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Review: Gremlins

The Bluray Shelf Xmas Special

gremlins bluray 001

How could something so sweet and cute get a 15 certificate?

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.

Rating 8.0/10

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Posted by on December 28, 2013 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: The Howling

October Horror Month

It’s about time I reviewed a werewolf film and since I’ve already reviewed American Werewolf in London it’s now it’s the turn of the other werewolf film that came out around the same time. We were really lucky back then because good werewolf films are not very common. CGI transformations really don’t yet have the same visceral effect as the best in physical effects. While American Werewolf took a more traditional werewolf story where the werewolf condition is a curse that falls on a normal guy and ends in tragedy this film gives us a more sympathetic look at werewolves with a more complex life who don’t necessarily believe themselves to be cursed.

Karen White (Dee Wallace Stone) is a TV news anchor with a very worrying fan, a serial killer called Eddie (Robert Picardo) who has gotten in touch with her. He wants to meet with her and she agrees to help the police to catch him. They have her wired up and she’s giving them a running commentary. Her producer Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) is following the action and is ready to cut their studio programme to go live to Karen. She goes to a phone booth and waits and eventually Eddie calls her. She heads to the red light district and the police lose the signal so they send a squad car to look for her. Karen goes into a seedy porn shop and into the film booths at the back. Eddie has put a smiley face sticker on the door of one booth and Karen goes inside. Eddie is there and he makes Karen sit down while he stands behind her and puts the film on. While Karen sits uncomfortably with the porn film playing in front of her she hears Eddie’s voice change and he tells her to turn and look at him. When she does she screams and a cop rushes in and shoots Eddie several times killing him. Karen is in shock afterwards and can’t remember what happened.

Chris and his assistant and lover Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski) have done some digging around and have found Eddie’s apartment. The set-up is pure serial killer, the walls decorated with newspaper clippings of reports of his murders and a lot of pencil sketches of people with a bestial look. They also find a landscape drawing of coastal scenery. They take the drawings and show them to psychiatrist Dr George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) who has advised the police on the case.

Dr Waggner also tries to help Karen with her amnesia. Since the night Eddie was killed she has had flashbacks and nightmares. When she tried to return to work she froze on air and they had to cut to a pre-recorded editorial from the studio boss Fred Francis (Kevin McCarthy). Waggner wants Karen to go to his retreat up north called The Colony where she can relax and he hopes he can help her.

Karen and her husband Bill Neill (Christopher Stone) arrive at the colony as they are having barbecue on the beach. The other residents are very mixed bunch like suicidal old-timer Erle Kenton (John Carradine), the chatty Donna and the leather clad nymphomaniac Marsha Quist (Elisabeth Brooks). When she meets Bill he says he’s looking for his wife and Marsha just asks him why.

Karen does not sleep very well, getting disturbed by howling noises in the woods. She sure she hears someone prowling around and calls the police. Next day she’s more relaxed and the local sheriff Sam Newfield (Slim Pickens) tells her that it must be coyotes. Later the men all gather for a hunting party to see if they can find anything and Bill goes with them.

Back in the city Chris and Terry got to the morgue to see if there’s anything strange about Eddie’s body but it has gone missing. They go to an occult bookstore run by Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) who gives them books that talk about werewolves. He mentions a couple of key points that set up some of the rules they are using in this world. Werewolves can change any time they want to and they cannot be killed except by a silver bullet or fire otherwise they will heal and come back to life.

At the hunt Bill kills a rabbit. Marsha’s brother TC tells him to take his kill to Marsha and she will cook it for him. Marsha puts the rabbit away and she jumps Bill kissing him but he pushes her away and leaves. One the way back to his cabin He gets attacked by a werewolf and gets bitten on the arm. Waggner treats Bill at the clinic but Karen is upset and just wants to leave, Waggner tells her that could be dangerous with the bite. Karen calls Terry, who is in bed with Chris watching The Wolf Man, she and tells her about the bite. With thoughts of werewolves in her mind Terry says she’ll head straight up and Chris will follow later.

Terry arrives and has brought meat for lunch and apologises for forgetting Bill is a vegetarian but Bill is happily scoffing down the meat anyway. In bed that night Karen is in the mood to make love but Bill says he’s still too drugged-up and tired. While Karen sleeps Bill goes to Marsha and they make love by a large fire in the woods and turn into cartoon werewolves.

Next day Terry wanders around and she gets to cliff looking out over the sea. The scene looks familiar and she pulls Eddie Quist’s landscape drawing out and it is clearly a drawing of this same scene. She goes through the woods and she hears a voice calling to her. She follows the voice to a shack covered in animal skins and with bones hanging on strings. Inside she finds drawings just like the ones in Eddie’s apartment in the city. Then a werewolf comes into the shack and attacks her but she manages to get away by getting into the tight space under the shack. A werewolf tries to grab her but she cuts its hand off. She sees the hand turn into a human hand.

Terry manages to get out and runs back the Colony’s main building and goes into the clinic where she finds a phone. She calls Chris and tells him about everything that’s happened and especially discovering that Eddie Quist had lived here. Chris gets Terry to check the filing cabinet in the office and she finds three Quists, Marsha, TC and Eddie. Just as she goes to lift out Eddie’s file a werewolf hand reaches over and grabs it. Terry tries to get away but the werewolf seizes her and kills her. The werewolf look in this film is fantastic and looks very scary. This look seems to what inspired the look of the werewolves in the excellent British film Dog Soldiers.

Chris hears the attack and he goes to Walter Paisley shop and buys a load of silver bullets then he races up to the Colony as fast as the traffic will allow. Back at the Colony Bill finally goes back to their cabin but Karen knows he’s been with Marsha and screams at him. He slaps her and angry at him she leaves.

Karen goes to the clinic to look for Waggner and finds Terry’s body. She turns to make phone call but he phone is dead. There’s a covered body on the trolley where Terry’s body was a minute ago. It’s Eddie hiding under the sheet and he wants to carry on with showing Karen what he was going to show her before he got shot. We get a long icky transformation scene involving ingenious use of bladders and puppets and the scene may show it’s age now but it’s still pretty good. Once he’s fully transformed and about to attack Karen she throws a bottle of acid on him and gets away.

Karen tries to get in her car but two of the Colonists grab her and take her to a barn which is full of Colonists. They also have Terry’s body laid out. They are very angry with Karen’s presence and want her killed. The only problem is that her fame means authorities will definitely look into it. Waggner comes into the barn and she goes to him, hoping for help but he reluctantly pushes her away.

It turns out that they are all werewolves and had been trying Waggner’s plan to avoid coming into conflict with humans but too many of them are too wild to hide their nature. Bringing Karen there was big mistake and they also think trying to supress their true nature was a mistake. Then Chris arrives and he threatens them with his gun and they laugh at him. TC walks towards him transforming as he goes and boasts about how useless guns are. Chris shoots him and TC is shocked that he’s been fatally wounded. The other werewolves don’t know what happened but Chris mentions he has silver bullets. Another werewolf takes his chance and gets killed for it. Then Waggner comes for him to force Chris to kill him and he thanks him as he dies

Chris grabs Karen and forces the werewolves right inside the barn then shuts them in. He splashes petrol around the barn and sets it on fire. I’m not sure how many of them die but plenty of them manage to break out and surround Chris’s car as they try to get away. They think they’re free and clear and are relieved to spot Sherriff Sam but he’s a werewolf too and shoots at them. He wrecks their car but Chris kills him and they take his car with several werewolves catching up to them. One breaks through the window and scratches Karen but Chris kills it and when it turns human it turns out it was Bill.

Karen wants to warn everyone about the werewolves so she and Chris go back to work. Karen gives a speech on air warning people secret society living among them. Fred Francis thinks she going crazy again and is about to pull the plug on her but Chris stops him. Karen transforms but she’s not a really a wolf but more like a Yorkshire terrier. Then Chris takes his gun and shoots her and Fred orders them to cut the feed from the studio.

This is an excellent film that was thrown together on a limited budget. It has really great performances from the main cast but especially Dee Wallace Stone. The film has a sense of humour and there is something inherently funny about a bunch of werewolves in group therapy. I like that the film took a different approach with its werewolves instead of going for the familiar tragic curse story. I know it has sequels but they were forgettable

Rating 9.0/10

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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Entertainment, Film


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