Gremlins [Retro Review]

“Never feed them after midnight.”

The Scoop: 1984 PG, directed by Joe Dante and starring Zach Gilligan, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold and Corey Feldman

Tagline: Cute. Clever. Mischievous. Intelligent. Dangerous. [Crossed Out] We’re Here!

Summary Capsule: Small town is overrun by mischief-making critters, teens are town’s only defense

Justin’s Rating: I do declare, my second-born shall be named… GIZMO!

Justin’s Review: I like Gremlins and I’ll tell you why (naturally). In so many little monster movies, critters exist mostly to look ugly and jump out of inconvenient places. Once the shock of seeing them wears off (my record: a piddling half-second), all that remains is for the heroes to dispose of them in appropriately ingenious fashion. But while the title creatures in Gremlins might fufill both requirements, they pioneered a third angle: they were entertaining. Sure, Gremlins plays up the horror aspect as far as they can take it, but it’s the party-loving, prank-pulling antics that have you laughing as the town is screaming.

Plus, there’s Phoebe Cates. Yes.

Our hero, Billy (Zack Galligan), works at an unforgiving bank, draws comics, and has a wacky inventor for a dad. It’s been estimated that one out of every eight movie households in the 80’s had a wacky inventor dad. His dad presents him with an unusual Christmas present from Chinatown: a rare cuddly puppet, er, “creature” called Gizmo. Gizmo sings, Gizmo watches TV, Gizmo enters into the local bake raffle. He’s poi-fect. But this creature comes with a few warnings, such as to keep it away from water and never feed it after midnight. The Chinese guy who spouts these rules makes it seem like any two-year-old would be able to follow these instructions.

But wait, let’s think about that for a sec. First off, how could you keep a living creature away from water which includes the toilet, rain, snow, tap water, spit, dog drool, and roof leaks? For PoolMan’s sake, the earth is somewhere between 30 and 90 percent water! And then, what exactly constitutes “after midnight”? All time is, if you want to get semantic about it, after the previous midnight. So maybe you can only feed them on 12:00 midnight on the dot?

So we see it’s inevitable that the rules are broken, and a town plagued by nasty green gremlins are the logical result. Now this is a very storybook feel of a town, with cardboard-cut characters and obviously fake backdrops. For lack of a better term, it’s got a Back to the Future idealistic small-town look to it; actually, this might BE the same set as Back To The Future… I’m not sure. Then there’s an evil lady who says ridiculous things like “I’m going to kill your dog slowwwwwly” as if she’s Cruela DeVille. You gotta have your local town drunk, a snobby Yuppie (Judge Reinhold, who disappears after 15 minutes of the film), and the pretty yet available barmaid (Cates, who’s got this overwhelming cuteness to her… I don’t feel too bad to admitting that I’ve often tried to conjure her from the television screen). Cates has the infamous monologue about why she hates Christmas, which is as funny as it is morbid. Every good horror heroine should have a speech this memorable.

It’s fun to watch the gremlins mill around, causing wanton destruction. Instead of ruthless killers, they come across as occasionally-lethal frat boys on an all-night bender. There are several little clips that make my day, including a gremlin dressed up in leg warmers doing breakdancing. The innocent Gizmo has a few good scenes as well, including driving a race car through the mall at top (10 mph) speeds. So, sure, there are people in this movie. But the show really belongs to the puppets, which goes to show what the Ewoks unleashed on humanity.

PoolMan’s Rating: My entire childhood wrapped up into one movie!

PoolMan’s Review: Anybody who knows me well knows that I’m a movie lover. That’s no surprise. But with rare exception, I’ve never been one for horror and slasher films. I don’t know, there’s something counterproductive in my mind about watching a movie that’ll make me break out in cold sweats when the lights go out. I just don’t enjoy being scared. And yet, Gremlins stands out in my mind as one of my favourite movies as a kid. A contradiction in terms? Heck no. This has gotta be the funniest monster movie EVER.

I can’t possibly convey to you how strange it was watching Gremlins for the first time in probably five years over the weekend. I saw this movie more times than I saw Star Wars when I was a kid. It was just so strange for me to pre-remember nearly every scene just before it happened. I imagine that’s what it must feel like to be psychic. But now I’m just being weird.

Everything about Gremlins is just so absurd, it’s brilliant. From the perfect little town the creatures destroy to the brittle old man with the caged puppet in the opening scene just screams “camp” so loudly that you can’t help but love the effort. Let’s be honest, nothing here makes sense. Earth’s surface area is composed of upwards of 70% water, and practically every small animal is edible, how could the Gremlins even exist without having overrun the planet eons ago? It must be those wacky Chinese… so wise. They must have prevented the Gremlin overthrow. Some 10th century sunlight machine, no doubt.

But the main thing that always throws me off about the little creatures is this; why is Gizmo so nice? I mean, he directly spawns five other Mogwais, who go on to spawn hundreds more. And they’re ALL inherently evil! Every one of ’em! You’d think their progenitor would be some kind of hellbeast who fed on the blood of the living. Nope, he likes to play the trumpet and drive Barbie cars. Maybe he’s the only one who realizes that cute, little, and furry gets you more girls than ugly, green, and scaly. Just a hunch.

All this is beside the point. This flick is just magical to me. There’s such great suspension of disbelief and attention to detail (and I will go toe-to-toe with anyone who questions that this movie is FILLED with clever little jokes, details, and in gags… it’s remarkable) that even a gap of years between the present and my last viewing doesn’t stop me from knowing every line, every nuance, and every joke. It’s a campy, loveable treat, and it’ll always be one of my absolute favourites.

Drew’s Rating: Have a merry, scary Christmas!

Drew’s Review: November is a funny month. Not ha ha funny, more like “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel right now” funny. The temperature changes, the last traces of summer heat giving way to Good-God-it’s-cold winter. Leaves stop falling, snow starts. Linus goes from waiting in pumpkin patches to quoting scripture. Maybe the biggest change, though, is in your mood, from the spookiness and mischief of Halloween to the joy and good tidings of Chrishanukwanzaa. There’s nothing in November (and none of this Thanksgiving crap… I don’t like turkey, and if there’s no candy, presents, or fireworks, it ain’t a holiday), so you have to sort of make the transition between those two very divergent attitudes on your own. What’s a person to do? Lucky for us, there’s one film that not only dares to bridge that gap, but pulls it off amazingly well. And because this would be a pretty misleading review if I were talking about some other movie, you’ve probably guessed by now that that film is: Gremlins!

See, and here’s the really cool thing about Gremlins: it’s actually scary. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to have you sleeping with the lights on as an adult or anything. (I hope.) But for a supposed children’s movie? Lemme tell you something, those little scaly monsters can be pretty darn freaky to the younguns, my friend. Driving snowplows into people and killing biology teachers are not your typical comedic standbys, and the gremlin death scenes are so wonderfully disgusting, in a way you just can’t find in kids’ films these days. When was the last time Spongebob shoved somebody into a blender and hit the switch? Anyone ever chuck Pikachu in the microwave, then crank the sucker up and watch as he exploded? Outside of my dreams, I mean?

And therein lies the greatest strength of this movie — that it’s a relic of a bygone era. Some people today dare to wonder what was really so great about the 80’s. Parachute pants, they sneer? Slap bracelets? Come on, let’s be real here. To them, I can only point to movies like Gremlins. What other decade allowed filmmakers to take such manic, unrepressed glee in corrupting young minds, or gave directors free reign to mold us into the desensitized, cackling little deviants we are today? Forget Optimus Prime dying — that gremlin getting his head lopped off is what really scarred me as a child. Still can’t walk past a fireplace without shuddering.

But I ask you, what’s really worse: confronting horrific, gruesome violence and depravity in your early years and learning to deal with it, or experiencing today’s saccharine sweet, seizure-inducing excuses for kids’ movies until you’re 13, then having all the good stuff shoved in your face at once? No no… getting inured to it early on is clearly the way to go. Otherwise, your kids are just going to be pansies, and who wants that? This is also why the government will not allow me to procreate, incidentally. Nonetheless, I think the children of the 80’s turned out pretty darn good in our own maladjusted way, and for that, we have this movie and its ilk to thank. Sure, the actual point of this review escaped me about two paragraphs back, but hey, there it is — Gremlins rules, and kids’ stuff today just can’t compete. In your face, Teen Titans!

"Daddy, your career in Wacky Inventions isn't covering baby sister's medicine. I think she's dead now. Or taking a nap."

Intermission!

  • An oriental gong is heard when the inventor makes a bad dragon joke
  • Stripe hides among a bunch of dolls, including a stuffed E.T.; This is a reference to E.T., where the alien hides among a bunch of dolls in a closet
  • Corey Feldman has a bit role, since he was contracted to be in every 80s comedy made
  • In the first scene, Mr. Peltzer walks in front of a broken-down American Motors Company “Gremlin”, left in front of the old man’s shop.
  • The theatre marquee is showing a double bill: “A Boy’s Life” (the working title for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and “Watch the Skies” (the working title for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
  • Billy crosses the street and calls “Hello” to the town’s doctor – Doctor Moreau, from H.G. Wells’s story “The Island of Dr. Moreau”.
  • Robby the Robot is in a couple scenes. In one, he’s talking on a phone in a phone booth wearing a hat. His lines are his end of the conversation with the cook of the C57-D in Forbidden Planet where Cookie is gets him to produce booze.
  • The old lady in the bank is a homage to the Wicked Witch of the East from Wizard of Oz
  • While the father is talking on the phone from the inventor’s convention, the machine from The Time Machine can be seen in the background winding up to full power. The scene cuts to the house, and when we cut back again, the machine has gone, leaving only a wisp of colored smoke.
  • Mrs. Deagle, the richest lady in town, has named her cats after different kinds of currency (including Kopeck and Dollar).
  • All of the dad’s inventions make a little “sproing” sound before they go wrong
  • Judge Reinhold does disappear from sight rather quickly, considering how they built up his character early on. A scene where Billy and Kate discover Gerald in the bank vault was cut from the theatrical release, but added to the NBC broadcast
  • Obviously, the town was “done up” to look snowy. Not only do you never see the actors’ breath, the *undersides* of the branches on the trees are snow-covered too!
  • Gizmo’s voice might have seemed familiar to any cartoon fans a few years later… he was voiced by Howie Mandel, who used a similar voice for Bobby Generic of Bobby’s World
  • The biology teacher is still at the school at about 2:30 in the morning when he gets killed! (check the clock on the wall) There’s a man dedicated to his work!
  • The Three Rules of the Mogwai: 1. Keep them out of light and direct sunlight (which can kill), 2. Keep them away from water (or they’ll multiply), 3. Don’t feed them after midnight (or they’ll transform into Gremlins)
  • Gremlins was written by Chris Columbus while still in college and bought by Steven Spielberg.
  • Gremlins is generally credited (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) with the introduction of the PG-13 rating, as many felt the scenes of violence in both movies were too much for a PG rating, but not enough for an R rating. It is also widely believed that had Steven Spielberg’s name not been on both movies, they may have received an R rating.
  • The novelization for this movie is pretty whacked-out… for some reason the writer felt the need to answer all those weird, unexplained questions Poolman has about the Mogwai, like why Gizmo is the only good one. Turns out they’re actually from another planet, where they were created by “Mogturman.” Oh, but it gets better. Aside from having a really stupid name, Mogturman is also a major screw-up, as only one in a thousand Mogwai – the cleverly named “minority Mogwai” – are nice and immortal, like Gizmo. All the rest – see if you can follow me here, the “majority Mogwai” – have really short lifespans and are total jerks who want to turn into gremlins. Fortunately, they don’t know how, leading to Stripe and Gizmo playing these really intense mind games where Giz tries to trick the other Mogwai into staying small and furry and dying young. Ya can’t make this stuff up, folks. But hey, I guess you gotta fill those pages somehow.
  • The original script called for Gizmo himself to eat after midnight and turn into the gremlin Stripe, but it was decided that seeing a heroic character turn into the main villain would be too traumatic for children. In addition, Lynn Peltzer was originally slated to die while battling the gremlins.

Groovy Quotes

Mrs. Deagle: I want your dog.
Billy: Barney?
Mrs. Deagle: Give him to me. I’ll take him to the kennel, they’ll put him to sleep. It will be quick and painless compared to what I would do to him.
Billy: What would you do?
Mrs. Deagle: I’ll catch the beast myself. He’ll get what he deserves, a slow, painful death. Maybe I’ll put him in my spin-drier on high heat.
Mr. Anderson: That would do it alright!

Mrs. Deagle: Mrs. Harris, the bank and I have the same purpose in life – to make money. Not to support a lot of deadbeats!
Mrs. Harris: Mrs. Deagle! It’s Christmas!
Mrs. Deagle: Well now you know what to ask Santa for, don’t you?

Mr. Futterman: Y’know they’re still shippin’ them over here. They put ‘em in cars, they put ‘em in your TV. They put ‘em in stereos and those little radios you stick in your ears. They even put ‘em in watches, they have teeny gremlins for our watches!

Gizmo: Bye Billy!

Stripe: Water… Gun.

Kate: What’re they doing?
Billy: They’re watching Snow White. And they love it.

Kate: [her infamous “Why I Hate Christmas” speech] The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree… waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney… his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

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20 Comments

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  19. “it’s got a Back to the Future idealistic small-town look to it; actually, this might BE the same set as Back To The Future…I’m not sure.”
    According to the director’s commentary, it is.

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