When Todd over at Forgotten Films invited me to join his next blogathon, which was set to be 1984-themed, I knew exactly what film I wanted to write about: Gremlins. Directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg, Gremlins is really a strange film in a lot of ways; it is nearly impossible to categorize because it is unlike anything else. It is also a movie that I’ve loved since childhood. That, in itself, is a loaded and interesting claim to make– is it a kids movie? No, not really. But it’s also not mature enough to be not for kids, if that makes sense… Truth be told, the film is the one of the most uproariously and outrageously fun and refreshingly eccentric blockbusters partly because it is so unique. It straddles a fine line that no other film had yet straddled in 1984, of course; for those who may not be aware, what I am trying to say with this cryptic analysis of the film’s tone and intended audience is simply that Gremlins is the movie that gave rise to a whole new rating: PG-13. Upon its release, the film was rated PG because R was a bit much– understandably so, for a movie about cute, cuddly creatures (even though they do not remain so cute and cuddly). But many parents felt PG was too soft– again, the creatures are anything but cute and cuddly for a solid portion of the film, and besides their now-creepy aesthetic, their bad behavior is laced with mischievous double entendres perhaps not suitable for children under 13.
While I often try to reserve a little space in my Forgotten Favorites features to discuss something slightly outside the film itself, I feel I’ve already digressed enough about the MPAA and if I go any further, this may devolve into me venting about the issues I have with said rating system. Needless to say though, this film was really more important than it ever seemed like it would be. I mean, there may be some deeper commentary going on (but just barely– much of the critique of consumerism is left for the film’s even zanier 1990 sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) but overall, this is just a thrilling popcorn flick that flings you giddily, almost violently, through a number of emotions and reactions with every bit of hijinks that ensue.
These hijinks (and the hilarity and minor scares that come with them) all begin when Billy (Zach Galligan) is given a pet who comes with three very specific rules for taking care of him. The pet is a gremlin, specifically the lovable Gizmo (voiced by none other than Howie Mandel). The rules are as follows: don’t feed him after midnight, don’t get him wet, and no bright lights. All three are eventually, and inadvertently, broken, causing Gizmo to reproduce and spawn evil, green, reptilian counterparts– evil gremlins, if you will, who wreak havoc on Billy’s small town. They’re more like punk-rock pests than they are mini-Godzillas of any kind, but they are genuinely horrifying as well as being genuinely humorous in their actions.
The film is popcorn fodder at its best and brightest– smart but also undeniably silly. Almost every way in which the evil gremlins frighten the townsfolk is meant, above all else, to make us laugh, but there’s something else about this film that is fun… A kind of glee in feeling disgusted by and even a little bit scared of these fictional monsters, who are so destructive and so comical.The movie is and always will be one of my all time favorites. I was the kind of kid who was into horror movies and all things ghoulish, but as a kid, you still want there to be humor and a sense that this is just too preposterous to ever be real (although I’m sure most kids, like myself, wanted a Gizmo of their very own and would swear to never break any of the three rules).
And yet, as a young adult, the film still holds up, nostalgia not withstanding. It has moments that might go over a child’s head (hence the need for that parental guidance). And the visual effects that went into creating these evil gremlins are actually quite creepy and thus gloriously effective. It is for all these reasons and more that the film doesn’t seem overly corny or outdated even today; imaginative and endlessly enjoyable to watch, Gremlins is one of the great unexpected, oddball/black sheep treasures of popular cinema. Its legacy as such has lasted this long and won’t be fading anytime soon, as far as I’m concerned.
For all the other wonderful posts from the blogosphere that Forgotten Films will be sponsoring and promoting as part of his 1984-a-thon, I encourage you to click here and marvel in the awesomeness of that year in film. Thank you all for reading and to Todd once again for letting me revisit a film that I love so much.