Saturday, December 31, 2016
Holiday Horror: Gremlins
A down on his luck father stumbles upon a delightful creature called a mogwai while perusing an antique store in Chinatown. He doesn't take no for answer when the owner says it's not for sale and convinces the man's grandson to sell it to him under the table for his son Billy. Billy loves the mogwai and names him Gizmo, but doesn't follow the three very simple rules. He ends up with 6 mogwais and then blunders even further when they turn monstrous after feeding them after midnight. They turn hideous and cruel, wreaking havoc across the sleepy town of Kingston Falls. Can Billy contain or destroy the gremlins before they wreck the town and move on to somewhere else?
Gremlins is a film I haven't seen since childhood. Pretty much the only thing I remembered was adorable Gizmo and creepy Stripe. It's an odd film that has some flaws, but I can see why it's become a classic. The film highlights problems in the United States using the microcosm of Kingston Falls. At the beginning, we enjoy a short scene of idyllic bliss in the small town that's shattered by greed. A police man asks a Christmas tree salesman for a donated tree for the police station, but he refuses even though he will have lots of trees left over. This is not an isolated incident as eldery and rich Mrs. Deagle and the bank refuse to give a woman and her hungry children more time to pay their bills. She also threatens to kill Billy's dog for breaking something of hers and "attacking" her. Kingston Falls is supposed to be the epitome of wholesome America, but it's full of greedy people only concerned for themselves willing to let their neighbors down.
The real Kingston Falls ties into the lie of the American dream. Everyone in the film is trying to make money to survive, but most aren't successful or are unhappy. The ones who are successful, like Mrs. Deagle and her bank toadies, don't do anything to help their community. Billy is a talented artist, but put aside his passion and happiness to work in a bank and be more financially successful. Billy's father Rand constantly tries to invent something that will make him rich. Occasionally he cons people into buying his stuff, but his inventions mostly don't work or are not needed. He spends the majority of his time away from home, essentially leaving Billy without a father, to provide for them. When he finds the mogwai, he doesn't understand the concept that someone wouldn't want money for it. When he finds how easy it is for the mogwai to reproduce, all he thinks of is how to sell it. Nothing means anything to him if it doesn't have to do with economics. This attitude creates the gremlin problem.
Gizmo is adorable, but he has some creepiness in his face around the eyes and mouth that disappear in the second film. He talks, sings, watches movies, and shows he is quite intelligent. This whole film is pretty hard on him as it all stems from Billy's inability to follow three simples rules: don't get him wet, don't feed him after midnight, and don't expose him to sunlight. Billy and his family don't seem equipped to take care of their dog, never mind a delicate creatures like Gizmo. His pain and terror when he was wet or exposed to bright lights was suprisingly sad and his caretakers never really take notice. Billy even get him wet to show a scientist, never mind that he was told not to do that and it seems to torture Gizmo.
The gremlins start off as cute mogwais, but always bullied Gizmo and cliqued up with Stripe as their leader. Once they get wet, they turn into reptilian, disgusting creatures bent on wrecking the whole town. They will attack people, but focus on doing what they love. This includes drinking, smoking, and eating to excess, breaking things, generally getting into trouble, listening to music, and dancing. Their scenes are hilarious even while they can be dangerous. I love the meta moment when the gremlins watched a movie in the theater and Stripe is only saved because he wants more snacks, The greed this town is built on has led to the destruction of the city.
Gremlins is a Christmas horror comedy that highlights the consequences of focusing on monetary wealth rather than family and community. This issue is exacerbated by Christmas, where we feel pressure to buy the best gifts to show people we love them as Billy's father did. The film does have its odd moments like Billy seeming like he should be much younger, especially with an 8 year old as a best friend. This classic family friendly movie has some surprisingly frightening scenes that I completely forgot about. I highly recommend this silly movie and it makes me want to rewatch the sequel.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins