Holiday Movie Month: "Gremlins" Review

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A black comedy film in which a young man receives a lovable but strange creature called a Mogwai, only to bring it home and watch it spawn other creatures who transform into small, destructive, evil monsters. Zach Galligan & Phoebe Cates star as the main character duo of Billy and Kate, while Howie Mandel provides the voice of Gizmo.
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Holiday Movie Month: "Gremlins" Review

Rating: PG
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 1984
Directed by: Joe Dante
Genre: Comedy/Horror

The maniacal and often funny events that mark the second half of "Gremlins" would not have been possible if it hadn't been for the lack of foresight on the part of down-on-his luck inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton). Poor Randall meant well when he visited a shop in Chinatown and bought his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan) an adorable fuzzy creature called a mogwai. The shop owner's grandson allows Randall to take the mogwai as a gift for Billy with three special caveats—never get him wet, never expose him to direct sunlight, and especially never feed him after midnight. Randall is careful to tell a delighted Billy about the special rules, and for a while, all seems well in the Peltzer household as Billy and his new pet bond over their mutual love of movies.

Billy is a responsible teenager, but even he makes mistakes with such specific rules about the mogwai, who he has now christened as Gizmo. He accidentally gets Gizmo wet, which causes several new mogwais to pop out of him. These new creatures initially look like Gizmo but have nasty temperaments, which prompts Billy to take one to a science-teacher friend. The caged mogwai stealthily grabs some leftover food and eats it after midnight, causing it to morph into an hideous little creature, one of several who like nothing more than causing mischief.

Realizing his mistakes, Billy takes responsibility for the town being overrun by the gremlins. He teams up with his dad, love interest Kate (Phoebe Cates), and Gizmo to try and put a stop to their destructive and often homicidal ways. This is in tandem to dealing with town crank Mrs.  Deagle (Polly Holliday), who is bent on killing Billy's dog and trying to throw as many people out of their homes as possible. Between Mrs. Deagle and the gremlins, Billy's small team may not have enough resources to stop the creatures before one of them gets wet or feeds after midnight again, causing their numbers to triple, quadruple, or worse.

Nearly every child of the 1980s probably remembers seeing "Gremlins" at some point, whether it was in the theaters or one of the umpteen times that it later played on cable. What a lot of them don't know is that the film was mired in controversy when it first came out. It was given a PG rating, meaning parental guidance was suggested. At the time, the PG-13 designation did not exist, so a film that was deemed too risqué for a PG rating had to jump up to an R. That is a huge jump, so although "Gremlins" had some rather macabre and even a few gross scenes, it was not enough to warrant the Restricted rating. Parent groups and even some critics protested that scenes like the one where a Gremlin gets turned into a smoothie in a blender were way too graphic for the rating the film received. Producer Steven Spielberg, whose "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" had earned similar complaints about its PG rating, lobbied for an in-between rating. After "Gremlins," the PG-13 rating was born, though the film still bears its original, controversial PG rating.

The film was very different from others in theaters at the time because it took the idyllic Norman Rockwell Christmas scene and turned it into a homicidal, monster-laden nightmare. Not only did it transform the traditional image of a quiet suburban town into a dark landscape, it did so with humor and a fair amount of glee. The film could turn downright pitch black sometimes, such as the scene where Kate explains why she hates Christmas. Yet somehow, despite some of the rather gnarly and graphic scenes and dark humor, the film is largely still considered to be appropriate for children, and parents by and large let their kids of almost all ages watch. It's a rare live action film that can be entertaining for adults as well as children.

The film spawned many a merchandising opportunity and even an underrated sequel that was basically a gigantic spoof of pop culture. There has even been talk of either a third entry into the franchise or a complete reboot, though nothing has come to fruition just yet. Whether viewers get a new film or not, "Gremlins" is easily one of the most memorable films to come out of the 1980s and should be required viewing for the children and eventual grandchildren of fans who watched it with wide eyes and laughter when they were still children themselves.

Rating: 4 out of 5