Merry December, Everyone! Since I didn’t get one recommendation from anyone, I turned to Reddit and got quite a few review ideas so here we go.
The first film this month is one that I’m very familiar with, ‘Gremlins’. ‘Gremlins’ is one of those films that is a Christmas film that’s not really about Christmas. It takes place at Christmas but the most wonderful time of the year is not the central theme. ‘Die Hard’ is also in this category along with (arguably) ‘Home Alone’. Nevertheless, ‘Gremlins’ is always on at Christmas… well it is in our household.
Let’s have a look at the plot.
Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is a struggling inventor who buys an unusual Christmas present for his teenage son, Billy (Zach Galligan) from a small store in Chinatown. The small, furry and absolutely adorable creature is called a Mogwai (which is Cantonese for ‘Devil’, ‘Demon’ or ‘Gremlin’) whom Billy names Gizmo. There are three rules for taking care of a Mogwai. Number One, don’t feed the Mogwai after midnight, number two, don’t get the Mogwai wet and number three, keep him away from bright lights.
Unfortunately, Gizmo does get wet when Billy’s friend, Pete (Corey Feldman) spills a glass of water on him and a number of other Mogwais spawn from Gizmo. These Mogwais seem to be crazier than Gizmo and a lot more mischievous. However, something much more malicious is just around the corner.
After tricking Billy into feeding them after midnight, the Mogwai’s begin to cocoon and what emerges is a more hideous creature; a scaly, reptilian monster. These are the true ‘Gremlins’. As these small but disaster-loving creatures terrorize the town of Kingston Falls, Billy and his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates) must device a plan to get rid of the Gremlins before they expand their ranks beyond the borders of the town.
The first thing I would like to congratulate the Visual Effects team on is the design of Gizmo. Even though he’s a combination of puppetry, animation and stop motion combined with a sweet voiceover by comedian, Howie Mandell, Gizmo is so epically cute to an almost crippling degree. I don’t have children but the way I react to Gizmo is 10 times the expression of cuteness that a normal person would have for a baby.
Speaking of puppetry, this film was on the cutting edge of animatronics, giving the team the ability to give the Gremlins personalities, especially ‘Stripe’ who is the leader of the pack. We are able to notice that the other Gremlins gather around Stripe not just because of his ‘mohawk’ style stripe of fur and then spikes when he changes but also because of the way that he asserts his dominance.
The word ‘Gremlins’ was originally coined in the RAF and it was a term for malfunctions with their planes during WW2. The term was then popularized by author, Roald Dahl who was a pilot in the RAF during WW2. His first children’s book was titled ‘The Gremlins’ and was about literal ‘Gremlins’ which referred to tiny men who lived inside the RAF fighter planes. Director, Joe Dante, acknowledged the book as an influence but also noted that their Gremlins are different.
Let’s talk about the Gremlins. Who are they? What are they? Why are they here?
‘The Gremlins’ is dubbed as a horror-comedy and so the creature have to be somewhat scary and they certainly are difficult to look at. As discussed, the Gremlins are a combination of puppetry and in some sections, stop-motion animation but would you believe that originally, the Gremlins were going to be monkeys that wore costumes. And would you also believe that the prospect was scrapped once they dressed up a monkey in the Gremlin suit and the monkey proceeded to freak out. It was then the production team decided to go with puppets.
No CGI was used in the entire project, all the effects were practical, and the fully mechanized Gremlin puppets were said to have cost $30,000 – $40,000 each.
Again, the ‘horror-comedy’ aspect means that the Gremlins have to be a little more than just ‘mischievous’. They are always hungry and eager to cause chaos, even if that means there’s a body count. At least 4 people die at the claws of the Gremlins and the body count was meant to be higher since the first few drafts were much darker. One of the original drafts had Billy’s mother being killed by the Gremlins and her decapitated head was to be thrown down the stairs when Billy arrived home. Also Billy’s dog was to be eaten by the Gremlins as well as the Gremlins going into a McDonalds and eating the customers.
I really like Phoebe Cates’s character. I’ve always had a soft spot for Phoebe Cates since I saw her in ‘Drop Dead Fred’ and I also think that she and Zach Galligan look really good together onscreen. She’s a very sweet character despite her not liking Christmas and late in the movie, we find out why.
When Kate was a child, her father climbed down the chimney dressed as Santa but he slipped and broke his neck which devastated Kate and her mother. Since then, she’s avoided celebrating Christmas and to be honest, I don’t think Billy’s going to be the biggest fan of Christmas after this year.
The Gremlins either figure out or already know how to multiply and very quickly grow in ranks. Eventually, they all gather in the movie theatre to watch ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. Billy and Kate set off an explosion which kills all the Gremlins apart from the ringleader, Stripe.
If you’re thinking that Gizmo didn’t have a lot to do in that last half of the film, then you’re right but there’s a very good reason for that. Originally, Stripe wasn’t a separate character but rather Gizmo was meant to turn into Stripe. However, Executive Producer, Steven Spielberg thought that Gizmo was so cute that having him turn into the villain would upset any kids watching. Never mind the kids, I would have been livid! And it would have killed any chance for a sequel also.
Also, if you’re thinking that a lot of nasty things happen to Gizmo throughout the movie, then you’re also right. This is because the numerous Gizmo puppets used in the film were too small to work properly and so were a daily frustration for the crew. As a resolve, a list called ‘Horrible Things to do to Gizmo’ was created by the crew which included scenes such as the Gremlins hanging Gizmo from a wall and throwing darts at him.
If you think the audience would have been upset by having a lack of Gizmo, that’s nothing compared to how upset the star of the film was about to be when he saw the final cut. Gizmo may not have had much to do bar a few reaction shots, but Spielberg also wanted Gizmo to be the hero so he’s the one that pulls the blinds open that kills Stripe. However, it was meant to be both Billy and Gizmo that pulled a blind each and were therefore both responsible for saving the day. Galligan wasn’t aware of this change until he saw the final cut.
Even though all the Gremlins are dead, it should be a happy ending, but I don’t think ‘Gremlins’ does have a happy ending. As the Peltzer clan take in the damage from the attack of the Gremlins, Mr. Wing, the owner of the shop which sold Gizmo to Randall arrives to reclaim Gizmo, claiming that the Peltzers were careless with the Mogwai and that the Western World is not ready. However, Mr. Wing tells Billy that maybe one day he will be ready, and he and Gizmo will be reunited once again.
Mr. Wing was played by Chinese actor, Keye Luke and although he was nearing 80 when he appeared in ‘Gremlins’, his youthful skin and complexion meant that he had to be aged with makeup to make him look his age. Galligan recalled asking Mr. Luke how he kept his skin looking so young and Mr. Luke responded, ‘No fried foods’. So, there’s a lesson for you.
Written by Chris Columbus who wrote a lot of Christmas movies and Directed by Joe Dante, ‘Gremlins’ had a budget of $11 Million and released on June 8th, 1984 (the same day as ‘Ghostbusters’), ‘Gremlins’ made $151.3 Million and was met with generally positive reviews. Siskel and Ebert both responded well to the film and although it was met with some criticism for some of its more violent sequences, ‘Gremlins’ holds an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
One outspoken critic of ‘Gremlins’ was film critic, Leonard Maltin who felt the films symbolism and the mixture of tones did nothing to deflect from its ‘ick factor’, obviously not in those exact words. However, Maltin was a good sport and appeared in ‘Gremlins 2’ where he repeated his criticism of the first film, only to be killed by the Gremlins.
Speaking of the sequel, ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ was released in 1990 and once again starred Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates. The sequel did not take place at Christmas therefore will not be getting a full review just yet but suffice it to say that it took the ‘parody’ aspect a little bit too far and although it is an alright movie, it’s inferior to its predecessor.
All in all, not a bad film to kick off our month of Christmas Reviews. One thing I forgot to mention was that ‘Gremlins’ has been analyzed a lot with some accusing the Gremlins’ greediness as a metaphor for Western Civilization and how the film may possibly be ‘anti-technology’ but I think they were thinking about it too much.
Also, both Galligan and Columbus have expressed an interest in doing ‘Gremlins 3’ over the years but after a number of ideas came and went, nothing has been mentioned for two years but it appears that this year, you can see the original in 4K at the cinema very soon… if not now. So that’s exciting.
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