In the annals of movie monster history, these little suckers tend to be forgotten–and I think that is a real shame. “Gremlins” as a Christmas movie, or even as a creature feature, is not anything special in the grand scheme of things. But I think the parts of this movie make for a much more substantial whole.
This film ended up being much more influential than it set out to be, being the catalyst, in addition to “Indiana Jones” and “The Temple of Doom,” to the MPAA’s adoption of the PG-13 rating, after the films were released with a PG rating while being and more risqué than most other PG films.
The plot goes as such: The son of a failing inventor purchases a strange creature from a vaguely Asian hole-in-the-wall establishment and is given three rules in handling the “Mogwai,” which is an anglicized version of the Cantonese word for devil. Those rules are:
- Do not expose the mogwai to light: This will kill it.
- Do not let the mogwai become exposed to water.
- Do not feed the mogwai after midnight.
Obviously, since it would not be a very good movie without these rules being broken, all three of the rules are broken in a series of very unfortunate events for the city the characters live in. I will not spoil the good bits for you here if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but to say the least I would become very weary of automated stair lifts (it’ll make sense if you watch it, I swear).
Doesn’t sound like a Christmas movie, does it? Well, you’d be wrong. Gizmo, the first of the mogwai and the most even tempered, is purchased as a Christmas present for the son of the inventor. This film is also the proprietor of the strangest Christmas-related trauma that anyone will probably ever come across. It wouldn’t be too far out there to say the film is actually quite faithful to the Christmas theme, at least compared to the compatriots that could possibly be considered “Christmas movies.”
In general, this film uses the generically cheery tone of the typical Christmas film in a way that very nicely contrasts with the at-times gruesome subject matter of the film. Joe Dante, the director of this film, has a knack for these types of films that appear to be one thing, but are very much another thing in reality. Films like “Small Soldiers,” “The ‘Burbs” and this film’s sequel, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” show the almost surreal humor of Dante’s style.
“Gremlins” appears to be a kind of wholesome Christmas special that just happens to have the creatures this film has. The titular “Gremlins” are full of personality, almost like a bastardized version of Jim Henson’s “Muppets”. They have the same silly sensibilities and cultural awareness, except without most of the Muppets’ capability of the English language– and the fact that the Gremlins kill many more people than the average Muppet.
So, if you have a Christmas get-together that needs a little spice, pop this baby in! Though this is not really as high on the pedestal of non-Christmas movies, I think it is really up there with the likes of “Die Hard” and “Batman Returns.”