Director: Joe Dante. Warner Bros./Amblin (12a)
Producers: Michael Finnell. Writer: Chris Columbus. Camera: John Hora. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Sets: James H. Spencer.
Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller, Frances Lee McCain, Judge Reinhold, Harry Carey Jnr., Jackie Joseph, Polly Holliday, Keye Luke.
One Christmas, third rate inventor Randall Peltzer (Axton) stumbles upon a Chinese curiosity shop staffed by the mysterious Mr Wing (Luke). Despite Mr Wing’s initial refusal, Peltzer pesters him for the Mogwai in his shop, a cute, furry creature that sings adorably. Eventually, Wing acquiesces but only if Peltzer can adhere to three important conditions: that he never exposes the Mogwai to sunlight, never feeds him past midnight and never, ever lets him get wet. Peltzer agrees and returns home to give the Mogwai, called Gizmo, to his excited son (Gallagher). Chaos reigns, however, when Gallagher accidentally breaks every one of the rules. The town of Kingston Falls will never be the same again.
Writer Columbus clearly enjoys causing mayhem during the festive season. He would later direct the comedy Home Alone in which a little boy almost kills two inept burglars who are trying to rob his home. His two Harry Potter movies saw plenty of sorcery amidst the snow flakes. Here he first displays his talent for creating utter chaos at Christmas in this sly horror update of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
Galligan is the James Stewart character who, whilst not contemplating suicide, is a depressed lad from a poor family, stuck in a dead-end job as a bank clerk, with a horrible rich customer (Holliday) who wants to kill his scruffy dog and a boorish boss (Reinhold) who is constantly breathing down his neck and trying to bed his sweet, Donna Reed-esque girlfriend (Cates).
So far, so anodyne, and the film dawdles along at a warm and welcome pace, but Columbus is only interested in showing us this torpid side of Main Street Americana as the sweetest of back drops to the main action when the now ubiquitous, rabid title monsters spawn from the most adorable and innocent of creatures to signal the little town’s veritable death knell in a one night only riotous orgy of comic cruelty, destruction, drunkenness and violence.
Credit where it’s due, Columbus and Dante really know how to let rip when the Gremlins appear. Nothing is off limits here and director pushes the writer’s imagination: dogs are strung up with Christmas lights, bars are drunk dry and trashed like in the Wild West, vicious old ladies are sent careering into a crisp moonlit sky when their stair lifts are hot-wired, houses are trashed with JCB’s and sweet little housewives are forced into knife wielding frenzies of anger that end with death by microwave and blender.
Axton’s shaggy charm and patience as the ultimate in good guys who, while they may have failed most of their duties in life have managed to be a good parent and provide a loving home. He is the sole great turn here and manages not to be out-classed by the puppetry around him. He also seems to avoid most of the terror meted out to his poor family. Holliday also has fun as the horrible Mrs. Deagle.
There’s possibly a life lesson in this film. Perhaps some wider philosophical rumination on the creation of evil. Maybe, in these ecologically aware times, it could even been seen as an early tract on the responsibility of man as steward of the earth to look after his planet and fellow creatures with care or face the wrath of God. Perhaps, but it’s much more fun to see this for what it is, top-level at least, as a laugh out loud escalation of deliciously mischievious and wicked horror.