Gremlins : The golden warmth of twinkling lights and candy-colored tinsel are what usually comes to mind when trying to capture the holiday spirit, but Joe Dante’s 1984 black comedy Gremlins puts a more horrific spin on a traditional Christmas tale. The film follows high schooler Billy Peltzer after his father brings home a strange creature known as a mogwai from Chinatown, and gives it to him as a present. The mogwai comes with a set of rules, however, as it must never get wet, be exposed to direct sunlight, or eat after midnight. Through some unfortunate circumstances, Billy finds that if these rules are broken, mogwai transform into vicious gremlin-like monsters that have the ability to multiply. He then attempts to stop the gremlins before they can wreak complete havoc on his small town.
Good Things Come in Scary Packages: Although not a full-fledged horror, Gremlins certainly instills more than a fair dose of creepiness, especially as the story unravels in a setting that’s supposed to be inviting like a snow-covered suburbia laden with Christmas cheer. The gremlins themselves provide a genuine sense of suspense and terror, usually in the form of harassing the local townspeople and surprise attacking unsuspecting victims. Whether its a drawn-out, eerie sequence scored by the sound of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” or the emergence of a long-fingernailed slimy hand from underneath a school desk, the subtle nuances of dread are ever-present.
All the Creatures were Stirring: By far the most engaging element of the film would have to be the design of the gremlins and mogwai. It is an appreciative quality to have a movie craft its own mythology with unique characters that are interesting to look at and convincingly come alive onscreen. The character of Gizmo is adorably alien with muted gestures that seem naturally flowing without the artificial appearance of CGI. That is one benefit of the technological drawbacks of the 1980s: most of the film’s budget went toward creating animatronic puppets to give the creatures more lifelike movements. In contrast to the cuddly, Furby-esque mogwai, their ugly counterparts are as unsightly as they are menacing, and their unique design is what makes the film more memorable
Laughing All the Way: An abundance of praise is not to say that Gremlins is a fine piece of cinematic artistry. It is rife with camp and sometimes zany moments of humor that make the audience question how these gremlins are supposed to be mythical harbingers of destruction, such as Flashdance parodies and Disney sing-a-longs, but that is all part of the weird charm of this cult-status movie. Even Jerry Goldsmith’s bouncy score orchestrates the humorous undertones of the titular creatures, sounding like a warped winter wonderland anthem sprinkled with playful strings and maniacal laughter. The tone is definitely reminiscent of more contemporary examples of Christmas fear like Krampus (2015).