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Gremlins is a fun Christmas set comedy/horror about a small town that comes under siege by a group of nasty little creatures. The story finds a down on his luck inventor (Hoyt Axton) buying a strange little furry creature called a Mogwai in a back-alley Chinatown shop for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). There are three rules given to insure safe care of the critter named Gizmo…keep him away from bright light, don’t get him wet and don’t feed him after midnight. Of course all the rules are broken along the way and Gizmo reluctantly spawns a group of horrid little creatures with a diabolical…and lethal…sense of humor. Now the sleepy little town of Kingston Falls is under attack and Billy and his sweetheart Kate (Phoebe Cates) must find a way to stop the little devils.
Created by the triple threat of producer Steven Spielberg, writer Chris Columbus and director Joe Dante, this is a really entertaining movie that has become an outright classic. While it appears to be a kid friendly family film on the outside, there is a devious sense of humor bestowed upon the flick, which has always been Dante’s trademark…and it works exceptionally well here. The film has some fun moments and some cartoonish characters, like the Scrooge-like Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), but it also has a definite mean streak as the title creatures ‘humor’ can be quite painful or deadly against it’s recipient. This keeps Gremlins from sliding into the sappy, sentimental level of Spielberg’s own E.T. and gives it a much needed and appreciated edge…though it grew criticism for some of it’s violence back in the day. The creatures themselves are well rendered with practical FX and one scene of model animation and this makes the story work all the better. Dante adds his usual movie nods…such as a doctor named “Moreau” and there are appearances from his regulars like Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski. There is also a fun score by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith and some crisp cinematography, highlighting the holiday time of year, by John Hora.
Dante has a good cast here, too. Galligan is solid as the nerdy bank teller turned hero and he has a naive and down-to-earth charm that makes his character very likable. Cates does well playing the girl-next-door with a dark Christmas past. Cates had been know for sexier roles, but pulls off the all American girl very well. Folk singer Axton is surprisingly fun as the Billy’s inventor/dreamer father Randall Peltzer. Dante regular Dick Miller has an amusing part as one of Billy’s neighbors and Polly Holliday is perfectly Cruella Deville-like as Mrs. Deagle. A good cast that get the tone of the material perfectly.
Gremlins is a lot of fun and with the added nostalgic charm is even more endearing. It has a good cast, a director who adds just the right amount of dark humor and some very well rendered special FX to make our creatures believable. A fun movie recognized as a classic. Also stars comedian Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.
3 and 1/2 Gremlins