Tuesday, December 17, 2013


As we near the holidays, whichever one it may be, I like to throw in a movie that takes place during the same time.  I don’t know, I guess it seems weird to watch a Halloween themed movie in the spring or a Christmas movie during the summertime…I even wait until the hot weather to see Jaws.

One thing I dislike about the Christmas season is the soft, over-cheerful movies that come out during this time.  I mean, you have some good flicks like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Family Man, and so on, but there’s always an oversaturation of sugary-sweet Hallamark-esque movies which are too lovey-dovey and just make me roll my eyes to the top of my head when I see them.

The Christmas films I like to watch are the ones that take place during the holiday, but don’t have too much to do with it (or anything at all).  For instance, I like to watch the first Lethal Weapon movie, Die Hard and Die Hard 2, Rocky IV, First Blood and 1984’s Gremlins.

Now, gremlins have long been mythicized for sabotaging aircraft since way back in World War I.  Now, of
course, it was just a funny saying that a gremlin threw a wrench in the engine, causing it to fail, but it’s amusing how the myth remained for all these years.  I always remembered seeing cartoons depicting this creature, like the famous Bug Bunny cartoon, “Falling Hare,” where it takes place during World War II and it shows this little blue and yellow gremlin turning the tables on Bugs, annoying him and giving him trouble on the air field and even in the air.  But the gremlins in this film—at least the bad ones—do more than pull pranks and get into mischief, they straight up terrorize!

Gremlins takes place during Christmas, in the small town of Kingston Falls.  A resident of this community, and inventor named Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), goes on a business trip to try and sell some of his inventions.  Along the way, he comes across this shop owned by an old Chinese man (Keye Luke) and sees a small, furry creature towards the back of the store which the man says it’s a Mogwai.  Rand inquires about it as he wants to get his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), a gift for Christmas, but the old man refuses to sell him the creature.  As Rand leaves the store, the old man’s grandson meets him outside with the little creature and sells it to him with three explicit instructions: keep it out of bright light, do not get it wet with water, and do not feed it after midnight.  Rand takes the creature home and gives it to his son, Billy.  He names him Gizmo and the little lovable gremlin becomes part of the
family right away.  But one day water is accidentally spilled onto him, leaving Billy to find out that water
makes more Mogwais multiply off of Gizmo.  But these new creatures are different compared to Gizmo—most of them kind of dumb, with one smarter and more evil—and they purposely break the third rule of eating after midnight.  Soon, Billy, his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates), and the whole town, finds out what happens when a gremlin eats after midnight.

It’s a fine line between calling this movie a family-friendly Christmas movie and a horror comedy, because, although there are characters in the film appear to be getting killed, most of the violence committed by the creatures are done off-screen and are never established that they’re actually deaths.  What helps make the film accept the brutal behavior of the gremlins is the fact that they are basically represented as puppets, making the film seem like a grotesque, yet comical, Muppet movie.  So, I’d probably call this a dark comedy/creature feature before I’d call this a family film.

Speaking of the creatures, their designs are pretty cool, even if they are puppets, and have a scary look about them—as they metamorphose to the creepy versions—when they appear on screen.  Most of the time, they only appear from the waist up, but every so often they’re represented in animation (shadows behind windows or the theater scene) or some clever way to show them as walking around.

Above all else, it’s the performances from the main actors that make this film work.  To see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates running from the creatures, appearing frightened, makes it believable that there’s a threat out to get them.  The ensemble of the actors and actresses featured in this film definitely make this film memorable.

Back about the Bugs Bunny cartoon I’d mentioned earlier, I believe it preceded many of the Gremlins viewings when released in theaters, because I clearly remembered seeing it when I saw the movie back in 1984.  As a matter of fact, Warner Bros. was doing that quite a bit in the 80s and I thought it was great, because that’s how these cartoons were originally shown, opening for films back in the 40s and 50s.

One thing I have to nitpick about this film is the little story Kate imparts to Billy, explaining why she hates Christmas.  Throughout the film, she mentions a few times that she hates Christmas, but never explains why
until near the end of the film.  I won’t give it away, but I really can’t put my finger on it as to why this was written into the plot.  I don’t know if this was supposed to be a joke to the audience or if it was meant to be serious, but it doesn’t come across as either.  I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

My final “bit” on Gremlins?

Although I wouldn’t sit down with any pre-teens to watch this film, I believe the film is somewhat of a family film, with a lot of sight gags and funny-looking creatures.  The theme of Christmas is definitely there as the town is covered in snow and the houses are decorated with Christmas lights, so I love to put this disc in as an alternative to some wimpy tearjerker of a Christmas film.  Gremlins is funny and thrilling, giving us an affectionate story between a young man and a creature, similar to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  It’s a must for the holiday season.

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ve been known to mention my affinity for the Universal Studios back lot and all the films that feature some of those sets when watching the films and Gremlins is no exception.  As the film starts, you see a matte-framed overhead shot of the town and it’s clearly the Courthouse Square set used in a lot of older Universal films—Back to the Future being the most familiar—and it looks wonderful in this film as it’s decorated with a snowed-in look, making it seem like a small town in the northwest where it snows a lot.  It’s kind of funny, but if you look carefully, when there are close-up shots of the actors outside, you never see any fog exhaling out of their mouths, as it would if it really were freezing outside.  I’ve been to Universal Studios during the winter and it’s rarely been so cold that I’d have to wear a jacket, so seeing these actors pretend it’s freezing outside is sort of funny.  This fact, however, doesn’t take away anything from this great holiday movie.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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