Dir. Joe Dante (1984)
An inventor gives his son a strange creature for Christmas. He is a terrible pet owner.
It’s odd that we’re discussing Joe Dante’s Gremlins so early in the holiday season, because it is, without a doubt, the greatest Christmas horror movie ever made. Taking a page straight out of George Lucas’ Star Wars playbook, Dante created perhaps the most marketable horror movie in history, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat without knocking into a pile of Gremlins merchandise in the 80’s. Thankfully, unlike a lot of other marketable “children’s” movies, there was good reason for that, because Gremlins is fucking awesome and might just be one of the greatest horror movies ever made, forget the Christmas part of it. Alternating between adorable and downright terrifying, the gremlins themselves are some of the best creature design in horror history, a pet that every child wanted to own and then had nightmares about.
It’s actually one of the more interesting parts of the Gremlins story, in that we had a movie that was rated PG but was one of the scariest movies that you’d ever willingly and intentionally show your children. I grew up watching this movie, I’ve seen it at least 100 times, and it wasn’t until last year or so that I was like, hey, what the actual fuck? Why was I ever allowed to watch this movie when I was a kid? Where movies like Shrek disguise sexual jokes and innuendo in funny children’s fare so that the parents can enjoy watching too, Gremlins is straight up scary as fuck. Do you remember the scene where Stripe melts into a skeletonized green pile of goo in a birdbath? Do you actually remember that? Give it another watch, I promise you it’s way scarier than you remember. Do you remember Phoebe Cates’ story about her father dying after being stuck in a chimney trying to play Santa Claus? Do you know how fucking awful that would be for a child to hear? And yet, our parents just straight put that shit on the television, going back to their coffee and cigarettes while we were unknowingly consuming years’ worth of nightmare fuel and loving every godforsaken second of it.
And yet, despite all of the reasons we clearly shouldn’t have watched this movie as kids, it stands up as a fantastic memory from our childhood that is such a good movie, it’s worth watching for reasons other than nostalgia. The creature effects are incredible, the acting holds up very well, and Dante delivers probably the best example of his impishly charming direction in his career. Though Zach Galligan has worked consistently for the last forty years, most of America will always know him as that guy who couldn’t be trusted with a singing oversized hamster. And Gizmo? You could make a billion dollars if you came up with a real Gizmo for children, a fact that is immediately apparent to Randall Peltzer, Galligan’s overzealous inventor father. Thankfully, he never gets it off the ground, because things would’ve gone a lot worse for us if he had.
Look, people. Stop giving your stupid goddamned kids pets for Christmas. It’s irresponsible, and you just know that they’re going to get tired of them after like the second movie or so. They never follow the rules, they’re constantly giving them baths when they’re not supposed to be, and before you know it, the whole damn town is going crazy.
Who this movie is for: 80’s horror fans, Horror comedy lovers, The ASPCA
Bottom line: One of the best movies of the 80’s (and that’s saying a fuck of a lot), Gremlins is still just as good today as it was then. It’s an every-year Christmas watch, and if you don’t have it on your binge list, what are you doing with your life? If, somehow, you’ve never even seen Gremlins? I don’t even want to know you until you rectify the situation. It’s streaming on HBO Max, and it’s worth the subscription for this movie alone.