GREMLINS Thursday 08 December, 2011

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You’ve never regretted a midnight snack as much as the folks of Kingston Falls.

Gremlins is a christmas film. I know that that is probably not what you remember it for but it is. It is also quite a strange film. It is very much an homage to 1950s b-movie science fiction but it is also a product of it’s time. On the surface it is a monster movie. The messages underneath that seem to display a fear of a different kind. A fear of an America in decline and losing it’s position of supremacy in the world.

The basic premise of the film is that a father attempts to buy his son an unusual animal from a (stereotypically) cryptic, one-eyed Chinese man. The sale is refused but his more westernised grandson sells the creature behind his grandfather’s back. The animal comes with a strict set of rules for it’s upkeep and a warning of great responsibility to care for this animal. The rules are not obeyed to disastrous consequences.

Early on in the film we see Randall Peltzer (the aforementioned father), an inventor, attempting to hawk his ingenious but defective products at an inventors convention (keep an eye out for H.G. Wells’ Time Machine and Robby the Robot). I remember as a child that I very much wanted to have a “Bathroom Buddy”. It looked so ingenious. It mattered not to me that it would cover me in shaving foam or that it was essentially an unwieldy hunk of plastic. It was futuristic to my six year old eyes. I think it also accounted for me wanting to be an inventor for a large part of my childhood.

After he makes the purchase there is a rather unusual shot. Instead of watching the interchange in which the rules of Mogwai care are imparted we are instead offered a slow motion shot of Peltzer senior walking through chinatown. It made me feel like there must have been a problem with that footage because I can’t imagine why we need to see that action in slow motion. At a stretch it might be to highlight that this is a momentous act but I lean more in favour of papering over the cracks.

Although directed by Joe Dante (Innerspace, The ‘burbs, Explorers) there are a few references to producer Spielberg. A billboard for a radio presenter is a straight reference to Indiana Jones and later on in the film an E.T. doll is featured in prominent close up. Some canny marketing on The Beard’s part and some sucking up to his boss on the director’s part. It’s also worth noting that this film is written by Chris Columbus who must surely now be considered as Hollywood’s Mr Christmas. A large percentage of the christmas films I’ve watched have had his involvement at some level.

The cast all do quite well with the material at hand. The rarely seen again Zach Galligan plays Billy Peltzer, the young man who receives the Mogwai as a gift. The equally lesser spotted (and gorgeous but disappointingly married to Kevin Kline and not me) Phoebe Cates plays his colleague and girlfriend Kate Beringer. Also look out for The Wire’s Mayor Royce (Glynn Turman) as schoolteacher Roy Hanson and the hitman/henchman from Beverley Hills Cop (Jonathan Banks) as the small town cop.

So what is the film like? It’s a wonderful mix of sci-fi, horror, comedy and christmas film. The special effects although less polished than the modern day CGI still have great charm and are largely effective. The spawning sequence is still a thing of beauty. Phoebe Cate’s character has one of the more sad finding-out-about-santa stories you’ll here. You might also have a little giggle when you hear it…or maybe I’m just a monster.

There are lots of negative references to foreign imports and foreigners themselves. Although these seem to be counterpointed by the fact that all of Peltzer’s products (which are American designed and built) are defective and sometimes dangerously so. It’s also worth noting that when Gizmo is freaking out as the gremlins start to hatch that he is hiding in a crash helmet that is very clearly carrying Honda branding. I wonder if maybe this film is poking fun at all of the Americans who complain about foreign manufacturers invading their domestic market. We must also remember that The Gremlins who play havoc with the small town America, depicted here, are Chinese in origin. There’s definitely something going on here but I think I will have to think about it some more.

The sequences where The Gremlins run amoc are still quite amusing and I still love the guys in the cinema singing along to snow white (especially the gremlin with ice lolly wrappers on his ears. Genius).

I’ll be surprised if you haven’t seen this already but if you’re looking for a christmas film that holds of on the syrup but gives extra bite then this could be just what you’re looking for.

 

 

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