The Bluray Shelf Xmas Special
This is a popular Xmas film but has a dark streak of humour that may be a little too grown-up for younger members of the audience even if Gizmo looks like a sweet kiddie friendly ball of fluff. I loved this film the first time I saw it with its Looney Tunes inspired comedy from Joe Dante and I even seem to be one of the few who also enjoyed the even more comedic Gremlins 2
An inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) goes to Chinatown in some city to get his teenage son Billy a Christmas present. A young Chinese boy promises him that he’ll find something at his grandfather’s junk shop. Randall uses the opportunity to try to sell the owner one of his inventions, a clumsy brick with multiple gadgets that doesn’t really work. Randall hears a strange singing and goes to the back of the shop and in a box he sees a strange creature called a mogwai and Randall wants to buy him offering the owner $200 but he refuses saying that the mogwai is not for sale. The owner’s grandson tells him to wait outside and he brings him the creature and takes the money.
He tells Randall three important rules for caring for a mogwai: bright light hurts him and sunlight kills him, don’t let him get wet or have any contact with water and finally don’t feed him after midnight. As soon I heard them it was obvious that breaking these rules was going to be an important part of this story.
Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is at home trying to get his car to start so he can get to work at the local bank. He turns up late with his dog and settles down with the dog under his counter. The local nasty rich woman Mrs Deagle ()Polly Holliday comes storming down to the bank, rudely knocking people aside. In the bank she barges right through the queue at Billy’s counter dumping the snowman head on the counter. She’s there because Billy’s dog broke the rest of the snowman. She wants Billy to have to dog put down or she threatens to kill it herself. The dog reacts by freeing itself and jumping on the counter and knocking the head off and it smashes on the floor. This gets Billy in trouble with the manager Mr Corben (Edward Andrews) and his slimy kiss-ass assistant Gerald Hopkins (Judge Reinhold) sticks in a few nasty remarks for good measure.
Billy goes home where his mother (Frances Lee McCain) is preparing dinner and she asks Billy to crack her some eggs. Randall has an invention for doing this but when Billy tries using it he just ends up with a bowl of broken eggs. It is typical of Randall’s inventions that they cause a mess that takes longer to clean up than any time that could possibly be saved if they ever manage to work. Randall comes home and he gets greeted warmly by his wife are Billy When he gives the mogwai to Billy he is delighted and we get our first sight of him and he I’m sure that even if you haven’t seen the film I’m sure you know what the mogwai look like. He’s got great big eyes and is covered in soft hair and it has a huge pair of leathery ears and Peltzer says he calls him Gizmo and Gizmo seems to like that name and repeats it.
Gizmo settles in to his new home though there are a couple of incidents with bright lights that unsettle him. Gizmo really enjoys watching television and he really gets into an old film featuring racing drivers. This does become relevant later. Next day the neighbour’s kid Pete (Corey Feldman) comes round to deliver a Christmas tree for his father. Billy is in the kitchen trying to get orange juice out of one of his father’s inventions but that just leads to Billy and the kitchen covered bits of orange.
After he’s cleaned himself off he takes Pete up to his room to show him Gizmo and Pete is impressed. Gizmo likes showing off but when they move him over to a desk next to the window Pete knocks a jar of water over Gizmo who squeals in agony. His flesh looks like it’s boiling and then five little balls of fur pop off his back. Within minutes the balls swell and uncurl and Billy realises he has five more mogwai on his hands. Pete asks if he can have one but when he reaches his hand out to the five squabbling mogwai one of them tries to bite him and he loses interest. Billy is fascinated but from the look on Gizmo’s disaster is just around the corner. Years before CGI and motion capture they really do an amazing job getting expression from the Gizmo puppet.
Next day Billy takes one of the new mogwai to the Pete’s science teacher Roy Hanson (Glynn Turman) at the local high school and shows what happens when he puts a drop of water on its back creating another little mogwai. Hanson keeps the new mogwai so he can run some tests and Billy takes the other one home. Unlike Gizmo the other mogwai are badly behaved and very mischievous and seem to be led by one with tuft of hair that Billy has named Stripe. That night Billy finds the family dog strung up in Xmas lights on the front porch.He is certain it was Mrs Deagle but from the smirking the face of one of the mogwai they almost certainly did it.
Billy talks to his father about what happened and he starts thinking about perhaps selling off mogwai as pets. Randall has to leave to go to a mad inventors’ convention so he won’t be with home on Christmas Eve. Billy goes out on an errand and he passes the bar where Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) his co-worker at the bank works in the evening. She’s seeing the last drunk out of the bar before it closes and it’s Billy’s neighbour Mr Futterman (Dick Miller) who operates a snowplough. Kate talks him out of trying to drive the plough while drunk and he ominously warns them about Gremlins. Billy walks Kate home and he learns that Kate doesn’t like Christmas. Kate does agree to go on a date with Billy later in the week.
At the school Hanson is working very late and he takes a blood sample from the mogwai which he has put in a cage and is very unhappy with him. Billy gets home and settles down to watch Invasion of the Bodysnatchers with Gizmo. The other mogwai are in a box complaining noisily about being hungry so Billy checks the time on his clock and since it’s before midnight he fetches them some chicken which they devour with disgusting haste. Back at the school Hanson goes home leaving half a sandwich next to the cage.
When the morning of Christmas Eve comes and the five mogwai in the box and the one at the school have turned into large green slimy pods. Billy works out that they must have all eaten after midnight except for Gizmo and finds out that his clock was unplugged, almost certainly by one of the mogwai. Hanson reckons this is a pupal stage and that the mogwai are undergoing a metamorphosis. They don’t have any idea what they’re changing into but then they don’t know that they are in a film called Gremlins.
Billy goes to the school and discovers Hanson has been killed by the gremlin in his classroom that has now hatched out of its pupa. The gremlin is not the cute little bundle of mischief it was before the pupal stage. Now it’s a nasty slimy looking malevolent little demon intent on causing chaos.Billy chases it through the school and it takes quite a bit property damage before Billy gives up. He realises that if the gremlins at school is awake so are the ones at home so he calls his mother to warn her.
This is a bit late because Mrs Peltzer has already got her hands full with gremlins in her kitchen. She manages to kill one in the Peltzer orange peeler and juicer then kills a second one with a kitchen knife and gets a third in the microwave. She is attacked by fouth hiding in the Xmas tree but Billy gets home in time to rescue her. That only leaves Stripe who makes a run for it. After making sure his mother is safe with a doctor neighbour Billy goes back to the house and finds Gizmo stuck in the laundry chute where the gremlins had thrown him. They go off after Stripe who has run off the YMCA. Just as they catch up with him he jumps into the swimming pool. This spells deep shit as Stripe produces hundreds more gremlins so Billy and Gizmo get to hell out of there.
Mr Futterman is at home with his wife trying to watch TV but he can’t get reception because half a dozen gremlins are swinging from his antenna. He goes out to check the antenna and gets chased by the gremlins who are now driving his snow plough. They smash the plough into his house destroying it.
Billy tries to explain the problem to the police but they don’t take him seriously even when he shows them Gizmo who is just too cute and charming to believe the others are a threat. Just then loads of calls come in with reports of chaos all over town. They tell Billy to go home while they drive out to see what’s going on. They don’t notice a gremlin cutting their brake line which quickly takes them out of action.
There is chaos all over town and one group pay a little visit to Mrs Deagle where they try a bit of carol singing. Mrs Deagle hates carol singers but then she hates anything that involves people doing things they enjoy. She has a bucket of cold water ready to throw over them but she gets a bit of a shock when sees five little monsters croaking out a crude impersonation of carol singing.She runs back inside but one of the gremlins screws around with power supply to her stair lift and when she sits down and switches it on it shoots her through a window handfuls her head first in the snow, killing her
At the bar the gremlins are like a really noisy bunch of jocks on a Saturday night and she forced to run about mad to keep the nasty little monsters satisfied with booze to stop them attacking her. We get lots of little scenes of the gremlins doing all sorts of things like a gremlins in an overcoat flashing Kate and a group of gremlins are playing poker with one dressed up as a woman.She is finally rescued by Billy when the gremlins flee from the light from Billy’s headlights. Kate notices the reaction and uses the flash on her camera to get out of the bar.
Kate gets in Billy’s car and meets Gizmo who gives her a bit of a scare. They drive around looking for gremlins but after the chaos from earlier it has gone very quiet. They find out that because have all gone to the movies and are all sitting watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and loving it. This there chance to get all in one go so Billy and Kate fill the place with gas and blow it up
Unfortunately Stripe wasn’t in the cinema since he had gone to get candy in the shop across the street. They need to stop him getting to water and sending them back to square one. Billy goes after Stripe while Kate and Gizmo go to shop’s control room to try to turn on the lights. This doesn’t go well and Kate manages to switch on everything except the lights, including a fountain in the garden centre. Stripe is really giving Billy a hard time using sports equipment and tools from the hardware section to try to kill him.
I think this an excellent comedy horror and it has one those them catchy themes tunes by Jerry Goldsmith that stick around as an ear worm for days after watching it. There is something very appealing about taking all the standard tropes of the small town Xmas celebration and ripping it to shreds with hundreds of rude violent little monsters and I think its a nice antidote to typical Xmas specials. The montage of scenes of the gremlins parodying the pop culture of the time may have dated the film but I think the humour still mostly works. and there are some genuinely scary scenes like the one in cinema with the shadows of the gremilns cast on the screen as they come to attack Billy, Kate and Gizmo en masse.
- Rotten Tomatoes
- TV Tropes
- Gremlins (1984) (reelaffinity.wordpress.com)
- Christmas Movie Review (day Seven) – Gremlins (1984) (thomasjford.wordpress.com)