Releasing Christmas themed movies in the summer is not a new practice. Miracle on 34th Street, one of the most holiday themed movies you’ll ever watch, was released in May 1947. So one has to wonder why the powers-that-be felt June 1984 was a good time to release Gremlins. Granted, it’s not necessarily your usual sugary Christmas movie but it is always odd watching a Christmas movie in any other month than December or maybe November.
Gremlins is a solid mix of horror and comedy. In fact, the horror elements are pushed to the limits. Originally rated PG, this was one of several 1984 movies that resulted in the creation of the PG-13 rating. The biggest complaint parents had at the time was that it was marketed to kids with the cute little Mogwai named Gizmo. Of course, what they also got were the other gremlins attacking Santa Claus and trying to kill everyone. Ultimately, critics didn’t like it and, although there was concern upon its’ first release, it has become an iconic movie of the 80s.
Our movie begins in Chinatown as inventor Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is trying to find a Christmas gift for his son. In an antique shop, he discovers the cute little Mogwai. Shop owner Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) doesn’t want to sell it as it requires great responsibility. However, his grandson secretly sells it as they need the money. Now, you all remember the three rules don’t you? Keep it out of bright light, don’t get it wet and never feed it after midnight. Yes, we break two of those three rules and chaos ensues. Rand gives it to his son Billy (Zach Galligan) and everything goes well at first. That is until young Pete (Corey Feldman) accidently spills water on Gizmo. It turns out water causes Gizmo to produce more little Mogwai. However, these are different. They seem to be more aggressive and follow a leader named Stripe. Stripe tricks Billy into feeding them after midnight and then they transform into hideous little creatures. Turns out these may very well be the gremlins of lore that plague airplanes and terrified William Shatner in that classic Twilight Zone episode. The gremlins quickly multiply and terrify the town. Gizmo ends up saving the day before Mr. Wing returns to reclaim his Mogwai as man isn’t ready yet for them yet.
Our cast is full of 80s goodness. Hoyt Axton is a country musician who turned to acting in the 70s and 80s. Zach Galligan is one of those 80s stars who has kept busy over the years but his glory days were left behind with parachute pants and multi-colored neon sweaters. Phoebe Cates starred in numerous 80s movies before marrying actor Kevin Kline and essentially retiring from Hollywood. Of course, Corey Feldman is well-known for his string of classic 80s movies as much as his antics outside of the cinema. B movie legend Dick Miller turns in a funny performance as Murray Futterman and some of you may or may not remember actress Polly Holiday who played Mrs. Deagle. She’s better remembered as Flo from the TV series Alice. Bank manager Roland Corben is the very recognizable actor Edward Andrews and a young Judge Reinhold plays aspiring millionaire Gerald Hopkins. Mr. Wing was played by Keye Luke, another Hollywood B movie legend who starred in countless movies and TV series, such as the Charlie Chan film series and as Master Po in Kung Fu. We get cameos from the likes of William Schallert and Chuck Jones. And yes, that was Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.
Gremlins feels like two movies. It starts off as a fun movie about the cute little Gizmo. But once we start getting more gremlins, it turns into a sometimes surprisingly graphic and scary movie. These gremlins weren’t just mischievous, they wanted to kill. It was a big hit in 1984 and again in 1985, when it was re-released to theaters. In 1985, it also became a huge hit on the video rental market. A sequel was released in 1990 that went more for the comedy than the darkness of the original. Gremlins also started a string of copycat films like Ghoulies and Critters. Not to mention all of the games and toys that came out of the movie and are still found on toy store shelves today.
However, as intense as it was in 1984, it does seem a little tame by today’s standards. And that is just fine by me. I was very surprised at well the movie aged. Having not seen it for many years, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it for a change of pace during the Christmas season. It’s readily available on DVD and, as an added bonus, check out episode 226 of the B-Movie Podcast. Vince and the gang review it just in time for Christmas.