Time for a Christmas movie!
Netflix has a good selection of movies meant for everyone's favorite holiday. You really should check it out.
Of course, the problem then becomes which movie, from among so many options, do we choose to review this week.
Well, I've got good news for you, because this week's movie is a classic, full of fun and mischief. It's about a boy who has to fend his home off from intruders using only his wits and whatever is on hand. And household objects are used as weapons in hilarious hijinks. And a crazy old man in the neighborhood turns out to be not so crazy after all.
Have you guessed which Christmas movie I'm talking about?
A Most Unusual Movie
Gremlins is a peculiar beast.
On the one hand, it was and continues to be a refreshingly original story. But it also borrows heavily but other well-known movies, including E.T., Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and even The Wizard of Oz.
The central conceit is based on modern folklore. A gremlin is a kind of fairy who sabotages machinery, especially airplanes, which was invented during the second world war to explain various mishaps encountered by the British Royal Air Force.
A fairy who specializes in machinery? Wait, does that mean Tinkerbell is actually a...
You would think that these creatures, lacking the centuries of tradition that surround other big-screen monsters such as vampires and werewolves, would not be ready for their own feature film. And despite earlier attempts by Roald Dahl and Walt Disney to popularize the creatures, they didn't take off. But in the anything-goes, Spielberg-fueled fever dream of the 1980s, Gremlins got the green light. And since that time, the creatures have wormed their way into the cultural consciousness.
In a sendup to noir movies of yesteryear, Gremlins opens with a man in a fedora walking through Chinatown, lured into a mysterious shop by the boy who works there. But instead of a detective, the man turns out to be a traveling salesman, who bungles a sales pitch with the sullen shop owner.
However, while examining the shops artifacts, the salesman discovers a strange creature which he purchases to take home as a Christmas gift to his son.
This creature is called a mogwai, and just looking at it is enough to convince me that all pets will one day be replaced by animatronic robots.
The little guy's name is Gizmo. And he's the perfect pet.
His species, however, comes with three important (but ultimately nonsensical) rules:
- Bright light causes them pain (yet we see the later gremlins causing lots of bright flashes and explosions through their shenanigans).
- They must not be exposed to water (yet they can drink beer and soda with apparently no problem).
- They must not be fed after midnight (yet the very concept of "midnight" is an arbitrary human notion, and, technically, every minute of the day can be considered after midnight).
The storyline of Gremlins is a bit bipolar, in that a solid half of the movie is just slow buildup before the first gremlin even appears, with tons of character development and setup. But after the first gremlin sighting, the movie is mostly just a montage of various hijinks pulled by the little beasties.
But while, at times, the gremlins seem more mischievous than actively hostile, they do kill quite a few people, including most of the bullies and jerks that were introduced in the aforementioned slow buildup. Yet quite a few innocent and likeable characters also meet their ends here.
And yet all their monkey business, no matter how lethal, is always injected with a fair amount of humor, to the point where some of their schemes are just downright silly.
And it's all a very good excuse to show off the cool puppetwork, and ultimately serves the movie's tone of comic horror. Needless to say that this is a film that does not take itself too seriously.
Which is not to say that it isn't scary. There are moments of genuine terror here, not only in what the gremlins are capable of, but in what the humans are capable of doing to them.
Which brings me to my next point.
Apart from Gizmo, the characters of Gremlins are all pretty forgettable.
With one exception.
Billy's mom gets few spoken lines throughout the movie, and it isn't hard to imagine how she could have been left in the background, had the filmmakers opted for that.
But there is a stretch, right in the middle of the film, where she becomes the story's focus, and it is some of the most graphic footage in the entire movie. Billy's mom, it seems, is quite the accomplished killer. The gremlins can be killed by sunlight, yes, but they are also susceptible to other, more spectacular forms of death, whether that involves getting stabbed with a kitchen knife, trapped in a running blender, or cooked in the microwave.
And it's all done with such nonchalance that you can't help but wonder what else might be lurking under the seemingly calm exterior of this woman. It's some delicious character development, and it's done with almost no dialogue whatsoever.
Gremlins is a gem of a movie---one that needs rediscovering by our sad and cynical world.
But I suppose we shall not see any more Gremlins movies. They have, after all, drifted out of the public eye and all but disappeared from the modern media landscape.
Though I could be wrong.
Gremlins is on Netflix right now. Watch it...unless you're scared to.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: