To celebrate the 30th birthday of Gremlins, we take a look back at the critter classic. 1984 was a great year for films; the heart of that cinematic era when popcorn movies had meaty substance. It was the year that gave us such meaty popcorn movies as The Terminator, Ghostbusters and of course Gremlins.
Gremlins follows comic book fan, dog owner and all-round nice guy Billy (Zach Galligan), who gets a new pet for Christmas; a Mogwai, Cantonese for ‘monster’, fact fans; not to be confused with the post-rock band of the same name. The adorable little fella, nicknamed Gizmo, is part-Yoda, part-kitten, part-Butters from South Park and all fluff. But there are three rules: don’t get him wet, don’t expose him to bright light and, most importantly, don’t feed him after midnight.
There’s no time to point out that it’s technically always after midnight as we’re swept along in joyous anarchy, the cackling gremlins giving the film its literal and proverbial teeth. Led by the particularly unpleasant Stripe, these diminutive demons hold a mirror to wholesome American society before smashing it to pieces. In a heady concoction of comedy and horror, there’s a mischief to their mayhem; Stripe will rip out your jugular and blow his nose on your curtains.
It’s no coincidence that this all takes place at Christmas, a time for peace on Earth and smug complacency among men. Gremlins provides a much-needed antidote to Crapraesque Christmas cinema, while gnashing away at consumerism and commercialisation. And it’s no accident that the gremlins attack a TV antenna while Murray Futterman (Dick Miller) is trying to watch some awful Christmas special, nor is it random that he’s one of many townsfolk to have recently lost his job. Neither is it fluke that the climax takes place in a cinema, the Gremlins tearing at the screen in a ferocious meta-frenzy.
The Gremlins themselves are beautifully animated in a skilful combination of puppetry and stop-motion. As in the case of the Muppets, these characters have infinitely more personality than the most sophisticated CGI creatures; compare Gizmo or Stripe to fat Godzilla or that stupid monkey-demon from Insidious. And if by the end of the movie you don’t desperately want Gizmo, you have no heart. Because this is a heart-warming Christmas movie, albeit one fuelled by an anti-Christmas chaos that makes it stand out 30 years later. Scathing, smart and sensitive, Gremlins is a compulsory, classic collaboration between director Joe Dante, producer Steven Spielberg and writer Chris Columbus. Forget Capra; this is truly wonderful.