Gremlins is returning to cinemas across the UK on the 7th December – an amazing 28 years after it was first released, and times have greatly changed since then. Nowadays, except perhaps for the occasional film, you rarely get the Christmas film with the beautiful combination of horror and comedy, which aims so precisely at both older children and adults. Despite spawning lackluster sequels, Gremlins is a film to be treasured, and rightfully it is being re-released this holiday season.
The film takes place in a picture perfect American town, and tells the story of a young man, Billy Peltzer, who gets a strange pet, a Mogwai, bought from a back alley Chinatown shop, as a Christmas gift. Billy is told that with a Mogwai comes great responsibility and instructed with three vital rules (1. No bright light; 2. No water; 3. No food after midnight). However, in a set of events each rule is broken, setting off an army of gremlins – small vicious hedonic monsters that destroy for a laugh.
Seeing Gremlins for the first time since childhood, the sheer horror that sneaks through the film was something I had forgotten. Joe Dante directs the film, with his previous outing being the darkly comic horror movie The Howling. You might have guessed Steven Spielberg executively produced it when, like Jaws, the first appearance of the transformed, menacing gremlin takes around 1 hour to appear. More so, you can see Spielberg’s family-pleasing hand at work when earlier drafts included much more outright horror, including the gremlins eating Billy’s mother and dog, as well as the cute naïve Gizmo who remains endearing throughout the film turning into a bloodthirsty mini-monster. Even the soundtrack is a combination of over-the-top comedic pieces, and building horrific suspense.
It is this sort of blend of horror, family comedy, and references to Christmas films past, that has made Gremlins a fixture on the Christmas list since. The mixture leads to odd pleasure in watching the gremlins wreak havoc, for although they kill, the gremlins also enjoy Disney films, drinking, and pranks.
It has something for everyone: the character that resembles Scrooge (the cruel and crazy-cat-woman Ms. Deagle) as well as the paranoid war veteran; the pop culture references to It’s a Wonderful Life; and nightmare scenario of a childhood Christmas toy turning into a monster.
I went into the screening with the fond but faded memory of seeing Gremlins when younger, and I suspect when it comes back to our cinema screens today, it’ll be those same people going, with the warm nostalgia for a time when horror and comedy produced such charming films like Gremlins and Ghostbusters. After all, Gremlins, rated PG initially, was one of the films responsible for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) changing its rating system. Two months after release, the MPAA included a PG-13 rating for films that border on the delicate line of aiming at both older children and adults. Despite its aged effects, the film is a fun, crowd-pleasing, and scary adventure, and definitely deserves its place on this month’s film calendar.