This film bounds and skitters with bundles of both cute and chaotic madness to live up to the title and stand out as one of the most endearing and entertaining movies to fly out of the 1980’s. I have to shyly admit that I’d never seen this film before which deserves banishment but thankfully I’ve now seen it and with all the Christmas/saviour goings on and neat effects this is a big treat.
Mad inventor and father Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) visits a Chinese antiques shop where he happens upon boxed Mowgai, a fluffy creature he calls Gizmo (Howie Mandel) and who he gives to his son Billy (Zach Galligan) before Christmas. This special gift comes with three important rules which end up being broken leading to gremlins taking over the town and running riot.
Joe Dante directs this family film with energy, the themes of family are present with a vague hint at blossoming romance thrown in for good measure. The biggest and most obvious direction is in terms of capturing the aftermath of the gremlins being spawned. There’s a fantastic mix of dark comedy and horror swirled in with what could have been a tweenie festive film. I was taken aback by how brutal some of the action is in the movie, practical effects really show off and Dante makes sure we see them all to come to terms with how scampish and nasty these green devils can be.
Home Alone and opening 2 Harry Potter director Chris Columbus writes the screenplay and you can feel his presence over the goings on. That fun and playful destruction idea rampages over the second act and third act beginning, it’s a wonder that Kevin McCallister didn’t crop up six years early to help set traps. The best writing comes with the emerging of Gizmo’s dark cousins that birth from his back after water spills over him. Their wanten need for death and crazed partying is hilarious and shifts the film into a cool darker patch than you’d expect if you didn’t know the premise. Columbus struggles with the softer side of storytelling here, the love between Billy and Kate Beringer is stilted and hurls to a kiss with no success of us cheering the development, also Kate’s dramatic past and dislike of the holiday season is a sour note in the script as it feels so dodgy and forced for an exposition trip down memory lane.
The effects are so so good. The puppetry and mechanical movements of Gizmo, Stripe and the crowd of gremlins makes the film burst alive and gives it a lot of character. I like the fact you can see there puppet motions also, it adds a delightful amount of charm and I respect films working tiresly to make something achievable. I shudder at the thought of the whispered third Gremlins because I just know they’ll jump to using computer effects which will lose all of the magic.
In this feature, there’s standouts as we see Stripe lead his merry gang to scare the willies out of Billy’s mum, the scene in the Irish bar is all kinds of awesome as we see the true effects of the team behind the gremlins come to fruition with gross creatures drinking, gambling, swinging from fans and terrorizing Kate. The Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cinema sequence is also fun to watch and serves as a great possible ending to only swerve into another stand out set in a department store.
Zach Galligan is the reliable and comfortable lead, making a film debut for his role as Billy he manages to be assured and believable in his adoration for Gizmo and his kindness for saving the town. It’s not much more of a rounded character but it doesn’t really need to be. Phoebe Cates comes to a less sexualised role and plays the nice Kate, that’s it, she’s nice and besides that she doesn’t do a lot sadly. Hoyt Axton is great at playing the buffoon with many dumb ideas yet he’s got his heart in the right place.
I can now tick this off the list and happily so because ‘Gremlins’ is a classic of entertainment films. It’s wild, dark and could be viewed as a look on the world of consumerism but really it’s a fun comedy horror that doesn’t let up.