It’s that time of year.
The time of year where one (or more) of your friends thinks that they’re being clever when they’re asked about their favourite Christmas movie and they say: “Die Hard“! It’s pretty tough to argue with the fact that Die Hard is an amazing film, but their response is an extremely baldfaced and tired way of dodging the question while trying to look cool and tough.
I’ve got news that may shock you.
I’m even WORSE.
For years, when people would ask me about my favourite Christmas movie, I would always say: “Gremlins”! I think it was me being aware of the fact that Die Hard was the “cool guy” answer, so I had to come up with something that was also a non-answer, but even more left-field. I’m the worst!
Gremlins is, in fact, a film set during the Christmas holiday season. I’m just not sure whether or not it qualifies as a film about Christmas. Sure, the entire plot hinges upon a misguided Christmas gift, and the trappings of Christmas abound, but the themes and lessons are not particularly of the season. It just as easily could have been about a kid getting a birthday present, perhaps around Halloween.
While the film’s yuletide bonafides may be dubious, I have nonetheless always considered Gremlins an unimpeachable classic. But am I right? I have decided to take a look at this 1984 Joe Dante gem through my 2017 Mark Meeks eyes in order to determine whether or not I have been mistaken.
Gremlins opens with a scene in which a bumbling inventor steals an animal from a stereotypical Chinese mystic character. He tries to do the American thing and buy the animal at any price. When he is rebuffed, he does the other American thing, which is to say that he just takes what he wants anyway.
The heartland America vs mystical foreign invader theme of this film has probably been the core thesis of many undergrad term papers. I’m not going to delve too deeply into academic mumbo-jumbo here, as I’m largely more interested in whether or not this film holds up as an entertaining piece of holiday entertainment. That being said, I’ve gotta address the case of Mr. Futterman.
Mr. Futterman is one of the townspeople, who we are introduced to in the film’s title sequence, along with Billy, the film’s protagonist. He explains to Billy that his car is covered in snow and won’t start because it’s a foreign piece of shit. Mr. Futterman was MAGA thirty years before MAGA was MAGA. We’ll see more of him later.
Billy runs to his bank teller job (because his foreign piece of shit won’t start) and clips on his tie. The town’s rich lady shows up in order to provide the film with a rich lady to hate, and to tell Billy that she’d like for his dog to be a dead dog. Merry Christmas, Billy. Here’s the thing, though.
Billy’s dog came to work with him and jumps up out of a hiding spot and proceeds to bite the shit out of the old lady. This leads me to my first major point of divergence with my past feelings about this film:
BARNEY THE DOG ACTUALLY FUCKING DESERVES TO BE PUT DOWN
Dogs get put down for attacking people! Even if they are evil rich ladies! Barney is out of control!
Billy gets in a lot of trouble at work for bringing a bloodthirsty attack dog with him, so he goes to the local bar to drown his sorrows and draw cartoons of himself eating popcorn or something. His work friend shows up to tell him that he’s a dumdum for drawing cartoons when he could be drawing a huge fuckin’ paycheque because capitalism for the win or whatever. This character, played by Judge Reinhold, is a piece of shit and seems like the kind of character that Paul Ryan saw as a kid and thought “Wait, why isn’t this guy the hero of the movie?”
When Billy gets home from the bar, he opens a Christmas present from his dad, the bumbling inventor. It’s the very same animal that he stole from the Chinese man during the film’s opening! This scene, which reveals Gremlins’ legendary cutie-creature, Gizmo, brought me to my second rude awakening about the film:
GIZMO IS NOT ACTUALLY CUTE AT ALL
He’s just kinda gross looking, and… moist looking in that way that all 1980s practical special effects were. He does become kind of cute in the sequel, but in this film? Yuck!
Billy’s dad lays out the three rules for safely caring for a… thing like this. These are:
- Don’t expose it to bright light. Sunlight will kill it.
- Don’t get it wet.
- Don’t feed it after midnight.
The contradictions and logical problems with these rules have been covered to death elsewhere, so I’m not going to get into it. Let’s just pretend that it all make perfect sense, as the rules have never really bothered me. Have a little bit of whimsy, whydoncha?
Billy and Gizmo get to know each other by jamming on a Casio keyboard. We get an even better look at Gizmo, and he’s a goddamned eyesore. He can really sing, though.
The next day, Billy explodes an orange in one of his dad’s inventions. It is a fun scene for the kids, because it is gross and gooey, and it is a good piece of character work to continue hammering home the fact that Billy’s dad is a piece of shit. Then Billy’s friend Corey Feldman comes over to hang out. Their friendship makes no sense, because Billy is old enough to drink beer at a bar, and Corey Feldman doesn’t appear to be old enough to sleep without a nightlight. Regardless, they go hang out upstairs to look at comics. Seems a little inappropriate. But whatever.
You would think that Billy would immediately want to show off his new pet, seeing as it is a creature whose existence on the planet was unknown to him as early as one day ago, but instead he changes his shirt (…) and they talk about comic books. Eventually Corey Feldman meets Gizmo and promptly spills water on him. Like an asshole.
Gizmo flips out. Little balls of pulsing fur erupt off of his wet spot, and quickly develop into new little gross Gizmo creatures. One of them has a white mohawk and we are instructed to conclude that he is the really bad one because of it. Seems kind of unfair. The strangest thing about this whole scene is that once these new Gizmos are finished hatching, and we get the sense that they’re really bad dudes and that original Gizmo is super upset about it, Corey Feldman is all “Okay, whatever”, and flops down on the bed to read comic books.
Forget about the fact that he spilled the water that caused the problem in the first place. How could anyone possibly get over observing a completely unrecorded species for the first time in the space of thirty seconds? How fucking good are those comic books? He’s got a weaker attention span than even the most stereotypical millennial, and this leads me to my third bone to pick with this film:
MOST OF THIS IS COREY FELDMAN’S FAULT AND HE NEVER PAYS FOR IT
What a piece of shit.
The bad Gizmos eventually trick Billy into feeding them after midnight, which causes them to turn into some combination of turds and boogers. Kids movies in the 1980s were super, super gross. In trying to make sense of the whole mess, Billy and Corey Feldman take one of the boogerturds to the local high school science teacher.
High school science teachers are bored, so this guy is pretty happy to have something to do for a change. Meanwhile at home…
Gizmo is trapped in Billy’s bedroom as the boogerturds begin to emit not only fog but… green light? His face is hilarious. Like a combination between Grumpy Cat and me when something disgusts me.
The same thing apparently happens at the high school after some indeterminate amount of time, and Teach is plenty excited about it. I wonder if high school teachers in real life are all super hungry to be involved with scientific discoveries, the way that 100% of high school science teachers in movies are? Probably not. Seems like the kind of job that you take when you’re cool with just… coasting.
This is followed by a pretty sweet montage of icky things emerging from their poop-booger shell. In true 1980s fashion, everything is super disgusting and wet. I’ll bet it smells terrible in there.
The science teacher goes looking for whatever it is that hatched out of the egg that was left in his care. I’m not saying that he did a bad job or anything, but… he did a bad job. Could he not keep an eye on the goddamned thing even to the extent that he would have noticed it venting enormous plumes of green vapor everywhere? But no. He loses the hatchling.
It doesn’t stay lost very long, though.
Because it stabs him in the fucking ass with a hypodermic needle. I’ve debated over the year whether or not we’re supposed to infer that this guy is dead, or whether he’s just knocked out. Judging by the tone of the second film, I’m not sure that this film has as high of a body count as it seems to at first glance. That being said, this guy seems pretty dead to me.
You flew too close to the sun, High School Science Icarus.
Back at Billy’s house, we’re reminded of the fact that most of the eggs were hatching there. This presents a problem for Billy’s mom, who is home alone with them. I forget where Billy is. Probably out with Corey Feldman someplace.
We get our first good look at the newly hatched booger-balls. They’re super gross and pretty awesome. I’ll just call them gremlins from here on, because that’s the name of the movie.
The sequence that follows is one of my favourites in the film. Billy’s mom must defend her kitchen against these boorish foreign invaders. She does a remarkable job.
One of the gremlins decides to snack on whatever Billy’s mom had mixing in her food processor. Mom hits the RED button, which lets you know that she isn’t fucking around.
Then she grabs a knife and just goes Norman Bates on a second gremlin.
And, in what may be one of the most iconic moments of the entire series (or perhaps of the entire decade in film), she knocks a third gremlin back into her microwave and nukes it!
Billy’s mom is the best. I’ll bet this scene led to soooooo many pets dying in the 1980s.
Holy fiddlefuddle, this is a long post. I am going to continue writing about this masterpiece of holiday cinema at a later date. Maybe in another three years.