Gremlins (1984)

Moving right along with our Holiday theme, next up is Joe Dante’s classic Gremlins. This film makes a great case that the 80’s were the highpoint for horror movies. You had the hardcore, blood and guts of a multitude of bug budget franchises running strong (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm, Halloween, to name just a few), yet the genre still had enough strength to drop horror-themed family movies into the mix, and have them become blockbusters. 1984 is horror-dom’s “golden year,” seeing both Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones at the Temple of Doom, and Gremlins making a killing at both the box office and in popular culture.

Both Gremlins and …Temple of Doom were Spielberg projects (as producer and director respectively), and both received “PG” ratings off based solely off of his critical standing. (Since the MPAA rating system is an entirely private organization, with no actual ties to the government, a Hollywood big-shot like Spielberg, especially backed by Indy-partner George Lucas, could’ve easily gone without a rating (a la Dawn of the Dead) and shown the studios just how ineffective their industry watchdog truly was.

I love the way Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is an “inventor.” Not “salesman” or “even “sales rep,” no, he’s an “inventor.” One of those jobs that someone must have, much like poets, but that you’ll never see.

Even going so far as to mock E.T.'s famous touching fingertips scene!

I also love how ballsy director Joe Dante is towards his executive producer Spielberg. This movie came out when Spielberg, hot off of Indiana Jones’ success, was shoehorning nostalgia into all his productions. The film starts off with Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” playing on the radio. Total schmaltz.

Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is shown running down Kingston Fall’s main street; a street that still carries stores such as “Discount Emporium” and “Drug Store.” I.e. a love letter to the olden days before chain stores conquered all.

This is where Dante’s touch comes into play. Next to the “Discount Emporium” is a “Burger King.” When Billy’s found trying to fix his car, his neighbor Murray (Dick Miller) remarks that he’s waiting for the day he finds Billy’s comic strip next to Lil’ Abner. Billy wrying remarks that that comic hasn’t been published in years. Billy’s love interest, Kate Beinger (Phoebe Cates), is moonlighting as a waitress for free, to help the bar owner out. Billy thinks this is a great idea, his rival, Gerald (Judge Reinhold) (name) thinks working for free is silly. Gizmo, Billy’s pet Mogwai, is cute, cuddly, and lovable, until it eats after midnight, at which point it becomes a reptilian, mischievous Gremlin.

Appearances aside, the modern age of cynicism has begun, whether Spielberg likes it or not.

(The sequel, Gremlins 2: the New Batch, would take this cynicism even further; using postmodern tricks such as breaking down the 4th wall and making the villains (the Gremlins) the stars as a final nail in nostalgia’s coffin.)

Everyone always loves when the nuclear family gets subverted. With Billy’s mom (name) refusing to play a victim, picking up a knife at the first sign of trouble and fighting back with blenders and microwaves. But they really shouldn’t be all that surprised or amazed. As Dante clearly knew what he was doing, as Lynn Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain) looks like a cross between Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Jamie Lee Curtis circa Halloween.

The Gremlins themselves are the embodiment of the latest “Yellow Scare” gripping the US in the 80s. In the film, the Gremlins are bought from an Asian merchant and waste no time in invading. Whereas, back then, Hollywood, along with the rest of the nation, was panicked over the surge in Asian investors buying up California real estate.

(A sentiment that, sadly, still hasn’t been entirely forgotten. For the audio equivalent of this “crisis,” please see Ice Cube’s “Black Korea.”)

Faced with such a challenge of coming to terms with complex sociopolitical issues, Gremlins answers the same way the US did in WWII; with the Gremlins being firebombed while watching a movie. Tying up all the loose ends in one fell swoop; with the Gremlin menace being vaporized as the antiquated Main Street style of life/community is blown to bits.


Is ShenaniTims full of shit? Tell him now!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: