Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Sunday, December 14, 2014


Year: 1984 (Gremlins), 1990 (Gremlins 2)
Running time: 106 minutes
Certificate: 15 (Gremlins), 12 (Gremlins 2)
Language: English
Screenplay: Chris Columbus (Gremlins), Charles S. Haas (Gremlins 2)
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Keye Luke, Polly Holliday, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, John Glover, Robert Prosky, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lee, Haviland Morris, Kathleen Freeman, Gedde Watanabe, Tony Randall (voice)

Billy and Gizmo try to save Kingston Falls.
Some films are so much better suited to a certain time period. If either Gremlins or its sequel were released now, I doubt they would work as well. The films were shot back in the time of practical effects and the puppet work on display is extraordinary. They would almost certainly be replaced by CGI today, and as a result I have no doubt they would lose much of the humour that makes them so great. That said, it's probably only a matter of time before they do remake them. They are, in fact, doing that very thing to Thunderbirds right now over in New Zealand, although Peter Jackson's and Weta Digital's involvement is encouraging, because if anyone can make CGI look less soulless, it's those folks.

Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is looking for a Christmas present for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). In a dark back alley he finds a shop run by the very elderly Mr Wing (Keye Luke) and his grandson (John Louie) where he acquires a mogwai, a fantastical creature he decides will be perfect for Billy. Peltzer is given three rules about caring for the mogwai - keep him out of the light, especially sunlight, which is fatal, don't get him wet, and don't feed him after midnight. Billy loves his present, promptly names it Gizmo and it doesn't take long for Billy's friend Pete Fountaine (Corey Feldman) to break the second rule, by accidentally knocking a glass of water over Gizmo. It turns out breaking the second rule leads to reproduction. Gizmo's offspring are jolly unpleasant little things, and set out to cause havoc from the off.
Gremlins: digging Disney.

The film steps up a gear when Billy is tricked into feeding them after midnight and they go into slimy cocoons that look a little like the eggs from Alien. It's here we discover that mogwais are like caterpillars and go through a metamorphosis, only instead of butterflies, you get scaly, murderous little fuckers the paranoid neighbour Murray Futterman (Dick Miller) names gremlins.

For a while after this point, Gremlins is a cracking little horror story in which the newly-hatched gremlins, led by Stripe get revenge on a blood sample-taking science teacher Mr Hanson (Glynn Turman) and terrify Billy's poor mother Lynn (Frances Lee McCain). But when Stripe finds his way into the local swimming pool, it changes to something else entirely, as a knee-high army of gremlins start to take over the town: suddenly it’s a series of comedy skits that come across as a live action Warner Bros. cartoon and any story simply disappears. There are many brief moments of blackly comic brilliance in every scene, from Mr Futterman and his wife Sheila (Jackie Joseph) having a snow plow driven through their house, through mean old woman Mrs Deagle (Polly Holliday) flying out of an upstairs window to her death after her stair lift is tampered with to a set of genius skits all taking place in the local bar.
Billy, Kate and newly Rambo-ised Gizmo brace themselves for more anarchy.
The moment during all the chaos when everything stops and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates - my biggest teenage movie crush? It's either Phoebe Cates or Meg Ryan in Innerspace) tells the tragic story of the death of her father, it has got to be one of the most blackly comic moments in film history, a moment which is perfectly spoofed in the sequel where the suggestion that Kate had a traumatic experience as a child involving a guy dressed as Abe Lincoln sparking uneasy laughter. It saunters its way up to the boundary of good taste, and, frankly, just keeps going, but in director Joe Dante's hands, the movie gets away with it.

There's something satisfyingly right about the gremlins meeting their end while laughing their asses off at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a cinema. Being such a huge part of my childhood, Gremlins is kind of synonymous with the movies for me, and I guess that's why it fits so perfectly for me. Stripe, having escaped the movie theatre meltdown, is on the verge of triggering the next generation at a mall water fountain when the first rule is broken and the sunlight melts him in a spectacularly gross death scene.

Preparing to take New York with a song.
The sequel retreads pretty much the same ground, just transporting the story to a New York skyscraper, and adding genetic engineering into the mix to brilliantly creative effect: “They come in electric too?” Billy and Kate now live together in New York and they both work in the headquarters of developer / media mogul Daniel Clamp (John Glover). Following the death of Mr Wing, Gizmo finds himself trapped in the lab of Dr Catheter (Christopher Lee). Events conspire to get Billy and Gizmo together and to get Gizmo wet and well, the movie tag line 'Here they grow again' says it all really. Dante once again cracks the black comedy into overdrive and it's once more a case of sitting back and enjoying the crazy as it flies past in quickfire skits. The fact that it is pretty much the same film in a different setting does Gremlins 2 no harm whatsoever, because the viewer is too busy laughing themselves into a stroke to notice.

Great, great stuff, but you may have to be part of a certain age group to appreciate it fully.

Gremlins: 8/10
Gremlins 2: The New Batch: 8/10

It's very hard not to love the anarchic spirit Dante injects into these films - see this review of Gremlins by Nathan and Scott and this one of its sequel by David.