Dir: Joe Dante, 1984


Time isn’t always kind to cinema. Some films are ahead, and don’t gain recognition until it’s too late. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is proof of that.

Some, like this one, are loved and slowly, lose their appeal over many years.

Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is a not very good inventor, trying to sell his wares in Chinatown.

Stumbling into a shop run by an old Chinese man (Keye Luke), he happens across a mogwai.

The elderly man refuses to sell the mogwai because they are too much responsibility. The man’s grandson sells the creature to Peltzer as a birthday present for his adult son, Billy (Zach Galligan).

However, there are three very strict rules that must be adhered to: never expose him to sun light, don’t get him wet and never, ever feed him after midnight.

Naming the mogwai Gizmo, he shows his young friend, Pete (Corey Feldman), who gets him wet.

Gizmo starts to multiply, producing many other mogwais.

Where Gizmo is kind and loving, the offspring are nasty and trouble making, deliberately vandalising Billy’s clock so he’s fooled into feeding them after midnight.

Turning into chrysalises, they eventually emerge as vicious killers.

Soon, the entire town of Kingston Falls is amok with green, trouble making and partying gremlins, intent on destroying and killing everything they see.

It’s up to Billy and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates), to rid the town of the monsters and bring peace back to the sleepy, picturesque town.

In 1984, Gremlins was a fresh and new take on horror. Loaded with dark comedy, Dante attempted to create a family horror.

Produced by Steven Spielberg, the film is devoid of bad language and visceral gore, toning down the graphic blood and guts that was so prevalent in other films. The bit of gore that is in it, is changed to a greenish slime and a shot in a slapstick, humourous way.

This approach appeased the US censors who gave it a ‘PG’, but parents felt that it was far too violent and horrific for the rating. It was thanks to this and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (another Spielberg production) that the American ratings board (the MPAA), introduced a new certificate called the ‘PG-13’. This rating successfully bridged the gap for films that were too much for the ‘PG’ but not strong enough for the more adult ‘R’.

British censors faced the same predicament, however, it would be another five years before the issue was addressed. Like parents, the board felt that it was far too strong for the intended ‘PG’ certificate, but it was such a good film, that to make cuts would ruin it. The distributors decided to accept an uncut ’15’ certificate.

Despite being a family film, and what boils down to a live action Warner Bros. cartoon, the humour is too dark and too rare. There is more horror and violence than comedy.

The imbalance in tone is all askew. When focusing, primarily, on the funny side of the script, it’s uproariously brilliant. Zany, goofy, silly, daft, ridiculous. It works.

To enjoy themselves, the gremlins go to the local bar, play cards, drink and smoke. Topping it all off is a trip to the pictures to watch reel 4 of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

Seeing a group of slimy, green creatures singing along to a Disney movie, cannot fail to make you laugh.

But then, we have the violence. At times, it’s too sadistic to laugh at and, at times, too cruel. You go from one extreme to another. Sadism can be funny in the right, comical context but, here, the mark is missed.

Dante hasn’t got a, true, hold of the hold of the film, with characters that are redundant and only slow the film down before disappearing entirely.

In one of his earliest roles, Corey Feldman has an important part as the culprit responsible for getting Gizmo wet, but then he just vanished later in the film, with no explanation.

Fresh from the Eddie Murphy hit Beverly Hills Cop, Judge Reinhold plays an arrogant and self assured employee at the bank where Billy works. But, his role doesn’t go anywhere and you don’t see him, again. There is a deleted scene that shows him hiding in the vault during the chaos but, even then, there’s no reason for him to be in the film. The character has designs on Kate but, considering she hates him, isn’t an able competitor for Billy. He serves no purpose.

Gremlins is an enjoyable movie, but a flawed one. Director Joe Dante should, maybe, placed more of an emphasis on the comedy and lightened the darkness.

A missed opportunity.


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