings, but rather intelligent and clever, which makes their manifestation even more original.  One could even not put blame on them for their behaviour, given that they start off as innocent as one can be, displayed by Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), in all of his adorable- instantly make you smile- moments. Instead, the fault lies on those responsible for such a fragile thing, and that theme is reverberated throughout: respect your pets.

“Gremlins” also has a gloss of innocence about it, making the town’s folk feel like they need to be saved even before the madness starts. It’s borderline corny at times but in the most affable way.

Joe Dante does an admirable job of syncing sci-fi, horror, and the Christmas spirit. He manages to take one of the most joyful times and turn it on its head using just the right amount of satire. There’s a reason we all know who the “Gremlins” are, and it’s because of the lingering memory of this film. Plus, who doesn’t adore a Mogwai? Maybe we don’t learn our lessons at all, because, like most, from the first time watching the film I wanted one myself. “Gremlins” whether it’s something you are re-familiarizing yourself with or hatching for the first time, is 80’s movie magic.

4 stars

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