“The Gremlins Are Coming!”
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton
Synopsis: A boy inadvertantly breaks 3 important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
A lot of people seem to complain about the mean-spirited streak of violence in Gremlins, but that doesn’t bother me. In fact it’s almost necessary for a tale like this one. I can see how it doesn’t sit well with those who prefer their Christmas movies to have angels earning their wings or old men who believe they’re Kris Kringle but, let’s face it, you can hardly have a feel-good movie featuring demonic creatures intent on creating mischief. And if you think the version that hit the screens has a violent edge, you should check out the parts of the original screenplay that failed to make the final cut. Producer Spielberg was conscious of the movie’s box-office potential and watered-down the movie considerably, and it shows in the way that many of the supporting characters are under-written – in particular, the miserly Mrs Deagle (Polly Holliday) who initially looks like she’s shaping up to be a major antagonist before disappearing until her demise at the hands of the gremlins, and Gerald Hopkins (Judge Reinhold), the sleazy colleague of hero’s sidekick, Billy (Zach Galligan), who also looks as if he’s going to have a major part to play before simply disappearing completely.
I referred to Billy as the hero’s sidekick because the unmistakable star – and hero – of Gremlins is Gizmo, the insufferably cute mogwai purchased by Billy’s father (Hoyt Axton) from a back-street curio shop run by the mysterious Mr. Wing (Keye Luke). However, mogwais are only cute as long as they’re kept away from bright lights, are not fed after midnight and don’t come into contact with water. If any of that stuff happens, then small balls of fur pop out of the Mogwai’s back and grow into the eponymous creatures. Inevitably, Gizmo is accidentally splashed with water, and before you know it hundreds of the nasty little creatures have over-run the picturesque town of Kingston Falls just as its residents are bedding down on Christmas Eve.
On paper, Gremlins seems to have all the ingredients for a sure-fire winner, but the fact is that we spend a long time waiting for the fatally mischievous creatures to start flexing their muscles only to have them prove woefully short of inspiration. The gremlins commit their pranks with malicious glee but we’re not familiar enough with the characters who fall victim to their tricks to really get emotionally involved in any way, and we know there’s no chance of Billy or his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates) suffering any kind of permanent harm. It’s clear that director Joe Dante was aiming for a Capra-esque feel to the movie (It’s a Wonderful Life is briefly seen on TV, and the setting of Gremlins bears many similarities to the earlier film), and it’s possible that a longer version – the original screenplay ran for over two-and-a-half hours – might have achieved that aim, but the only version that has ever been made available has the distinct feel of a movie that has suffered a little too much from the editor’s scissors.
(Reviewed 7th December 2014)