Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Horror Of...Christmastime, Gremlins (1984)

As we stay in this holiday season, let's stay with so of this seasons classics of horror. And as I noted with A Christmas Carol, 1984 was a year with a number of Christmas based horror. Unfortunately I will have to leave a favorite of mine, Night of the Comet, for another day. But we have time for a more well known film, and a classic for many.


Let's hit it!

It started with Chris Columbus who had written a script, inspired by strange pitter pattering around his place (I won't ask what inspired Home Alone then.). Steven Spielberg came across it and was interested in the concept. He then brought on Joe Dante to direct the film.

One reason the studios were interested to support the film was that they realized that their schedule for 1984 had a hole in it. A hole where one studios had placed a new film called Ghostbusters, and another studio had a silly. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. So, Gremlins came out to face a new comedy classic and a major Spielberg release (...Hey!).

Temple of Doom and Gremlins ended up managing affecting movie making and movie going. The depictions of violence, and what was deemed kid friendly aspects, helped lead to the creation of PG-13.

Starting from mysterious skittering in the dark, the idea evolved into troublesome and deadly gremlins. From there the story evolved more to meet the needs of those working on it, and the studios.

"What?! I like to eat the head's off of gingerbread people. What?!"

Gremlin head roasting on an open fire.
The question of how welcome the changes are depend on how you view this movie. The original take on the movie was more grisly than what made it to theaters. Originally, the mom and family dog are murdered. The mom's head actually falls down the stairs at a key moment when the main character races home (In the final movie, we instead get a gremlin's head lopped off and sent flying into the fireplace. The dog ends up being made a meal by the initial gremlin menace (But I'm always for saving the dog.). The same happens to a group of customers at a McDonald, who are feasted on by a gaggle of gremlins.

Obviously the actual movie stays away from this. The gremlins do kill. But it is mostly through little escapades and sabotage. They also don't obviously eat humans. (...They do seem to end up with a lot of peoples clothes and personal items...Oh.) And that works a little more for being family friendly, and with the original concept of a gremlin.

Coming out of WWII, their was a joke among mechanics serving aboard with the US military that mechanical problems and bad luck were the result of pesky trouble-making creatures. Gremlins.

"Ain't I a stinker?"

The movie's creatures fit more this image, than the early script. It also deviates from where other film creatures, trying to replicate Gremlins, would go. Like the Critters series,

The cast for the movie make a nice mix of character actors who bring life to the city of Kingston Falls. (The city may look familiar if you are a fan of Back to the Future, as it's the same set.)

Billy and Kate are the leads for the movie, played by Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates. Billy receives a surprise from his dad at Christmas which nearly destroys the town. Kate is a friend, and future love interest, who gets sucked into the mayhem.

The dad is played by the enjoyable Hoyt Axton. As well in the film are Core Feldman (in an early role), Polly Holliday, Glynn Turman, Judge Reinhold (who seems mostly like part of a deleted subplot), Dick Miller (a man with a long list of movies to his credit, including The Howling, Night of the Creeps, A Bucket of Blood, Piranha, The Terminator, and Chopping Mall), and Robby the Robot.

The story starts with dad being in Chinatown. (I'll be honest. For years I thought he was overseas in China. But the second movie seems to make it clear that it's New York City.) He's looking for gifts for his kids, and ends up in a secluded shop. There he meets the owner, Mr.Wing. He's played by the always interesting Keye Luke.

As he looks around the shop, he's drawn to some odd melodic sound. In covered cage he finds a little fuzzy charmer. He wants to buy the creature for his son, but Wing won't do it. It's not right.

So he leaves. But the young relative who works at the store, is annoyed at all the money passed up. So he steals the creature and meets dear old dad outside. ...Sounds legit.

But there are 3 rules to the creature, a mogwai.

  • Keep it from sunlight. It doesn't like it.
  • Don't let it get wet.
  • Never feed it after midnight.

If you think there are any flaws in these rules, the second movie agrees, and makes fun of the issues.

But once home, dad gives his son, Billy, the gift.

"I'm the mogwai. Gotta love me!"
And he's adorable. Just a cutey you want to hug and pet, and call Gizmo. He's even cute when he's startled.

But this leads us to the other major change in the story concept. Gizmo. Originally, he was not meant to have other mogwai spawn from him. He was meant to change into a gremlin, and then spawn other gremlin on his own.

Gizmo was the villain. A creature changed, that then had to be stopped from rampaging with his spawn. Imagine that take on the movie? An ending where they have to off Gizmo?

Instead it was decided that Gizmo was too cute to loose. He had value as the good one, who helped end the threat.

This wasn't loved by the people doing the effects. They had built Gizmo initially on the idea that not too long into the movie it would no longer be needed. Instead, it runs around the whole movie. (So they had to update puppet for the second movie to be more effective.) But is anyone sorry to have Gizmo around? I welcome my Gizmo Overlord.

Billy settles in with his little buddy, and he names him Gizmo. (It actually makes more sense in one version of the script, where Gizmo gets a device to work and is named because of that.) But it isn't long before Billy has broken a rule.

Gizmo is made...There's no way this doesn't end up sounding dirty...wet... Let's go to an image to chase that image from our heads...

...Never mind.

When Gizmo is wet. He starts popping off hairballs from his back.

And from these balls, new mogwai grow. With in a short time they are the same size as Gizmo.

"This won't craze won't last as long as even the Tomagachi."

But they aren't like him, and they don't like him. They have a mean streak to them. And it isn't long before they plot a way to break another rule. No feeding after midnight. Gizmo knows what's up, but no one clues in on his fear.

And soon, the rest begin to metamorphose. And we have something reminiscent of the Xenomorph eggs from Alien. They stay in them for a while, and grow.

Then they hatch. They have become gremlins.

And they begin to strike out. First they attack the house, and mom. She takes out some of them. Then Billy handles the last one...Except one. Spike. (The one unique mogwai/gremlin.)

 He makes his way to a local indoor pool, and dives in. A small splash of water generated 5 mogwai. What will a whole pool of water generate?

And it really really begins...

"This is going to be like that Coke and Mentos thing, isn't it?"

The gremlins take to the town.

The movie makes good use of practical effects. But this one scene above is just a The idea is good, but the results are a little silly looking. But I think we can forgive it, for what is to come.

The gremlins spread their mayhem.

No TV!

No back walls on your house!

No mean old lady?

Don't start humming "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead". Don't start...

No Santa!

No cops!

No respect for wait staff!

It chaos!!!

But the movie makers create humorous little moments and bits.

But when all the gremlins take over the theater for a little of the old "Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho!", Billy and Kate blow them up...It's kind of like Inglorious Basterds.

Okay now. 3D has just gotten out of hand.

But Spike again escapes the fate of his bretheren. (Can you imagine the original take where Gizmo is Spike, and he's narrowly surviving until the final fight?)

The final fight comes to Spike and Billy. And Spike finds plenty of nice implements of doom. Chainsaws. Pistols. A malicious heart.


But when Spike makes a move for a small fountain, to get reinforcement, day has comes. Gizmo and Billy get the daylight in. and Spike takes it in, being burned and melted away.

"Why am I only know thinking about water resistant sun screen?"

:Oh, you think you've beaten me? I've left you a gift with the MPAA.
Heh heh he..."

After everything has quieted down, Mr. Wing appears to take Gizmo away.

It's safer that way...Can't disagree.

"God damn white people. Took them a day to start breaking the rules..."

Gremlins made for a nice addition to the horror movies (like Ghostbusters) and the Christmas movies of 1984. It took the nice small town American setting and introduced and outside terror to the environment. It's not the first time, as we've been seeing B-Movies like this for decades. But Gremlins had a unique sense of humor and horror that has made it stand out the last 30 years.

But it's blend also had another impact. Like Temple of Doom. it pushed what were the then boundaries between horror and more kid fair. After these movies, the two genres would get further and further apart. The PG-13 rating that appeared after this had affected the line between movies kids can get into and those with violence and language. Someday this change will hopefully righted.

But at least we have this eras movies to remember what is possible in storytelling.

The movie also gives us a fun nasty little villain in Spike. A little puppetry and some growls and Spike was alive and deadly.

"Listen, Bub. Storm is copying me!"
A great movie anytime during the year, why not check it out as we round out the year? You won't regret it.

No comments: