Gremlins (1984)
By: Julian on May 16, 2011  | 
Warner Bros | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 101 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain
Screenplay: Chris Columbus
Country: USA
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Gremlins is one of those films that you watch as an adult and think, "how can this possibly be a movie for children"? A few scenes might immediately be flagged as problematic: a gremlin stabbing a woman in the thigh; a group of the things sabotaging a handicapped woman's stair lift, which she then uses, promptly catapulting herself and her wheelchair out of a two-storey window; or even the narrator's final line, "next time you hear something go bump... check under your bed, because a gremlin might be there".

Indeed, the MPAA also thought "how can this possibly be a movie for children" and, egged on by Steven Spielberg (who had a bit of grief from parents' associations following the face-melting fun of Raiders of the Lost Ark), they introduced PG-13 (for a domestic example of this sort of classification controversy, recall that Silence of the Lambs and Cape Fear were the impetus for the creation of MA15+). Two odd footnotes following this response: Gremlins was never recertified by the MPAA, and it was classified PG at first instance in Australia, despite there being an M certification.

Gremlins certainly begins as a kids' movie, albeit darker than most. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) stumbles into a cool little antiques/miscellany shop run by an elderly Chinese man and his grandson. Randall is an inventor, peddling his wares, when he happens upon a cute furry animal caged in a dark part of the shop. The creature is a Mogwai, and although the proprietor won't sell the thing to Randall, the grandson gives it up, with the following instructions: do not expose the Mogwai to bright lights, do not expose the Mogwai to water, and do not feed the Mogwai after midnight.

Randall gifts the Mogwai, who he has named Gizmo, to his son Billy (Zach Galligan), and animal and boy develop an instant rapport. It doesn't take long for Billy to break the three cardinal rules: a camera flash upsets Gizmo, and water accidentally dropped onto it makes Gizmo spawn five more Mogwai, none of which inherited Gizmo's placid personality. Worse is to come when Billy is tricked into feeding his five new companions after the witching hour.

From this point, Gremlins kicks off as a very-good horror-comedy. Director Joe Dante knows a thing or two about this genre: he had previously helmed The Howling and Piranha, and while this is more benign than both, it replicates the spirit that made those films genre classics. The villains – the spawn of Gizmo – are excellent, and they are created using some surprisingly decent creature effects.

The villainous Mogwai are obviously the stars of the show, and Dante has them straddle a highly entertaining line between playful, annoying furballs and deranged, psychopathic architects of destruction. There's a wonderful, good-natured irreverence about this movie, and in many ways it is the archetypal horror-comedy, though admittedly it skimps on the former and is more heavily reliant on the laughs. Dante's laugh-out-loud brand of dark, yet still playful, humour is stamped all over this.

Gremlins' main fault is this: the fact that this aims to please two diverse demographics (adult horror fans of Dante, and a younger audience) means that it fails to squarely satisfy either of them. This gripe is mainly centred on the first half an hour or so, because the rest of it largely landed on my side of the camp (the former).

But once again, we're brought back to Gremlins' dark, hilarious sense of fun, and Dante's outrageous attempts to make a different kind of film that ultimately harks back to his usual brand of black humour and off-the-wall horror. That's not to say it is derivative, just similar in tone. It's not bloody, and it's not (unless you're under 13) scary: but regardless of the age of the horror fan, Gremlins is 100 minutes of rock solid entertainment. It's a time-tested classic that has aged particularly well.
The picture is presented in 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It's fairly average, but not altogether unexpected from a twenty year old movie.
English, Italian and French DD 5.1 tracks are provided. The English sounds fine. The late, great Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen, Alien, Poltergeist, et al) is responsible for the score and he does a typically great job.
Extra Features
None. Import the Region 1 disc or upgrade to Blu-ray as the local BD comes with 2 audio commentaries, a making-of, deleted scenes and trailers.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
This is brilliant, and it provides humour on two fronts: the intentional comedy in Chris Columbus' screenplay and Joe Dante's direction; and the unintentional (that is, unless Dante was having us all on) comedy of the director's fundamentally challenged attempt to helm a family film. I, along with most of my mates, watched this when I was much too young. Reliving it as an adult is a vastly different experience, and an immensely entertaining one.

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