Horror flicks and Christmas aren’t often associated, but the 1984 dark comedy “Gremlins” changed that entirely. Joe Dante’s cult classic revolves around a group of tiny creatures, called Mogwai. A hilarious, comedic, goofily violent flick, “Gremlins” provides a much appreciated respite from more sentimental holiday fare.
Inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) goes on a quest for the perfect Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). In Chinatown he discovers a strange, furry creature, dubbed Mogwai. The shop owner won’t let Peltzer have the Mogwai. Just as Randall is about to leave, the owner’s grandson agrees to sell the pet. He gives a special set of directions for care of the Mogwai. The grandson warns Randall to avoid getting his new acquisition wet, keeping it away from light, and adamantly urges him not to feed the creature after midnight.
Randall presents the Mogwai, named Gizmo (Howie Mandel), to his son Billy. Unfortunately, Billy’s young friend Pete (Corey Feldman) knocks a glass of water on Gizmo while hanging out with Billy. This seemingly innocent act causes Gizmo to spawn several more of these Mogwai. The newly emerged creatures aren’t nearly as friendly as Gizmo. One of them, named Stripe (Frank Welker), assumes leadership over the pack, and they begin wreaking havoc. The sly Mogwai dupe Billy into feeding them after midnight, and they cocoon themselves. Upon their re-emergence, the furry little guys have taken on a reptilian appearance, now gremlins. Stripe leads the gremlins into town as they create further trouble, while Billy, Randall, and Billy’s girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) rush to thwart the pesky monsters.
“Gremlins” is a wholly unconventional Christmas movie, and horror flick for that matter. There’s a hearty dose of comedy inherent in the cartoonish violence, and the gremlins are comedic in their mischief. It’s an unassuming movie, which on the surface presents innocent looking furry creatures. Delve deeper, and the conniving gremlins materialize. While the film is violent, it’s silly, not scary.
Christmas maintains a steady presence throughout the movie, and the holiday is actually responsible for the gremlin rampage. Had Randall not purchased the Mogwai for Billy, Gizmo would have stayed in the store, and no gremlins would be born. Seasonal songs pepper the soundtrack, Christmas décor populates the background, and there’s actually a speech by Kate about her father dressing up as Santa. Kate relays a disastrous story, which walks the thin line between tragedy and comedy.
The seasonal horror-comedy embodies the wacky 80’s with its cartoon violence and contrasting jolly Christmas scenery. Zach Galligan and Hoyt Axton make a fantastic father-son duo. Corey Feldman lends his ample talent as young Peter, Billy’s friend responsible for unleashing the gremlins. The legendary Feldman was nominated for two awards for “Gremlins.” Veteran actor Judge Reinhold also makes an appearance as Kingston Falls citizen Gerald Hopkins. He’s hilariously malicious and self-centered, but thanks to Reinhold’s magnificent aptitude, he’s manages to come across as hysterical. A unique production, “Gremlins” is appropriate for any season, but serves to spice up the occasionally mundane line up of Christmas film fests.