Well it's Christmas Eve again and we are a mere 24 hours from concluding yet another Christmas season (fear not though, the holiday season continues until New Year's) and I honestly couldn't be more excited. We've got a ton of good food in the house, good people to share it with, and a really good pile of gifts under the tree. I know that the pile is only huge because now there are two kids (and let's face it, once you have kids Christmas is...nay SHOULD be...about them) but it still inspires excitement and visions of torn paper and tall stashes of loot. Tomorrow seriously can't get here soon enough so it can reveal it's secrets to us (I for one can't want to find out what I got, but I also can't wait to see everyone else see what they got). To add to this year's Christmas anticipation, I am scheduled to be one of the first in Gallatin, TN to see Les Miserables when it is released on Christmas Day (cue me singing "One Day More") so there is a lot to be excited about. However, part of what makes the excitement so sweet is the anticipation, or rather the suspense. I think Christmas Eve is one of the most suspenseful nights of the year (albeit a rather playful suspense) so I think it only appropriate that I should write about a rather playfully suspenseful film. It is one that is almost always worked into my Christmas movie roundup because I adore it so, and one I try to watch every Christmas Eve because of the juxtaposition it offers the holiday. It's like someone opened a crate of monsters and released them into the idyllic world of It's a Wonderful Life's Bedford Falls. So without further ado, I give you that seminal Christmas classic...Gremlins.
Billy Peltzer is an average 20-something living in a small town named Kingston Falls and he is finding his life going nowhere. He works in a dead end job at the local bank, his mother and father are on the verge of losing their home to foreclosure, and his Christmas is shaping up to be one of the worst. That all seems to change when two things occur. One, Kate Berringer finally agrees to go out with him (he's been infatuated with her since high school) and two, his father has brought him home a very unusual Christmas present. It is a small, furry animal called a Mogwai (which his father has taken the liberty of naming Gizmo). Gizmo is an amazing pet. He sings, he talks, he is clever, and he clearly loves Billy. However, Gizmo comes with a rather strange set of rules: 1. Don't let him near bright light or sunlight (it will kill him), 2. Don't get him wet, and 3. Don't let him eat after midnight. The first rule is broken pretty quickly when mom takes a flash picture and scares the bejesus out of Gizmo. The second rule is also broken in an accident and causes Gizmo to multiply. These little Mogwai are not nearly as cute and cuddly as Gizmo and they soon are breaking the 3rd rule on their own. Billy awakens the next morning to find several green, slimy pods where the Mogwai used to be. Not knowing what to do, he visits a science teacher friend at the local high school to get some answers. Meanwhile, it's Christmas Eve, and it isn't just Santa Claus that is stirring. The pods have begun to hatch and what is inside is not cute, cuddly, or clever. It is mean, it is ugly, and it has very sharp teeth.
Gremlins reminds me of those wonderful 1950s horror films where some seemingly innocuous discovery turns into a horrific experience for everyone involved when a dumb-luck accident takes place. Granted, most of those were played seriously (usually to unintentional comic effect), and Gremlins prefers to play to the laughs. Does that mean Gremlins isn't terrifying? Well, you have your five year old watch it and then get back to me. This film is very playfully scary and certain scenes (such as Mom alone in the house with the gremlins) are the stuff good horror films are made of. Things get a little lighter once there are more gremlins in the picture, but they intensify again in the finale when there is one gremlin left fighting for it's life against Billy. This really is, despite it's comedy and broad appeal, first and foremost a horror movie. Enough cannot be said about it's brilliant effects work, which makes a viewer believe that (at one point) there are HUNDREDS of this vicious little monsters destroying a town. The multiplication scenes and the hatching pods are all handled wonderfully as well, with practical effects and puppetry....good old-fashioned movie making. Jerry Goldsmith's score is also wonderful with it's fiendishly clever little theme and creepy bits keeping us aware that this is a horror movie but one that is more fun than fright. Joe Dante's direction too is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and constantly acknowledges the films that inspired this one...such as featuring It's a Wonderful Life and Invasion of the Body Snatchers in key scenes. Everything about Gremlins works and it really could be good counter programming to all the mushy and heartwarming fare that is currently on the television. So if your kids are a little older and you don't mind them seeing some violence (and for god's sake, please explain the difference between movie violence and real violence), put on Gremlins this Christmas Eve. I guarantee they'll enjoy it.