Gremlins ★★★★

I'd seen Gremlins a few times back when it first hit VHS, but it's been close to a quarter century since my last viewing of it. Though I'm a first-gen viewer who enjoyed the movie (even if was a lot more gruesome than most anything else I'd watched in my youth), I've never really identified as a committed fan. A few years ago, I snagged it free on Blu-ray from the now-defunct Warner Rewards program. I've been meaning to sit down and revisit it each fall and winter since I received it, and kept not doing it.

I had my niece for Halloween. We tried to go trick-or-treating, but the weather was just too uncooperative. Movies are always a central part of her visits and sleepovers, and so I decided based on her enthusiasm last year for Beetlejuice to introduce her to Gremlins.

Somewhere out there, I'm sure are whole scholarly papers written about what Gremlins tells us about the zeitgeist of the Reagan 80's. Here we have a PG-rated film that, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, is generally considered to be directly responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. It's a coming-of-age story about a young man bonding with his adorable mogwai, Gizmo...and it's a horror story of an entire town under siege from vicious, murdering monsters.

Gremlins taps into and relies on nostalgia as a shorthand for quickly establishing its homey, small town Americana setting. There's It's a Wonderful Life, for instance, which is one of the classic movies watched on TV by its characters throughout the film. Mrs. Deegle, the film's human villain, is as much a cinematic descendant of Life's Mr. Potter as she is the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. We don't need to know anything more about who she is than to know she cares about money, hates people (especially poor ones), and that she intends to get Billy and his little dog, too. We instantly glean why everyone in the film hates her, and why we're supposed to hate her, too.

And yet, this film is also very much antithetical to those films and that kind of Americana. For a film set at Christmastime in a small town, for instance, the most frequently spoken word violates the fourth commandment. Is this some kind of subversive, cynical commentary on how disingenuous was the Americana that the Reagan conservative movement pretended existed? I don't quite know.

There were quite a few things I'd forgotten entirely, and plenty more that were over my head the last time I saw the film. For instance, in the opening credits sequence as we tour through the town square as Billy goes to work, he calls out a greeting to "Dr. Moreau". I had no idea that was even a reference, much less did I get it, when I watched the movie as a child. This time, though, I definitely caught it and got a laugh from it.

Gremlins is ultimately all about laughs, though it's sometimes unclear whether we're meant to laugh with the film or at its characters. Some of the gags are awfully dark, but done in such an over-the-top fashion that they don't feel mean-spirited...even if they're about inventive ways of mauling and murdering someone.

All in all, it's still a lot of laughs even if I haven't quite figured out how awful a person I am for thinking such things as microwaving a Gremlin are funny.

Gremlins Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#798/1653)

Gremlins > MGM: When the Lion Roars --> #798
Gremlins > The Brave One --> #414
Gremlins < Chicago --> #414
Gremlins < Jaws --> #414
Gremlins > Grand Illusion --> #361
Gremlins < The Lady Vanishes --> #361
Gremlins < Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein --> #361
Gremlins < James --> #361
Gremlins > Kill Bill: Vol. 2 --> #357
Gremlins > Christmas Evil --> #356
Gremlins > Destry Rides Again --> #355

Gremlins was re-ranked on My Flickchart to #355/1654