‘Gremlins’ Review: Dir. Joe Dante [Alternative Christmas]

Gremlins was a Christmas-set movie that was released in the height of summer 1984. Its June opening weekend saw the film rake in $12 million, going onto take $148 million, which when you consider that it was made for only $11 million means it brought in a nice cash return. How it went on to become one of the highest grossing films of the Eighties would be a mystery were it not for the cuddly critter known as Gizmo. Gremlins unleashes carnage unto fictitious back-water town Kingston Falls during the Christmas season.

Randall Peltzer is a travelling salesman and inventor on his way home for the holidays just as soon as he has found the perfect present for son Billy. He stumbles upon just the thing in a curiosity shop in Chinatown, but is told it isn’t for sale. Thankfully the owner’s grandson’s greed gets the better of him and he sells the gift on without his grandfather knowing. The gift is a mogwai, a furry creature with big ears and eyes, that likes to hum a tune or two. The exotic creature comes with a list of strict rules though: don’t get him wet, keep him out of sunlight, and never ever feed him after midnight. The Peltzer family neglect these rules and find themselves and their small town over-run with gremlins, scaly reptilian anarchists intent on destroying the tranquillity of the town.

One of the earliest memories I have is of staying up late with my mum to watch Gremlins and having to make sure that I did everything that Randall said to do at the end of the film – check under the beds, turn out all the lights etc., because maybe, just maybe, there might be a Gremlin somewhere. As afraid of the Gremlins as I was, I was also completely smitten with Gizmo, something that would never leave me, resulting in one of my current household pets being given the moniker. Despite my initial fear of Gremlins I would go on to become obsessed with sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Gremlins has everything: horror, humour, a young Corey Feldman dressed as a Christmas tree, romance, though (spoiler alert) not a happy ending. Billy and Gizmo have just managed to destroy the Gremlins and their leader Stripe, Billy got the girl and all are settling in for a picturesque Christmas…that is until there is a knock at the door and the grandfather from Chinatown turns up to take Gizmo back home. This ending is heartbreaking as Billy and Gizmo clearly adore one another, but the bittersweet tone fits perfectly with the rest of Joe Dante’s movie. Gremlins was one of the first “Christmas” films that proved that a festive film didn’t have to be sugar, light and excessively cheery. One could even perhaps track my darker taste in Christmas movies back to this very film. Stuff we watch young always leaves an impression and I guess that is the legacy that Gremlins shaped for me.

There are some genuinely creepy scenes within Gremlins which, when first released, received the 15 certificate; it has in later years been downgraded as far as a 12A which just shows how society has changed over the last three decades. Terror inducing moments include when the new mogwai clan string-up Barney the dog. They also chew through the wire of the alarm clock, ensuring that they get their midnight feast – showing that they were intelligent beings and not just balls of fluff. Then there’s the “lab rat” mogwaii who, upon his transformation into Gremlin, gets his sadistic revenge on high-school science teacher Mr Hanson, but above all, it has to be Kate’s tragic Christmas tale that really unnerves the viewer. The novelisation pushed the horror even further, for one, the incident with the letter that keeps ‘unposting’ itself, had a much gorier end.

Thirty-seven years on, the film has of course dated, thanks mainly to the very Eighties choice of hair and dress, but on the whole it still stands up today. There is something truly magical about the use of puppetry and models that makes everything feel that extra bit more real than today’s CGI-created creatures. Created by Chris Walas the gremlins and Gizmo are the stars of this film and there’s something about the animatronic nature to the puppets that made them feel real. Watching so young it was very easy to believe that these creatures could actually exist and I lost track of the amount of times a mogwai was requested for Christmas.

In spite of it’s bittersweet ending and June release, Gremlins has become one of those films synonymous with Christmas time and is certainly a staple watch in my household. A beautiful blend of comedy, pathos, and horror, Gremlins is a classic in the truest of senses and should be treasured forever.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Gremlins is available to own now.