Well, this will no doubt be very shocking, but I had managed to reach my thirty-third year on Earth without ever seeing Gremlins in its entirety. That was remedied at a classics screening at a local theater and I’m glad it was. There’s no need to bother with a plot summary, so let me just get into it. The film gets a lot of stuff absolutely right. Gizmo the Mogwai in particular is just a really wonderful creation; I bought into him as a living being absolutely and Mandel’s vocal performance is just phenomenal. The gremlins themselves, particularly Stripe, are also quite wonderfully and vividly realized. The filmmakers manage to make Stripe into a real character; moments like his dive-bomb into the swimming pool or the way he just freezes, his arms filled with candy bars, as the theater blows up are moments where you really can hardly believe that he’s just a prop. The human characters fare less well. Zach Galligan is an affable enough blank to be, not likable exactly, but kind of goofy. Phoebe Cates compensates for a really quite bad performance (that Santa Claus speech! Yikes!) by being really gorgeous. The only really interesting human character is, interestingly enough, Mrs. Peltzer who, when faced with an invasion of gremlins, grabs a pair of knives and goes to town. That scene. Right? That’s probably the best scene in the film, shockingly violent and hilarious at the same time.
But this is definitely Dante’s film; it’s got a strange mixture of Spielbergian nostalgia and pitch-black violent humor. Really, this film is weirder than I think most people remember it or think of it as being, so weird that I’m kind of surprised that it was as popular as it was. Dante keeps up a fast pace, but the film is often just bizarre in a way I can’t really think of another hit movie being. The scene at the bar, where Cates’ character is, inexplicably, just still hanging around serving the gremlins instead of running out screaming, is the foremost example. Gremlins breakdancing? Gremlins wearing fedoras being screamed at by sockpuppets? Gremlins crossdressing? This scene is like something out of a fever dream; it’s so weird that I had a kind of out-of-body experience, like I literally felt like I was dreaming or something. The climax of the film is everything it needs to be, weirdly funny and yet progressively more and more violent. Visuals like Stripe violently peddling a tricycle or Gizmo zipping past a dog in a tiny, tiny car, shrieking like a banshee . . . these are film moments for all time. Anyway, the film has held up beyond well for such a special effects driven picture; all credit to the creators, puppeteers and voices behind Gizmo & the gremlins for that – thirty years on, these creatures still seem imbued with magical life. The film has stumbles, mostly with the human side of the acting, and occasionally with the writing (Spielberg was right; that Santa Claus speech should have been cut), which just doesn’t characterize the humans at all, really. But, on the whole, a really great movie-watching experience. Oh, God, did I forget that score? I knew the theme, of course, but it’s just even better than I had remembered. One of Goldsmith’s best scores, no question. Recommended. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – special effects create unbelievably realistic creatures and Dante’s pitch black sense of humor remains bracing; human characters are unfortunately bland and forgettable. 3 ½ stars.