Gremlins ★★★★★

“You do with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature’s gifts. You do not understand. You are not ready.”

What’s not to love? I watched this a lot as a little kid (interesting how I selectively never heard Phoebe Cates spelling out that Santa Claus isn’t real) but hadn’t seen it in quite a while. I remembered this is bonkers and scary at times, but it’s all of that turned to 11, because when you return to Gremlins after learning about the world and having solid values in place, the hilarity soars to ironically insightful places given that the engine that runs the title devils is pure, meaningless anarchy. The movie takes its time to set up an otherwise “normal,” “happy,” “quaint” American town before diving headfirst into cartoonish horror insanity. The white suburbia runs on everything America has always valued: hatred shrouded in patriotism. The movie is almost exclusively about xenophobia and portrays how ridiculous a fear of outsiders actually looks. The dad character is the story’s only B-plot that takes us away from our leads, and his failed inventions seem like a quirky side gag until you tie it into the central theme. A old drunk at a bar rants early in the movie about how everyone should exclusively buy American, then we’re shown the hypocrisy in how meaningless local innovation actually feels when applied to our daily lives. When he gets to the 3rd act sequence centered around our biggest export at the local movie theater, Dante sarcastically takes that opportunity to show how dumb we think worldwide audiences are, soaking up our valuable entertainment as the most important, unifying product there is. 

Other touches I love: how our female leads fare just fine against the monsters right before Zach Gilligan shows up just to run away with them, how blatantly leftist it is by showing cops as the useless idiots that they are, and then vilifying and punishing the entitled landlord character who practically steals time and joy from our heroes. This movie has values and sneakily imbues them at every opportunity through setting, setup, and patient execution like every great horror movie does. It does all this while balancing the saccharine nature of a Chris Columbus script when appropriate and the absolute joy that comes with the fantastic practical animatronic puppetry and creature effects.

And yet, if this movie was trying to convince me that I don’t want a Gizmo, perhaps that’s the only thing it failed at. (Did you know he’s voiced by Howie Mandel?)

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