Directed by: Joe Dante
Premise: A middle class father gives Billy (Zach Galligan), his son, a mysterious furry creature named Gizmo for Christmas. Billy neglects to follow the special rules for the animal and soon reptilian monsters are born that wreck utter havoc on the town on Christmas Eve.
What Works: Gremlins is smart and irreverent and manages to switch gears between being funny and scary so effectively that many scenes will have the viewer alternately laughing and screaming. The film has some classic set pieces that demonstrate just how skilled it is at doing this, such as the Gremlin’s kitchen attack, the bar scene, and the now famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sing-a-long. This is a solid monster movie that could be viewed as merely a Roger Corman film on a higher budget but, like Jaws, Gremlins is too smart to be so easily dismissed. This film is in part an indictment of the commercialization of Christmas. Gizmo is a special creature requiring a keeper of exceptional responsibility but to his suburban middle class owners he is just an object to be purchased and given as the year’s hot Christmas gift, and the father even talks at one point about selling Gizmo’s offspring to make a fortune. When the Gremlins begin their attack on the town they imitate carolers, destroy Christmas decorations, and attack a man dressed as Santa Claus. The film manages to do all this on the sly, just letting the images present themselves. Aside from the thematic content, Gremlins is an extremely well done piece of cinema. The scares and action scenes are well executed and the film takes time early on to do some solid character work with Billy and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates). The great character work is not limited to the human beings. Gizmo the Mogwai and Stripe the Gremlin rank with C-3PO and R2-D2 of Star Wars or Gollum of The Lord of the Rings among some of the most memorable non-human characters ever on film and the special effects of Gremlins still hold up remarkably well.
What Doesn’t: Gremlins is so dark that upon its initial release in 1984 the film elicited a lot of angry responses from parents. Even today the film is very scary in parts, especially for a PG film. Parents should be aware of the intensity of the second half of the film.
DVD extras: The Special Edition DVD contains never before seen footage, a documentary, and image galleries.
Bottom Line: Gremlins is a terrific film that continues to elicit laughs and screams. It may not be regarded as a part of the regular Christmas film canon but it is a mean but fun antidote to all the overly sweet and syrupy holiday fluff.
Episode: #219 (December 21, 2008)