80s Bits: Gremlins

Gremlins - Gizmodo celebrates Christmas in a Santa Hat

Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous. 

Gremlins (1984)

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Gremlins poster

Director: Joe Dante

Runtime: 106 minutes

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton



Rating:  Highly Recommended (?)

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Gremlins, directed by Joe Dante, is the original critter, comedy, horror. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton, Forrest Gump) is our narrator telling of his Christmas story like no other. It all begins one night leading up to Christmas in China Town. Randall enters a store full of “real” ancient artefacts and happens to hear the singing of a Mogwai. Determined to get the perfect present for son Billy (Zach Galligan, Waxwork) Randall bribes the store owner’s boy for the gift not fit to purchase. Inventor Peltzer is an opportunist that makes the illogical logical. His family is cursed with using his disastrous creations for even the simplest things like making coffee, squeezing juice, cracking eggs, to shaving and brushing teeth. The malfunctioning machines however do come in handy with controlling the cheeky critters that appear throughout the night.

New owner of the unusually cute pet Mogwai named Gismo is Billy, a comic strip writer working as a Bank clerk. Throughout the film, an office romance with Kate (Phoebe Cates, Drop Dead Fred) develops, leading to the climatic end when trio Billy, Kate and Gismo overcome the Gremlin plague and their leader Stripe. We see in this film a young Corey Feldman (Stand by Me, The Goonies) playing friend and Christmas tree Pete, who is responsible for Gismo’s initial breading. To make any Christmas film authentic we need a Scrooge character. The small town of Kingston Falls has Ruby Deagle (Polly Holliday), who seems to have the whole town in fear and subservient to her every need.

As we all know with Gremlins there are 3 rules that MUST be followed. They don’t like bright light and die in sunlight, don’t get them wet and never feed them after midnight. Of course early into the film all rules are broken releasing a plague of witty comical and evil creatures. One would never expect that something so evil could bubble out of a something so incredibly adorable. In the plague of Gremlins we see many personalities emerge, from alcoholics, flashers, gamblers, cross-dressers, puppeteers, and even a flash dancing Gremlin.

Gremlins are basically intelligent with the ability to repeat and understand key words like “bright light”, “water”, “yum yum” and “gun”. They also have a wicked sense of humour and show creativity with their antics and killings. Their evil giggly laugh is one so childish but sinister that we hear as they cause havoc with TV antenna, street lights, mail boxes and snow ploughs.

Mogwai’s and the other Gremlins’ greatest talent is that of a musician. Billy learns quickly that Gizmo has an amazing singing talent and not only that, but synthesiser playing abilities. Gizmo sings his own identifying theme song all the way through the movie. Gremlins too have a pure love for singing, from carolling to unexpectant neighbours, to taking over the local movie cinema and singing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There is nothing more entertaining than watching a theatre full of Gremlins singing “Hi Ho Hi Ho”. The orchestral symphonic score including the unforgettable Gremlins theme creates the perfect ambience for the mass hysteria and unexplained accidents that occurs throughout the flick.

This film was influential in many films along a similar vein to following including Critters (1986), Gremlins 2 (1990), and even in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror IV (1993).

This Xmas there might just be a gremlin in your house.