Christmas Movies: Gremlins (1984)


Come on, scientists! Stop working on whatever it is you’re working on – vaccines, ways to improve our lives, whatever – and get to genetically engineering a mogwai!

For the next few weeks, we’ll be doing some “alternative” Christmas movies, ones that feature Christmas but aren’t about families coming together, or morality plays about generosity. My wife and I ummed and ahhed about “Lethal Weapon”, and how much we’d enjoy it knowing what we know about Mel Gibson, and we may still rewatch “Bad Santa”, but we’ve still got plenty of choices for you.


I’d be genuinely amazed if anyone reading this hasn’t already seen “Gremlins”, and the problem is, it’s difficult to have an original thought about a film that’s been so thoroughly picked over. But in case you were a hermit for many years, here goes. Wacky inventor Randall Pelzer goes into Chinatown to sell some of his stuff, and while in a backstreet antique store, happens upon Gizmo, a mogwai. The owner refuses to sell so the owner’s grandson “steals” it for him, as the shop needs the money, and Randall gives it to his son Billy for Christmas.

Three rules – no bright lights, and sunlight’ll kill em; no water; and no feeding after midnight. My first observation was probably made 30 years ago – every hour of the day is “after midnight”, really. It feels good to get that lame observation out of my brain! Billy, of course, breaks all the rules by the 40 minute mark of the movie, and the cute if mischievous mogwai turn into the evil gremlins, who quite quickly run amok.


It’s interesting to realise the change in your perception of a movie over the years, and with this one there’s a few. Mostly, it’s to realise it’s not the perfect unassailable comedy of my youth – if Gizmo wasn’t for sale, why have him in your shop? Why did Randall’s wife not sit him down at some point in the past and tell him that his inventions suck and he either needs to make one of them work or stop messing about? Why does no-one go “hey, let’s take this completely new species to a real scientist and make a gigantic amount of money”?

But it’s also interesting to realise that this comedy has a seriously dark heart to it. People die in all sorts of horrible ways, and there’s a lot of really grotesque gremlin murders – they’re blown up in microwaves, put in food blenders, and their heads are sliced off and thrown into fires. Really, all they want to do is have fun! They sit and have a great time at the local cinema when it shows “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs”. And, okay, they do want to kill people too.

The link to this film and Christmas is…well, it could just as easily have been Billy’s birthday that his Dad got the mogwai for, but it did give them lots of set decoration fun. Minor character Corey Feldman dresses in a Christmas tree outfit for his job selling Christmas trees, and the owner of the bank does her best Mr Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life” impression – one of many many similarities between the two films.

Steven Spielberg cameo at the front there

Steven Spielberg cameo at the front there

This film is still fantastic, thirty years on. What’s interesting now is how quaint their small town looks, with its local shops and everything-within-walking-distance ways. As the camera pans down a street early in the film, the first of capitalism’s evil tendrils is seen with a brand-new Burger King. Can you imagine what that same street would look like today? Director Joe Dante absolutely packs the film with little in-jokes and references to other films (although nowhere near as much as he would for 1990’s Gremlins 2) – for instance, there’s an LP in a shop called “Hypnotism with Dr Dante”, and a book written by Joe Dante’s father is featured on Billy’s nightstand. It’s a film that definitely rewards paying attention if you put it on with your kids.

That’s the last thing, really – I had this sort of faulty memory of this being a kids’ movie, but it’s really not – it was rated 15 in the UK, and with good reason. But I’m sure we all watched slightly edited versions of this at Christmas as kids, and provided they know Gizmo is going to be okay, I think a strong-willed kid would enjoy this film a lot.

Rating: thumbs up


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