Gremlins (1984)

*. One of the things that makes this blog interesting (for me at least) is revisiting movies I haven’t seen in twenty or even thirty years and seeing how well they’ve held up. That’s the case again with Gremlins, which I remember catching when it came out but which I don’t think I’ve seen since. So call it thirty-five years.
*. I remembered the basic premise, or at least the part about not getting the mogwais wet because if you do they start reproducing like tribbles and turning into nasty little lizards. The basic iconography of good and evil: furry and big eyes = cute; scaly and narrow-eyed = vermin. Even at the time there were critics who saw something racial in this, since the gremlins are associated with several black stereotypes and enter the nearly all-white Kingston Falls by way of Chinatown.
*. Just sticking with that point for a second, I’ll register here how much I dislike the appearance of the mogwai Gizmo. With his furry cuteness he reminds me far too much of the ewoks in Return of the Jedi, which had just come out the year before. It’s a creature that looks like it was designed for the toy shelves.
*. The only other parts I had any recollection of were the scenes of the gremlins tearing around town raising hell. Of course, it had been a long time and I have a poor memory. But more than that, there really isn’t anything else here going on.
*. It’s a remarkably casual script. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just the kind of movie it is: a bit of whimsy that isn’t meant to add up.
*. None of the characters aside from Billy are that important. It seems as though Mrs. Deagle is going to play a major role in the proceedings but her defenestration comes quick and early. Dick Miller’s Mr. Futterman looks like he should be fun, but again is quickly disposed of. I don’t know what the point was of introducing us to Judge Reinhold’s assistant bank manager. As Joe Dante says on the commentary, his character “just sort of goes away.” And we might say the same of Corey Feldman.
*. In the deleted scenes included with the DVD we get some more information, but it’s just as disposable. Mrs. Deagle was buying up the homes of distressed citizens in order to build some sort of toxic chemical facility, but what of it? There was no point keeping this discovery. More interesting was what Dante has to say about the deleted scene where Reinhold is discovered locked in the bank’s vault. Again, this is a pointless scene that doesn’t go anywhere or tell us anything but apparently it came down to a choice between keeping it or Phoebe Cates’s big speech about the death of her father and why she hates Christmas. In other words, her speech was basically just as pointless, even though Dante would claim that it “encapsulates the whole tone of the movie.”
*. All of this underlines my point about how casual the script is. Nothing connects, or is meant to be seen as important. Even Kate’s jarringly bleak Christmas story. It’s just . . . there, and I don’t think we’re meant to pay much attention to it at all. You can see why the studio, as well as test audiences and Spielberg, wanted to get rid of it. But that sense of not having any point or role to play in the story is typical of just about everything that’s going on.
*. Much the same could be said of all the old movie references. Joe Dante is a supreme film buff to be sure, but it would be a mistake to take any of these borrowings as homages. They are just dropped in to the mix and have little or no significance to what’s happening in the rest of the movie. Of course the gremlins turne out to be crazed cinephiles too, and it’s all fun but none of it has any weight.
*. One of the few references that did seem loaded was the gremlin eggs, which look so much like those that the facehuggers burst out of in Alien. For a moment you start to think that maybe things are about to get dark. Perhaps as dark as the original script, which had a real sadistic streak. But then the gremlins hatch and all they really seem to be about is creating chaos on a sugar rush.
*. But like I say, that’s just the kind of movie this is. It’s credited as being one of the films responsible for the PG-13 rating because of its violence, but it’s hard to take any of that seriously. Everything has the texture of fantasy. You know that as soon as you see how nobody seems that surprised to have discovered an entirely new form of life. They just think Gizmo is cute. And then there is the look of Kingston Falls, which is Universal’s backlot covered in fake snow. Again, this fits the tone of the movie, but it’s all so weightless I don’t see where there was much to be offended by.
*. I mentioned how the characters in the movie just tend to drop out, disappearing without any further mention. Could we say the same for the stars and the director? I think this was Zach Galligan’s feature debut, and though he’s kept busy ever since it’s been in mostly unremarkable work. I think Phoebe Cates retired in the mid-’90s, without having done anything else that memorable. Drop Dead Fred? And Joe Dante, who was riding high at the time with The Howling and an episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie just before this film, went on to do mostly TV work (and other stuff like the delightful Trailers from Hell web series). It seems an odd legacy for such a successful project. All three, however, did at least reunite for a sequel.

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