Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
I had the opportunity to watch a handful of holiday-related movies during the Christmas season. One rather obscure selection that fell into the mix was "Gremlins", which was intended for a Christmas release in 1984, but was bumped up to a summer release to compete with "Ghostbusters" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Interestingly enough, "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" are credited with the introduction of the PG-13 rating, since scenes of violence used in both movies were deemed too excessive for a simple PG rating but not extreme enough for a harsher R rating. Keep in mind, too, that "Gremlins" was planned as a family movie, which meant that even more violent scenes from the original draft had to be cut for its release - including a decapitation scene involving Mrs. Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain). In comparison, scenes where gremlins get chopped to bits by kitchen appliances remain in the movie intact.
For all its efforts, "Gremlins" is obviously a product of its time - a capsule of the early 80's, evidenced by more than just clothing or hairstyles. The presence of Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold or Corey Feldman in a movie gives strong evidence of the time period for which it was filmed, but we also get a glimpse of gremlins fighting over a handheld video game unit and breakdancing in a bar. A sense of Reaganomics also fills the air in the film's fictional setting of Kingston Falls, as the rich get richer and middle-class suburbanites lose their jobs and homes. The atmosphere is dated, but the film still has a nostalgic feel for those of us who saw "Gremlins" as kids when it first came out.
The film begins with Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), a local inventor with creative ideas and poor mechanical skills. His house is filled with gizmos that tend to work at first, but then act irrationally toward unsuspecting family members. While browsing through the shops in Chinatown for a unique Christmas present for his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), Rand discovers a curious creature called a Mogwai (which translates as demon or gremlin in Cantonese Chinese, with the Mandarin pronunciation of mogui). The Mogwai, nicknamed "Gizmo" (voiced by Howie Mandel), is a cute creature, and certainly did well on the toy market after the film's release, but it's also complex enough to come with three very important rules which must be obeyed at all costs: Keep it away from bright lights, Don't get it wet, and Don't feed it after midnight. Naturally, the Peltzer family - though unintentionally - break each of these rules, and chaos disrupts the quiet atmosphere of Kingston Falls. This is where the real action of the film begins, as the evil gremlins terrorize the town. At first glance, they appear to just be playfully mischievious, not unlike the wacky behavior exhibited by Warner Brothers icons like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, as they play poker, swing from ceiling fans, and enjoy a late-night viewing of "Snow White & the Seven Dwarves." But tearing the town apart is not enough for these gremlins. They'll happily kill anyone in their path who disrupts their mayhem, whether that means strangling Mrs. Peltzer in her own living room or chasing after Billy with a chainsaw in a closed department store.
"Gremlins" is not a movie meant to be taken seriously. It wants to be a fun movie, and succeeds on that level. It's easy to nitpick the production and point out such inconsistencies as the fact that the Gremlins can run around in the snow (a water-based molecule) without multiplying, but it's unnecessary. What struck me more is the incompleteness of the plot. Characters are introduced, but are either underdeveloped or disappear completely before the film even reaches its halfway point. There's Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday), modeled after the Wicked Witch of the East from "The Wizard of Oz" and poised to be the town villain along the same lines as Mr. Potter from "It's A Wonderful Life", but her storyline doesn't quite stick with the flow of the movie. Seeing her fly out of an upstairs window is a fun visual gag, but it seemed to be the only purpose in her presence. A planned subplot, in which she tries to buy out foreclosed homes in Kingston Falls to build a nuclear plant, was cut completely. The same applies for Billy's supervisors at the bank, Mr. Corben (Edward Andrews) and Gerald (Judge Reinhold). Both men seem set up as antagonists for Billy, but their later scenes were left on the cutting room floor, leaving a feeling of lost purpose to their presence in the first place. The fact that Billy even works at the bank also seemed inconsequential to the plot, as he and Kate (Phoebe Cates) could easily have been written as high school students, especially given that Billy brings the gremlins to science teacher Mr. Hansen (Glynn Turman) for examination. Indeed, the thrill of "Gremlins" works best when it focuses on the crazed little critters' efforts to ravage the town, in the spirit of films like "The Blob" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." As long as we get to see mayhem and destruction on the screen, we're getting our money's worth!
Very little dialogue was written for the gremlins, their lines consisting mostly of ad libs by the various voice talents working together on the film. Cameos from George Lucas (riding a bicycle), Steven Spielberg (in an electric wheelchair), Chuck Jones (looking at Billy's cartoon) and Jerry Goldsmith (wearing a western hat) can be found throughout the film.
"It Multiplies With Water": "Gremlins" on DVD
"Gremlins" has been issued on DVD a few times already, but its latest "Special Edition" release is packed with a favorable collection of extras that make this dated horror film worth a revisit.
Two Audio Commentaries: Director Joe Dante, Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel provide a humorous collection of stories and insights into the making of "Gremlins", having a fun time together for their reunion. There's also a second commentary track provided by Dante, producer Michael Finnell and special effects artist Chris Walas.
Theatrical Trailers: Gremlins & Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Deleted Scenes: Normally, I don't get too psyched over deleted scenes, but these come complete with director's commentary and offer minor character and subplot development. The set includes Billy being reprimanded for being 17 minutes late to work, and Gerald hiding from the gremlins in the bank vault.
Behind-the-Scenes Documentary: a brief glimpse at what took place behind the scenes of "Gremlins", with short comments from Joe Dante, Phoebe Cates, and others. At one point, Dante tries to convince John Louie why the Christmas-themed movie is being released in the summer.
Gallery: photo stills and storyboard concepts.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older