Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #282
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 8, 1984
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $153,083,102
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: Joe Dante
Producer: Michael Finnell
Screenplay: Chris Columbus
Special Effects: Robert MacDonald
Visual Effects: Michael Joyce (uncredited)
Cinematography: John Hora
Score: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Tina Hirsch
Studio: Amblin Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke, John Louie, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Polly Holliday, Judge Reinhold, Edward Andrews, Glynn Turman, Belinda Balaski, Scott Brady, Jonathan Banks, Harry Carey, Jr., Chuck Jones, Kenny Davis
Suggested Audio Gizmo
 Jerry Goldsmith “Gizmo Theme”
 Jerry Goldsmith “Gremlins Theme”
My methodology for appraising films often has no rhyme or reason. There are a whole host of reasons why certain treasures resurface in my thought pool and often, because of my introspective prose, it is because I feel drawn towards films tackling specific topics or relating to certain periods in my life. Where Joe Dante’s frolicsome eighties classic Gremlins is concerned, you can blame cheap toxic energy drinks. You see, last night as I frantically scribed fresh fiction for the Halloween run-up, I decided it best to give myself something of a boost to help maintain my eyelids at half mast. The midnight hour had both beckoned and passed and it was the wee hours before I finally decided it was time to lay my head down and consolidate with some well-earned slumber. Alas, I was foiled on this occasion by enough Taurine to floor a bullock, and commenced to lay, twitching for a full two hours whilst desperately attempting to clear my thoughts.
I knew exactly where I had gone wrong and late night/early morning consumption of said neon sludge was named and shamed immediately. However, pointing the finger wasn’t bringing me any closer to counting my flock and it only seemed right to spare a thought for some other nocturnal nasties whom suffer from the same insomnia. An appraisal for Gremlins was always coming; how could I not cast an affectionate eye over one of my fondest childhood darlings? Just like The Goonies, The Lost Boys, Stand By Me and The Burbs (all of which curiously co-star cool dude Corey Feldman) it was ripe for the picking and one consideration for dear old Gizmo sealed the deal. It is one of those wondrous pieces of cinematic gold which belongs to its epoch unerringly, so much so, that I even collected the trading cards and stomached the insufferable starchy chewing gum which accompanied every packet. The reason for this was simple; Gremlins is awesome… nuff said!
Dante actually heralds from horror origins although always with tongue firmly placed in cheek. Piranha and The Howling are two stellar examples of the balance found between fear and laughter which he struck before his first foray into family entertainment. He had done enough to impress Steven Spielberg and was recommended to direct Warner Bros’ rearguard against summer blockbusters Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters. Hurried into production after being removed from its original Christmas release slate, it went on to flex its muscles at the box office and its success warranted a sequel. It also courted light controversy as it was one of the features which prompted a rethink of classification laws. PG-13 seemed more fitting for Gremlins as people die, malignant creatures roam freely, and it ain’t all cuddly Mogwai by a long stretch. At its heart, Dante’s film is a simple parable of good vs evil. There was nothing which stoked our fires more in the eighties than a film which pit heroes against villains and in Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, it found two custom-made candidates for the good guys.
I shall start with Cates and my reasoning is shameful as you’re probably expecting by this point. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That’s right, the moment when Linda Barrett steps from the pool in that crimson bikini and presses eject on those shoulder holsters to reveal two perfectly rounded orbs of infatuation, has remained one of various mental screen savers which keep my cheeks rosy ever since. It just had to be her. As Kate Beringer she is suitably girl-next-door; one part cute and adorable and, the other, resilient and resourceful. There were few better suited actresses for her role and her performance acts as a cruel reminder of why it is utterly baffling that she hasn’t gone on to greater things since. As much as I could sit here all day deliberating over Phoebe’s perky pillows, she was not the major find here.
That honor falls to Zach Galligan, star of the gloriously goofy Waxwork movies, and more recently Hatchet III, as well as all-round gentleman. Billy Peltzer is our All-American kind-spirited huckster, utterly likeable and barely controversial in the slightest, he is the epitome of eighties teen, only without the overblown ego. Just in case you think Billy is a little too squeaky clean, bear in mind that Galligan worked with Dante to include an unscripted homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Zach literally falls into Peltzer’s pelt and you truly believe he is who he says he is, desperately willing him on to catch a break. He doesn’t or, at least, he doesn’t get an easy run of things. One minute his greatest concern is how to suss out one of his father’s failed contraptions and the next he is inadvertently playing dog catcher to some of the mangiest mutts ever to burst from their birth sacks. These impish infidels are the real stars here and are voiced brilliantly by an array of actors which include Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame no less. But, just as Billy takes the countless revelations in his stride, so Galligan foils them from hogging the limelight. If I were asked to list ten teenage turns from the decade which resonate most then his seat would be ensured at the top table despite Billy actually being 21 years old.
Right then, back to those villainous vermin. What a great bunch of guys they were, well mostly, Stripe could be accused of pushing the envelope some but I would still invite him and his pals over for poker night, regardless of their shameful shenanigans here. You couldn’t possibly not bust a gut when surrounded by such zeal and enthusiasm for sight comedy. Picture the scene, dare yourself not to guffaw, and you’ll fail hands down the first moment one of the little critters locates your gramophone. They’re a whole barrel of fun; granted, they can be somewhat unruly and, if your house accommodates a stair lift then you may have yourself a faint dilemma, but overall they’re much like girls were back then…they just wanna have fun. Do we enjoy ourselves also? Hell yeah we do. Gremlins is energetic, spirited and hugely rewarding fare and its sequel damn well is too, in a Back To The Future 2 kind of way. Once the first drop of water is spilled and Gizmo enters a hilarious state of accelerated pregnancy, we are sucked in and shaken into submission until the final Christmas decoration has fallen.
Another piece of cinematic mastery comes in the form of the entire Peltzer clan and, in particular, inventor dad Hoyt Axton (who largely improvised his lines). The dynamic between them lends the story both weight and heart and Dante’s deft for comedy is apparent from very early on not to mention Chris Columbus’ superb screenwriting. After this and the under-appreciated Explorers, Joe went on to grant us Innerspace and The Burbs of course and his evident GSOH is present in abundance, not only when Stripe and co are assaulting both our senses and sanity. In lesser hands the Gremlins of the title may have appeared little more than an admittedly grand gimmick but the whole project is blessed from stem to stern. He knows how to grab an audience’s attention early on, creates a believable world, then sets out to pull it down around his ears just to show his cantankerous side. Ten minutes in Sim City and he’d doubtless be reaching for the natural disaster key but that makes for a formidable slice of eighties nostalgia the likes of which just don’t get made anymore. More than anything, he gives us Gizmo. Bless!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: Surprisingly breathless given its PG-13 classification. The Gremlins themselves find middle ground between fiendish and fanciful and the trail of their destruction spreads wide and far. It won’t have you sleeping with the light on but it may dissuade you from drinking that can of nuclear back splash and, for a film primarily designed with a younger demographic in mind, that is some ask.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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