If you’ve seen enough G-rated miracles on the Hallmark Channel this early in the holiday season, then, venturing into PG territory, the 1984 horror film Gremlins may be for you.
Perhaps Gremlins was a part of your viewing experience as a kid. I revisited it countless times growing up in spite of the black humor and violence (and I’m sure my dad was able to edit out the worst parts using his “editing equipment”–two Beta VCRs).
In the film, Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), an inventor, and a bad one at that, is in Chinatown on business when he spots an unusual creature in a shop, a little furry chirping humanoid with large ears and expressive eyes. The shop owner, a mysterious Chinese elder with a glass eye, calls the creature a Mogwai. Randall is looking for something unique for his son Billy for Christmas, and begs the shop owner to let him buy it. The owner refuses saying, “With Mogwai comes much responsibility.” The shop owner’s grandson allows Randall to buy the Mogwai behind the owner’s back, and gives him the three basic rules of Mogwai ownership: “Keep him away from the light; never get him wet, not even with a drop of water, and NEVER feed him after midnight.” Randall affectionately names the creature Gizmo.
Of course rules are made to be broken.
When a glass of water is spilled on the Mogwai, furry little pods pop out his body, and five or six more Mogwai are born. These Mogwai are not as cute and sweet as Gizmo.
They are edgier, and a lot meaner. They like stringing the family dog up in the Christmas lights. The new Mogwais are a lot smarter than our hero the young Billy (Zach Galligan), and it isn’t hard for them to trick him into feeding them after midnight when they sever the wires of his alarm clock. Soon the Mogwai are metamorphosing again inside green and sticky pods that resemble something that I hope isn’t, but very well could be, taking up residence at the bottom of my refrigerator. When the gross green pods hatch, the eponymous gremlins emerge, and chaos ensues.
In the 1980s the gremlins were extremely convincing to my young eyes. Seen now, they seem slightly better than the mechanical toys under the Christmas tree at the mall. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. In truth, this is a respectable piece of animatronics from the time period.
My favorite part is when Billy’s mom (Francis Lee McCain) explodes one of the gremlins in her microwave, coating it with an oozing liquid that belongs on the set of “The Exorcist.” This mom will do anything to defend her home, not to mention the gingerbread cookies she’s been working so hard on. I can’t say I blame her. I’d do the same thing even if it meant my clean kitchen appliances getting slimed with gremlin mucous.
This movie will be holiday fun with a dash of horror for kids and grownups alike. For parents it’ll be a nostalgia fix that isn’t “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and for kids it’s perhaps something quaint and B-grade but ultimately entertaining. They may roll their eyes or guffaw at first in a “this-is-so-bad-it’s-funny” or “you-actually-thought-this-was-scary?” way, but they’ll get into it. Stephen Spielberg produced this movie, after all.
I’m recommending this for ages 10 and up due to the movie’s black humor, violence, and a bar scene when the gremlins go on a drinking binge that would give any self-respecting frat a run for its money. The fact that they are obviously puppets and the bad guys somewhat mitigates this bacchanalia. If this scene sends you into helicopter parenting mode, I’d understand. The fast-forward button is there for you.
And remember, don’t feed your kids, I mean, the gremlins, after midnight!