Gremlins – Review
A young man inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
It’s the 20th of December and Christmas is coming up fast. I imagine many of you are feeling the strain of Christmas shopping by now. Why not hit the sofa and put on an awesome Christmas horror movie to chill out? For the 20th day of our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature we are taking a look at Gremlins. Directed by Joe Dante and written by Chris Columbus. Gremlins is absolutely essential Christmas viewing.
Following the adventures of Billy and his Mogwai Gizmo. This movie is a fantastic introduction to horror for young children. It isn’t particularly scary, has just enough horror elements, and is a lot of fun. Let’s not forget that the antics of Gizmo and the Gremlins are hilarious. It is perfect Christmas viewing. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
Hilarious Horror Comedy
Gremlins is a dark comedy horror movie. Focusing on the adorable Mogwai Gizmo. It features a whole bunch of marauding Gremlins causing havoc. Randall Peltzer is an inventor of strange devices. He is in China town one day when he spots a small creature in a shop. The creature is called a Mogwai (which I believe is Cantonese for Devil 魔怪). Thinking it would be a perfect gift for his son, Randall wants to purchase it. The man at the store refuses but, later on, his son agrees to sell it to him. He gives him a few simple rules to follow. Don’t let it come into contact with sunlight. Don’t get it wet. And, most important of all, don’t feed him after midnight.
Randall takes the pet home and gives it to Billy, his son. He names the Mogwai Gizmo and tells his son the three rules. Naturally, this wouldn’t be much fun if things didn’t go drastically wrong. Billy proves to be an utterly inept owner. Almost straight away he accidentally exposes Gizmo to bright light, burning him. Even worse, however, his friend comes over and spills water all over Gizmo’s back. It turns out the water causes additional Mogwai to form from Gizmo. The thing with these Mogwai, however, is they are not the nice variety. They are evil and one specific one, named Stripe, is particularly nasty.
Chaos ensues, the mogwai cocoon and, when they hatch, become gremlins. The gremlins torture gizmo, cause havoc, murder people and generally act like assholes. It’s obviously up to Billy to try to stop them. Accompanied by his girlfriend Lynn, they attempt to find Stripe and put an end to his madness.
Christmas Scares for the Kids
Gremlins is a chaotic and slightly dark comic horror movie. It features a loveable mascot in Gizmo that kids are sure to adore. He sings, he dances, and he watches TV. The gremlins themselves, however, are disgusting furless things that cause havoc. Set in the gorgeous, snow covered, town of Kingston Falls around Christmas. The festive feeling is prominent throughout. Starting off fairly slow, as soon as Gizmo gets wet, things start to get a bit manic.
Perhaps a bit too scary for very small kids. There are some pretty intense scenes here and there. The gremlins care not for humans and are simply looking to entertain themselves. They stalk Billy’s mum, they torment a disabled woman, and they hang out in the pub. The gremlins gamble, drink, smoke and are almost as rowdy as English football fans.
A Strange Origin
The concept for Gremlins came from Chris Columbus hearing mice running around in his loft. He mentioned how hearing them running around at night while he lay in darkness was rather creepy. With this, the seed was planted and Gremlins was born. Columbus penned the script more as a concept than anything else. He hadn’t intended to make a movie from it. He just wanted something as proof that he could write a competent script.
It was legendary film maker Steven Spielberg that stepped in. Suggesting they turn the script into a movie. He considered it to be one of the most original things he had read in years. Realising the potential, he wanted to create something that blended horror with comedy. This was proving to be a popular trend at the time. Indeed, it bears mention that Gremlins was not the only big release that day. Another horror comedy classic also hit the big screen – Ghostbusters. Naturally, if Steven Spielberg thinks something has potential, you listen to him. Columbus agreed and Joe Dante was brought on board to direct.
It Was Supposed to be Much Darker
A number of scripts and story arcs were proposed for Gremlins. It was actually originally intended to be a much darker movie. It already pushes the boundaries as far as horror for kids goes. In fact, Spielberg had to push for a ratings change just so Gremlins could avoid a higher rating. The MPAA’s PG-13 is a direct result of this movie. Without the changes to the original story, this would have been a far more gruesome picture. It is still fairly dark with its themes of mayhem and chaos.
It is also worth pointing out that the movie’s main antagonist Stripe was not supposed to exist. The original story called for the adorable Gizmo himself to turn into the lead Gremlin. Can you imagine that? The thought of the amount of merchandising sales lost is insane. Thankfully, this idea was vetoed and Gizmo was kept as the adorable little runt that he is. After all, every great kid’s movie needs a cute mascot ripe for merchandising.
Better Than The Sum of its Parts
The thing that stands out, for me, about Gremlins, is that it isn’t actually a particularly great movie. It is hard to point out anything that it does really well. It is something of a loose collection of set pieces, a whole bunch of mayhem, and a thin story tying it all together. Despite this, it is still a hell of a lot of fun. It has the same kind of charm and sense of adventure as The Goonies and other great 80’s films. This was something of a theme for movies back then. Take something that is more of a concept than a story. Elaborate on it a little and stretch it out. The set pieces and action keeps everything rolling along nicely. Throw in a determined pursuit by Billy and Lynn and you have a story to invest in. Even in spite of its shaky premise.
It is also wickedly funny. the Gremlins, themselves, are rude and obnoxious leading to loads of laughs. They wear ridiculous costumes and have disgusting habits. One of them even has a penchant for flashing the humans. The actors in the film keep their tongue’s firmly in their cheeks throughout. Small touches really add to the humour. Randall’s awful inventions are noteworthy. The character’s, seemingly, legitimate reactions to them are always worth a laugh. Lynn desperately attempting to serve the Gremlin’s alcohol at the bar. All while avoiding flying bottles is hilarious. It is scene after scene of absolute carnage.
Perhaps Too Scary for Young Kids
An argument could be made that Gremlins isn’t suitable for younger children. I can’t remember how old I was when I first watched it. As I recall, I don’t remember feeling scared or anything. I did think Gizmo was adorable and, obviously, he was front and centre for this exact reason. Kids will love him. The Gremlins themselves can be rather scary for younger kids, however. There are some vicious moments. The Gremlins have to be dispatched of and this takes place in some graphic ways. Gremlins being put in blenders, stabbed and placed in a microwave are just some of the methods used. The Gremlins also smoke, drink, gamble and are, generally, very rude.
The times where Gremlins is at its scariest, however, are when they are stalking people. A segment with Billy’s mum is set up almost like a slasher movie. Scenes inside the school with teacher Mr Hanson can be quite tense. You could argue that they are actually potentially upsetting. I can imagine kids will, perhaps, be quite perturbed at just how badly the Gremlins treat Gizmo, as well. Still, I think this is a horror that would be suitable for kids of most ages.
Acting is excellent throughout. I really enjoyed Hoyt Axton as failed inventor Randall. He comes across as warm character. His legitimate corpsing as his devices go wrong is honestly hilarious. I enjoyed Francis Lee Mccain’s tense action scenes in the house with the Gremlins. Phoebe Cates is excellent as Kate. Gremlins is a reminder of how disappointing it was that she retired from acting. Zach Galligan is perfectly cast as Billy. He does look far older than the teenager he is supposed to be portraying, however. He is tasked with interacting with the Mogwai more than anyone and is always convincing.
Designed by Chris Walas. The real stars of the show are the Gremlins themselves. Howie Mandell voices Gizmo with the excellent Frank Welker playing the evil Stripe. The Mogwai were made from rubber, apparently, and some featured mechanical movement. They were, by all accounts, a nightmare to work with. Costing over 40,000$ each. The security at the studio searched people’s cars on the way out to make sure none went missing.
Joe Dante insisted on the Mogwai being very small. He wanted them to look adorable and thought that smaller would be better. The result was models that broke down frequently. Gizmo was particularly bad for this. The scene in which Gizmo has darts thrown at him was put in as a request by the team. They wanted to vent their frustrations. Poor Gizmo!
Gremlins is a great looking movie. Even now, years later, the Gremlins themselves look fantastic. The animatronics have held up incredibly well. An, obviously, huge amount of effort went into creating some of the busier scenes. The pay off is impressive. Numerous Gremlins litter the environment all doing their own thing. Scenes such as those at the bar are busy and utterly engaging. It’s fun just to watch what each Gremlin is doing.
The festive setting is fantastic, as well. Red and green lights permeate the environment. Snow covers the ground and decorations are everywhere. There has been a concerted effort here to ensure this movie feels Christmassy. There are rarely scenes that aren’t beautifully lit and full of Christmas cheer. It is the perfect festive movie.
A Few Negatives
There are a few negative points to Gremlins. As I said before, it is not what you would describe as a fantastic movie. It relies heavily on its action. It also makes the assumption that the viewer will enjoy the creatures themselves. There really isn’t much story here. Gremlins appear, they go wild, Billy has to stop them. It is that simple. Luckily it is fun enough for this to not be a major hindrance. It is a very long film, however, with a run time of 106 minutes. That is a big ask for kids given the thin story. If your kids don’t find Gizmo cute or the Gremlins funny, they will get bored.
Some of the scenes are a bit boring and a couple are a little strange. The famous “Santa Claus in the chimney” story told by Kate bears mention. It’s a ridiculous scene with a farcical story. It caused problems in production. Spielberg didn’t know whether it was supposed to be funny or serious. I am sure most people will agree with that. It feels wildly out of place. Diversions to a few different side character’s houses feel a bit pointless. One sets up a pretty funny scene featuring a stair lift but others feel a bit redundant. A little bit of trimming here and there would have helped the pacing. Still, this is a brilliant Christmas Horror with hardly anything to complain about.
Is it a Knockout?
Gremlins is an absolute classic Christmas Comedy Horror. Perfect for the run up to the big day. This is a movie that is suitable for children and adults alike. Well, children who can tolerate a few scary scenes, anyway. Wickedly funny and featuring some fantastic set pieces. It is enjoyable and full of laughs.
While having a bit of a thin story and no real character development. Gremlins is all about one thing and one thing only - fun. Scenes featuring the Gremlins going wild at the bar are hilarious. Gizmo is adorable and kids will love him. It runs a little bit long and there are a few parts that could have been shorted or left out. Still, this is a perfect Christmas horror and essential viewing for horror fans.