It’s Christmas time and one of my favorite traditions is to watch as many Christmas movies as humanly possible. I prefer traditional ones to horror ones, but there’s a few that hold a special place in my heart. One of them is the timeless classic horror-comedy Gremlins and although I think it’s perfect for the holiday season, it’s enjoyable and fun for the whole family, even 32 years later.
Distributed by Warner Bros, Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus, and executively produced by Steven Spielberg. It was released around the time horror comedies were becoming popular and making waves in the industry. With an estimated budget of around $11 million dollars, it opened up on June 8th, 1984 and made over $153 million at the box office. Critics and fans alike adored this charming film and for good reason, with the film going on to win numerous awards including the 1985 Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Horror Film, Best Music, and Best Special Effects. It also won the 1985 Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture and Germany’s Golden Screen Award. The success of this film spawned a sequel in 1990 called Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which had mixed reviews but was overall entertaining – though not nearly as great as the original. Every little detail about Gremlins makes it special, from the wonderful chaotic Christmas story, the practical special effects, the fantastic characters, and the talented cast including Zach Galligan, Hoyt Axton, Phoebe Cates, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Judge Reinhold, and Howie Mandel who plays the voice of Gizmo.
Gremlins begins with a struggling inventor (Axton) who is in Chinatown looking for a Christmas present for his son, Billy (Galligan). He discovers a furry creature called a Mogwai (Mandel) and tries to buy him even though he isn’t for sale. He weasels his way into purchasing the little fella behind the owners back under the condition that he follows the 3 rules: no bright lights, never let it get wet, and never feed him after midnight, no matter how much he begs. Bright light will hurt him, and sunlight can kill him.
Billy falls in love with the adorable creature right away and names him Gizmo. Everything is going great until they accidentally break each rule one after the other… discovering the truth behind why the rules were meant to be enforced in the first place. Crazy little creatures called gremlins have been unleashed and are creating chaos everywhere they go. Will they ruin Christmas for everyone?
The storyline is absolutely fantastic and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It has the right mix of horror, comedy, and holiday spirit. There are several things going on at once: a struggling family, a slight love story, Christmas, a battle with the neighborhood villain, Mrs. Deagle (Holliday), and to top it off, psychotic Gremlins are running amok – yet somehow everything flows together well. There’s a prevalent dark tone, but the humor and silliness of the Gremlins help lighten things up, making it a film that families can enjoy together.
Along with the story comes an amazing musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, who, as previously mentioned, won the Saturn Award for Best Music. The score for Gremlins did a perfect job of conveying mischievous humor and creating suspense throughout the whole film. Plus, they threw in familiar Christmas songs into the soundtrack such as and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which we hear early on in the film, setting a light-hearted Christmasy tone.
I love the simplicity of the practical effects for Gizmo and the Gremlins. They were something we hadn’t seen before; not too scary, but definitely creepy and similar to a bat. Many of the special effects relied heavily on puppetry when the original idea of using monkeys backfired. Turns out monkeys aren’t big fans of wearing masks, who would have guessed? Chris Walas created several rubber puppets for the little creatures, some were even mechanical, but unfortunately their size made them easy to break. Since the puppets had their limitations, they also used marionettes and other materials for close up shots.
One of the best things about this film, and the most underrated, is the stunningly beautiful cinematography by John Hora. With all the craziness going on in Gremlins it may be hard to remember some of the breathtaking scenes that are hidden throughout the story, but my favorite one is by far the last scene right before the ending credits. It’s an ironic type of beauty. The beautiful Christmas lights shining down on the cold bitter snow delivers a sense of peacefulness after a brutal storm of Gremlins being unleashed. I’ve always loved this shot and reasons like this are why it won several awards and is still a favorite so many years later.
Some fun facts about Gremlins:
- In Cantonese Chinese, Mogwai means devil, demon or gremlin.
- In the bar scene, the video game the Gremlin is playing is Star Wars.
- Chris Columbus wrote the script for this film and later directed Home Alone and it’s sequel. All 3 films have a video clip of It’s A Wonderful Life.
- While watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the theater, one of the gremlins can be seen wearing a set of Mickey Mouse ears.
- Mushroom, the dog actor who played Billy’s dog, Barney, is also famous for playing Lance Henriksen‘s dog in the horror classic Pumpkinhead.
- Mrs. Deagle’s character was based on the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol”.
- The idea for Gremlins came to Chris Columbus at a loft in Manhattan’s garment district when he heard what sounded like a platoon of mice skittering about at night.
Overall, I can’t say I know too many people who don’t love Gremlins. It was filmed incredibly well and brought something original to the big screen, not just for horror fans but anyone who loves the art of cinema. Plus, the story, no matter how old the film gets, remains relevant and timeless. So, light up the tree, butter your popcorn, add an extra marshmallow or two to your hot chocolate, and revisit this Christmas horror comedy before the holiday season is over!