Probably one of the first horror comedies supposedly for all the family. Released back in 84 at a time when there was some incredibly stiff competition at the box office, namely 'Ghostbusters'. The film opens at Christmas in a typical small all American apple pie town blanketed under a layer of snow. My first thoughts when seeing this again was how similar this town square looked to the town square of Hill Valley in 'Back to the Future'.
Straight away you can't help but love the atmosphere this film is setting, the opening credits play out to Darlene Love's popular 1963 song Christmas, everything looks so cozy and charming as kids play in the snow. All this is of course after the more Spielbergian opening of how little Gizmo gets discovered in Chinatown, a very Indiana-esque look and feel about that whole sequence, you can tell its an Amblin production. Isn't that little Chinese boy wearing the same baseball hat as Short Round from 'Temple of Doom'? or the same look perhaps? Don't miss the Indiana Jones billboard nod at the start either.
I think the one thing that always stuck with me (and everyone else I'm sure) was the fact this film was actually pretty scary and dark. Considering it was a young persons film and advertised as just that it was edgy, I remember always hiding behind a cushion when watching this. The whole concept of little green monsters hiding under your bed or in the clothes cupboard is pretty terrifying for kids, its the stuff of bedtime legend, so this film really hit home in so many aspects at the time.
What still impresses today are the special effects, the cute lill Giz puppet is clearly just a puppet or advanced Muppet but geez it still looks good!. His huge round eyes, little snout, big floppy ears and that adorable little chirping voice of his. I don't think anyone can deny that little tune Giz whistles or hums is almost as iconic as the electronic sound from 'Close Encounters'...and downright lovable. But its the facial expressions we see on close ups that really impress me to this day, the way he rolls his eyes in loathing or looks frightened, the little guy still genuinely looks quite real.
'bright light! bright light!'
The same can also be said for the evil Gremlins and their reptilian appearance. These guys really do look scary and nasty, you know you wouldn't wanna get bitten by one of these guys. I also love how dated this film is, how un-PC it is. The Gremlins are clearly show smoking virtually all the time! drinking booze, getting drunk, smashing everything and even using lethal weapons including guns! Can you imagine a kids film in this day and age showing stuff like that! this film could almost be seen as advocating yobbish behaviour and saying drinking, smoking and trashing property is fun. It really is quite the eye opener when you see some of the things these Gremlins get up to, you half expect to see them grunting away whilst mating on a table.
Never really understood how Mogwai seem to reproduce as they do, never explained. The idea is a bit silly really, just like the three rules. Water makes them reproduce, but why? how? from their back?? how do they drink or do they? surely this would be hard to avoid, plus wouldn't he be smelly and disgusting with all that fur? They can't eat after midnight...that doesn't make much sense because that means he can never really eat doesn't it? Oh and is Gizmo the only Mogwai left? you'd think there would be lots.
The film does has many levels or stages I think. The whole tranquil little snow capped town with all the townsfolk knowing each other does homage 'Its a Wonderful Life', they don't hide this though as its shown in the film. The grumpy and somewhat sadistic Mrs Deagle is clearly a little homage to 'The Wizard of Oz' and the wicked witch character, she even says the same lines at one point. At some points the film is very humorous with silly Gremlin slapstick and tomfoolery, visual gags and overall light-hearted laughs that kids would enjoy. On the same note there are also many more points in the film where it does really get close to the bone. You get a quick hint of this early on when the professor gets killed or half eaten which is a tad unnerving.
The tone shifts from one end of the scale to the other quite dramatically, it can be a bit mind boggling. A good small example would be when the Gremlins are all in the bar drinking and smoking (its all good kids). There is much craziness going on which can be seen as light comedy but all of a sudden Stripe whips out a gun and shoots a fellow Gremlin in the face! This causes much laughter all round from the little critters but it does kinda get you thinking doesn't it, hey kids its fun to shoot people in the face...no consequences accept for hilarity and drinks all round!
The same could be said for the Gremlins attack on Peltzer's mum in the kitchen. I think this is the first really graphic attack sequence in the film, some quite nasty justice for the little terrors. The infamous microwave sequence, head in a blender, stabbed to death with a big knife and all rounded off with a decapitation into the fireplace! The whole finale against Stripe is very dark too as this Gremlin is trying to kill Peltzer is some pretty gruesome ways, no holding back here kids, chainsaw to the face!!
I'm not even mentioned the depressing tale spoken by Cates character of why she hates Xmas, pretty bleak stuff right there. Then of course there's the excellent melting sequence of Stripe as he meets his demise right at the end. Much like the melting moments in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' that bit always had me half looking back in the day, twas cool but scary, I guess that's why us kids liked it back then. The sound effects made that scene so much more disgusting with all the bubbling and squelching, loved the dogs reaction too, that dog really jumped on many occasion in the film, poor fella.
Its corny and cliche but they don't make kids films like this anymore. I guess that could be a good thing because kids these days are exposed to so much stuff, but I suppose you could argue they wouldn't find it scary because they are more immune. Back in the day times were simpler and we didn't have all the tech stuff you have now so films like this really blew your mind and I think we enjoyed them more because of it. I think films like this felt more special because they looked real and gave you something you wouldn't normally see, no internet or CGI back then kids.
I always did like Hoyt Axton's (loved his performance and character) last few words in this film...'Well, that's the story. So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out; before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, 'cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house'. The thing is back then when you were a kid, you DID check in your clothes cupboard and under your bed before going to bed.