Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain

As a gift from his father for Christmas, Billy receives a “mogwai” called Gizmo as a new pet. He’s given three rules for looking after him: don’t let him out in sunlight, don’t let him near water and don’t give him any food after midnight. Of course, with Billy being a stupid boy he breaks the rules almost immediately, and chaos ensues.

Now, you may have noticed I’ve put this down as one of my Christmas Crackers. While I am 100% certain, no doubt in my mind, that Die Hard is a Christmas film, Gremlins falls into that same category of debate but is a little trickier. My usual two factors for deciding are 1) The setting of Christmas is vital to the plot; and 2) It contains Christmassy themes such as family, redemption and coming together. While I would say that Gremlins fulfils the first criteria (Billy receives Gizmo as a Christmas present, so Christmas provides key context to the plot) it doesn’t really contain any of the key Christmas themes. So it’s still up for debate but as it’s the Christmas season I’m feeling generous.

The film itself is a good caper, but it’s not really hugely gripping from beginning to end. The first half is good, with the mystery of the mogwai and finding out more about them, but once the mogwai have become “gremlins” the film is basically just scenes of the chaos they cause with a bunch of random characters coming in and out chasing after them. The final climax is over quickly and there’s not much suspense. So it starts well, but after a while I got a bit bored and I think it could have done with reaching the end quicker.

I’ve mentioned that the film doesn’t contain the classic Christmas themes of reconciliation or redemption. Billy is completely useless and he doesn’t seem to learn anything at all by the end. He’s terrible at looking after Gizmo- he forgets the rules straight away, and when Gizmo has water splashed over him and he starts writhing in agony, Billy just ignores him. He doesn’t manage to kill any of the gremlins by himself either- his mum kills loads and then he only manages it with the help of his love interest. Then at the end, he thinks he’s responsible enough to keep looking after Gizmo?! No lessons learnt or character improvement whatsoever. Billy, you’re just the worst.

What I did like was the mogwai/gremlins themselves. There’s something sinister about the puppets they use which is really effective (as they actually are pretty sinister- they actually kill a few people…), and I’m glad that this film came out before CGI as I don’t think CGI creatures would have had quite the same creepy effect. Overall I would say it’s a family film but certainly for small children it could be pretty scary.

From the 1980s Golden Age of cinema, this isn’t one of the best but is worth a watch. Gizmo is very cute (and marketable…) and it’s an interesting concept before the mayhem gets a bit over-the-top. I’m slightly leaning towards the side of not a Christmas film, but perhaps worth watching earlier on in the season before going full-on Christmas.

3 stars

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