Retro Review: ‘Gremlins’


Tiger Media Network

The Christmas season is here, and with it are a plethora of wonderful wintertime watches. With cold, potentially snowy, days upon us, it’s time to snuggle up and stir a hot cup of cocoa. This next set of retro reviews will include Christmas and wintry-themed films alike, ranging from classic Christmas cinema to more unique selections. Our first stop on our win-tour is the classic Christmas horror film “Gremlins.” Released in 1984, directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus, and produced by Steven Speilberg, “Gremlins” is known for its comedy, scares, and Christmas themes. The film stars Zach Galligan as Billy Peltzer, Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo, and the original Fred Jones voice actor Frank Welker as Stripe, along with Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, and Frances Lee McCain. 

The film starts with Billy’s Dad, who gets a present for his son for Christmas in a Chinatown antique store, this being a new pet. A furry little creature called a Mogwai. He is given a warning about the creature, however. Rules that must not be broken, lest problems will ensue. Rule one: do not expose it to light, sunlight will kill it. Rule two: do not let it come in contact with water. Rule three and most importantly, never feed it after midnight. This set of rules and the breaking of them, would be the inciting moment that would lead to a horrific mutated Mogwai multiplication and invasion of the green little monsters known as Gremlins. In this review, we will go over what makes “Gremlins” such an iconic ’80s horror film and the perfect introductory film for the cold Christmas season.

One portion of the film’s production that stands out as a particular byproduct of it being from the ‘80s is its practical effects and puppetry. Not often today do we see practical effects being used like they were in the original “Gremlins” film. A massive variety of Gremlin puppets and Mogwai puppets needed to be developed for the film. This film would stand out as memorable for how much effort went into bringing the Gremlins to life physically. Christopher Walas, who worked on Films such as “Return of the Jedi” as a consultant, “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” and the 1986 Science fiction horror film “The Fly,” designed Gizmo and the Gremlins. With a film having a very loose influence from Roald Dahl’s 1943 book “The Gremlins,” Walas was free to design these murderous green little tricksters. The cute and lovable Mogwai were equally well-designed in terms of the roles they had to play in the film. Each Gremlin and Mogwai had a unique personality that was conveyed through their design and their animation throughout the film.

The second standout portion of the film was its various locations and sets. Whether it be our main protagonist’s home, his school, the movie theater, the snowy Christmas-adorned town, or even a bar, this film’s locations allow for a perfect storm for potential Gremlin hijinks to ensue. If you want to convey to an audience that an invasion of weird creatures is happening, then doing so in its various locations, while also making it colorful, comedic, and scary at the same time allows for not only a memorable experience but an association with the characters and those specific locations. 

Take the scene in the kitchen of Billy’s house when a Gremlin is exploded in a microwave, or in the movie theater packed full of Gremlins having a crazy good time, or outside on the snowy streets when Gremlins are Christmas caroling. The Christmas elements, the snowy environments, retro ‘80s human character writing, the action scenes, the wicked creature design, and the cute creature design all amalgamate into what makes “Gremlins” so rich. This is in both its detail and the numerous ways the Gremlins are able to act in their environments, which leads to potential excitement at every corner. 

“Gremlins” allows itself to have so much fun by setting up many potential ways the titular creatures are allowed to interact with their world and with the film’s characters. The brimming creativity of this film colorfully oozes on screen as we see the undaunted potential of the Gremlins through their puppet design, the actions they are able to make in the environments that they are given, its wondrous Christmas season aesthetic, and of course, it’s various locations. The rules it sets up at the beginning of the film might be painted as limitations in the narrative itself but are what give rise to the most interesting components of this film, beginning with the Gremlins themselves. “Gremlins” is a fun Christmas horror flick that the family can check out together and have an exciting film-watching experience.