Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Chris Columbus
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Judge Reinhold, Dick Miller, Scott Brady, Corey Feldman, Polly Holliday, Harry Carey Jr., Keye Luke
Voice Work: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Bob Holt, Michael Sheehan, Howie Mandel
I doubt there is anyone reading this site that has somehow missed seeing Gremlins, either upon its first theatrical showing or on VHS, DVD, and now on Blu-Ray. But just in case you’ve been locked in a cellar as an extra in one of Wes Craven’s home movies…I’m going to go ahead and review it. Firstly you need to understand that this is another wonderful film from director Joe Dante, it has a ton of his sci-fi/horror tips of the hat, it also contains some wonderfully dark humor and it is also the the very movie that made my Father think that as he sat with me during the film that perhaps he had raised an inhuman monster…or possibly I had been switched with a Goblin in my cradle. I will get to that little bit of personal history at the end of the review.
As we begin the film we are introduced by way of narration to Randall Peltzer (Hoyt) who is currently walking around Chinatown, trying to peddle some of his inventions for that is his trade in life, “Rand Peltzer, fantastic ideas for a fantastic world, I make the illogical logical.” He tells us that he is also there in hopes of finding a Christmas present for his son, Billy (Galligan). He is lead to an antique store by a Chinese boy, the shop belongs to his Uncle, Mr. Wing (Luke) and while peddling his inventions, Peltzer hears something making a chirping sound (Always sounded like a Capuchin monkey to me) in the shop. He follows the noise until he comes across a cloth covered cage, we are able to see Peltzer through the wooden bars of the cage as he lifts the cloth up. Whatever is within once again begins the chirping noise before beginning to sing, a sort of humming, happily. Clearly delighted with the creature in front of him he is told by the little boy that it is called a Mogwai. Peltzer makes up his mind to buy the Mogwai on the spot but Mr. Wing refuses, no matter how much he is offered, “With Mogwai comes much responsibility. I cannot sell him for any price.” His nephew however asks Peltzer to meet him outside where moments later he hands the man the cloth covered cage, explaining that his uncle is crazy and they need the money, but he also informs the inventor that he must follow three rules concerning the Mogwai:
1. Keep him out of the light. He hates bright light. Especially sunlight, it’ll kill him.
2. Keep him away from water. Don’t get him wet.
3. No matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never, ever feed him after Midnight.
Next we see Kingston Falls, USA, a very Frank Capra type of town, complete with snow covered streets. A winter wonderland. We are introduced to a few of its various citizens at a Christmas tree lot including young Pete Fountaine (Feldman), Sheriff Frank (Brady), and Mr. Anderson (Carey Jr.). Then we meet Billy who is having trouble starting his V.W. bug, which his next door neighbor Murrary Futterman (Miller) blames on the car being of foreign build. Through this humorous exchange we also learn that Billy is an artist. Billy and his dog, Barney, make a run for it to get to his job at the bank. Billy apparently keeps his pet under the teller desk and just makes it to work before being late, his co-worker Kate Beringer (Cates) presents to him a petition to sign to declare Dorry’s pub a landmark, a place of great importance to everyone’s parents it would seem. Mrs. Deagle (Holliday) is trying to take his lease away, it sounds like it is not the only property in town either. It is obvious that Kate and Billy have feelings for each other but the young man seems hesitant to act upon it.
We then see Mrs. Deagle storming down the sidewalk with a snowman’s head in her hands, she is heading straight towards the bank but before entering she is stopped by a woman and her two children, pleading that they need only a couple of weeks to start paying back the loan…we see that Mrs. Deagle cares only for herself and money in this scene as she refuses to aid the woman by asking the bank manager for a reprieve. Pushing her way to the front of Billy’s line she explains the snowman’s head in her arms, it was an imported Bavarian lawn ornament that Barney broke that morning. Billy offers to pay for it but she demands that he hand over the dog instead so that she can have it put to sleep but she doesn’t stop there, telling the young man what she would do if she could get her hands on the dog. Barney doesn’t care for this and slips his leash and jumps up on the teller desk, barking and growling. Mrs. Deagle takes this moment to feign a heart problem while insulting Billy and his family in front of the customers, which Gerald Hopkins (Reinhold) the junior vice-president of the bank seems to enjoy.
After being given approval of his art by none other than the legendary Chuck Jones in a cameo at Dorry’s Bar and enduring more put down by Hopkins, Billy comes home in time to help Mrs. Peltzer (McCain) with dinner just as Randall arrives home to bestow the Mogwai as a Christmas present. We learn that Billy’s father has started to call him Gizmo, and thanks to Mrs. Peltzer taking a photo they all learn how much he hates bright lights. Billy and Gizmo get along swimmingly, but the next morning as Gizmo is introduced to Billy’s young friend, Pete, the young boy accidentally spills a glass of water on the Mogwai. Who begins to cry out in pain, shaking and kicking as his back begins to…bubble…soon a furry little ball pops from Gizmo’s back then four more follow as we see the accelerated births of five new Mogwais. As Pete and Billy find out though very quickly they do not act as sweet nor caring as Gizmo, going so far to snap at the young boy’s finger and spitting at Gizmo and Barney. One Mogwai seems to be the leader of the group, possessing a Mohawk strip of white hair on his head, Billy naturally calls him Stripe.
Barney is that very night found strung up, thankfully not further harmed, in Christmas lights outside of the house. Was it Mrs. Deagle or the chattering and laughing new Mogwai upstairs? Billy’s father agrees to take Barney with him to the convention, dropping him off at the young man’s Grandmother just to make sure the dog will be safe.
Eventually, through no real fault of Billy, the Mogwai interfere with his bedroom clock and are fed after midnight…
Here is where the spoilers will end. You’ll need to see for yourself just how deadly things can go awry when the other two rules are broken. There is some pretty intense scenes in this movie, especially for a very young audience, upon the movie’s first release it is what lead up to the creation of the PG-13 film rating two months later. Which I believe Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the first movie to get that rating. Still, I’ve found the movie for all it’s scary trappings once the Gremlins come into play does have a gentle spot underneath it all as well, and I would put it on Christmas movie picks when I worked at the video store every year.
There is a great chemistry between Billy and Kate, and though it is later mocked in its sequel, the scene where Kate explains her dislike of Christmas is very touching. Joe Dante has once again peppered cameos throughout the picture, especially around the convention that Randall attends, keep your eyes out of for Executive Producer Steven Spielberg himself, fellow director John Landis, Robby the Robot, and even the Time Machine itself from the George Pal film. Oh, and also make sure to spot if you can all the Howling refrences…there is a pretty big one that seems to tie the two film universes together.
As to the fear my father had while watching the movie, well, when the Gremlins take out a certain set of characters, thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s Gremlins Rag theme I was bouncing up and down in my seat laughing. So was about every single kid in that theatre but for some reason it really disturbed my father…perhaps he didn’t understand that I knew this was all cinematic illusion? Did he not know laughter was infectious? Of course it probably didn’t help matters that I started doing spot on voice impression of Stripe’s “Deagle…Deagle, Deagle…Deagle.” and I have been known to say that still when I feel a little mischievous. I truly love this film and I think it still holds up to this day and rightly deserves its five pumpkins out of five.