In a nutshell:
Gremlins: Teenager Billy Peltzer receives an unusual early Christmas present from his father; a small furry creature who he names Gizmo. However Billy fails to follow some basic rules and unwittingly allows Gizmo to spawn other creatures which turn into little demonic monsters.
Each year, several Christmas films are released, and they usually fall into three main genres – horror, comedy and romance. It’s a popular setting for horror, as it’s the perfect juxtaposition to what’s supposed to be such a magical time of year. With comedy, there’s the potential to make fun of the pratfalls one can encounter over the period, visiting relatives, disastrous dinners etc. For romance, it usually involves the love of your life being in plain sight or some shit. One of the reasons Gremlins stands out from the pack, is the subversion of all those conventions, to create something unique. It’s grotesque,very funny and even manages moments of sweetness.
Whilst director Joe Dante is an assured hand at both comedy and horror, the old-fashioned charm has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg production. Rand Peltzer is a hard working father trying to launch that big invention whilst looking to get his son a unique Christmas present. Billy is the awkward kid who fancies the girl next door and wants to be treated as an adult. There’s a lot going on in Gremlins, so it’s not surprising the romance subplot almost goes unnoticed. We’re here to see the little green creatures do the funny stuff – screw your small town love story!
Like fellow release Ghostbusters, it balances the horror and comedy elements seamlessly. Take the first scene of the gremlins big reveal – when the tension is at it’s highest. The ghoulish cocoons have opened and the monsters are loose in the house. Billy’s mum is attacked in her kitchen and suddenly the horror quickly turns into giggles as the gremlins are inventively dispatched via a variety of kitchen appliances.
Many will be quick to notice Gremlins is a spoof/satire on Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra), right down to that pleasant little middle American town where everyone knows each other – Kingston Falls. Like that film, the friendly community are united against a greedy geriatric foe, Mrs Deagle. However, this time around, there’s a much worse threat – Billy Peltzer, I mean, the gremlins themselves.
Being a Spielberg production, the sharp edges of horror have been smoothed down for a more family friendly horror comedy. Apparently Chris Columbus’ original script was a much darker affair. Cute and cuddly Gizmo was intended to become the head villain, Spike. The horror was a lot more explicit with the gremlins being openly murderous, chopping off Billy’s mother’s head and offing the family dog!
Amongst all the laughs and scares are some playful jabs at the American Dream and consumerism. It’s not just the townsfolk under threat, but their wholesome traditional values too. Though it’s somewhat ironic that with all these jokes about consumerism, the amount of merchandising that came off the back of the film (hey it was the 80s, after all), with toy Gizmos and obligatory cereal tie ins.
For me, Gremlins is a great alternative to the usual schmaltz that is packaged with a Christmas film. It’s truly a unique feature, a classic of it’s decade and a lot of demented fun.
In a nutshell:
Gremlins 2: The New Batch – Billy has moved to New York and is working at the conglomerate Clamp Towers. Through a coincidence, he and Gizmo are reunited and soon enough, a new batch of Gremlins are on the loose, causing havoc throughout the building.
Due to stresses of working with tricky puppets and temperamental animatronics, Joe Dante and his production team weren’t keen to rush into a sequel. It’s clear that following the success of the original, the studio were so keen, they gave Dante free reign on it’s direction. The belated sequel goes even further with the self-deprecating approach and runs riot with it. Instead of the kitsch American Dream, The New Batch takes aim at the excesses of 80’s yuppiedum and the growing culture of TV channel-hopping and emerging technology.
Like the antagonists themselves, Dante is happy to break the rules of the first film and have even more fun. The sequel gives us gremlins who are impervious to sunlight, turn into electricity and chatty ones who are up for a philosophical debate. The film is great example of post-modernism (nowadays the kids simply refer to it as “being meta”) directly referencing the original film, with a cameo from film critic Leonard Maltin who gives Gremlins a bad review (before he is attacked by the monsters). When things get too silly, the film literally stops – meaning another bizarre cameo has to get the film back on track. This time it’s legendary wrestler/ part time actor Hulk Hogan (who appears to be watching some arty porno) who uses his trademark gruff authority to intervene.
Like Starship Troopers, The New Batch is a film ahead of it’s time. The Clamp Tower is a “smart building” – everything is connected and controlled by computers. Just think what damage the gremlins could do in current times? When the phrase, “What do you mean the wifi isn’t working?!” is enough to strike fear in even the calmest person? It would also be rude to not mention Daniel Clamp, a thinly veiled caricature of Donald Trump. John Glover brings an almost lovable energy to the gormless but well meaning Clamp. Here is a man, who sees opportunity in every crisis. Yes, his company may have been responsible for the outbreak, but he could be the saviour of New York! Think of the merchandising opportunities…. Part of me likes to think in a parallel world somewhere, Daniel Clamp is President.
Like many other films we cover at Retro Ramble, these films hold up due to some inventive special effects, a memorable score and some timeless black humour. Zack Galligan may not be the strongest leading man, but he brings a naive charm that the role requires. I think we can all agree the creatures are the real stars, so kudos must go to the teams and performers who bring Gizmo and company to life.
Rumours of a Gremlins sequel/reboot have been on the cards for many years now. Warners obviously still value their place in pop culture, most recently including them in The Lego Batman Movie (2017). If the mogwai and monsters are due to return any time soon, the filmmakers responsible need to remember to balance the jokies, violence, grotesqueness and old fashioned (Spielberg) charm.