Gremlins - 1984
Gremlins is the 1984 intersection movie of three giants of the film industry in director Joe Dante (The Burbs & Small Soldiers), writer Chris Columbus (Home Alone 1&2, the Harry Potter franchise & Mrs. Doubtfire) and executive producer Steven Spielberg (come on… you know). This movie also marks the necessity of a “PG-13” rating, since many parents complained that this movie clearly isn’t a children’s movie despite having an incredibly cute creature in the poster. This rating was introduced a month later after Gremlins was released to the public. This story centers around a small cute creature called a mogwai, that, when his rules aren’t followed, turns into an evil destructive monster.
Chris Columbus famously wrote this script as a “spec”, in hopes to showcase his abilities and never thought it would get made. When Spielberg came across this script he bought it since it was one of the most original scripts he had read in a while. What can I say… this Spielberg guy maybe on to something. Columbus perfectly rides the line of comedic and horror tones, never fully favoring one over the other, keeping a great balance throughout. He also injected enough heart into his film, creating a great relationship between the main mogwai, Gizmo, and his new owner, Billy, played by newcomer Zach Galligan.
Gremlins, just like An American Werewolf in London and Big Trouble and Little China (just to name a few) wouldn’t fully work in today’s CGI heavy Hollywood, since part of its charm is the use of the animatronics. There is something that comes through the screen when it takes three to four puppeteers to act out a scene on set. This gives the character a unique personality and somewhat of an edge since the director, the actors and especially the puppeteers must work with the puppets on set instead of having them added during post production like their CGI counterparts. Quick note; while reading up on the production and history of this movie I learned that Michael Winslow (you know Police Academy human beatbox machine) helped voiced many of the Gremlins. I mean, can we add more 80’s royalty to this movie? Well, on that note, let’s talk about the cast.
This movie came out the same year as Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. The release year isn’t the only thing they share, since a very young Corey Feldman stars in both. Along with Feldman we have Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Cate plays the girlfriend of Zach Galligan and she’s in charge of delivering one of the best monologues of the entire movie, in which she describes how her father died during Christmas. Rounding up the cast is Frances Lee McCain and Hoyt Axton as the parents of Galligan. Quick note; this movie was supposed to have a darker tone, with one of the Gremlins cutting off the head of McCain and throwing it down the stairs.
What makes this movie stand out, aside from everything I already pointed out above, is Dante’s direction. Joe Dante brought his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor that brings to life the script and the puppets. Between 1981 and 1990 Dante was on fire in the horror/comedy genre making classics like The Howling, Twilight Zone (segment three), The Burbs and Gremlins 2. He is one of the directors that I wish still actively worked today.
Gremlins holds up beautifully thirty-three years later thanks to the giants behind the camera and the talent in front of them. This review is going to be short and sweet. Gremlins is funny, original and completely unique to anything that came before it and after it. While it didn’t come without some controversy (people saying that the tiny monster are depicting African Americans, as they eat fried chicken and listen to hip hop) it’s still a hugely beloved movie across the board. Gizmo in a Santa hat is why I love movies.
Gremlins is currently streaming on Netflix. Just don’t watch it after midnight, no matter how much they beg.
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