Part #3 of the 2017 Christmas Countdown.
Very few directors can capture that small town American charm that made some of Steven Spielberg’s work so endearing. Joe Dante is one of those few, and he used his talents to create Gremlins, a surprisingly dark Christmas classic.
Crackpot inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) brings an unusual pet home to his son Billy (Zach Galligan) for Christmas. The pet, a Mogwai named Gizmo, comes with some very strict requirements; he mustn’t get wet, he can’t be fed after midnight and he must not be exposed to sunlight. Obviously those rules go out of the window, which leaves the small town of Kingston Falls terrorised by an army of small, anarchic monsters.
Gremlins is very much a movie of two halves. The first half feels like your typical family film – there’s a relatable protagonist, a girl-next-door, an evil old hag and some impossibly cute pets. Once Gizmo’s rules have been broken, however, Gremlins’ cutesy exterior suddenly gives way to a comedy horror movie with a sinister streak of jet black humour.
Despite being a film of two very different halves, Gremlins doesn’t feel at all disjointed as you would expect. Joe Dante has done an excellent job at maintaining a balance between both the dark humour and the family friendly elements. It’s a rare comedy that can include dark themes such as animal cruelty and seasonal suicide, but still be something the whole family can enjoy.
Watching Gremlins now, over thirty years since it was released, and the signs of age are starting to show. The dated effects that were used for the monsters makes the film feel a little rough around the edges now, but this is still a Christmas classic that can be enjoyed by everyone.