Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won't lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
Minature green monsters tear through the small town of Kingston Falls. Hijinks ensue as a mild-mannered bank teller releases these hideous loonies after gaining a new pet and violating two of three simple rules: No water (violated), no food after midnight (violated), and no bright light. Hilarious mayhem and destruction in a town straight out of Norman Rockwell. So, when your washing machine blows up or your TV goes on the fritz, before you call the repair man, turn on all the lights and look under all the beds. 'Cause you never can tell, there just might be a gremlin in your house. Written by
Though he followed the basic outline of the script, Hoyt Axton is said to have improvised nearly all his lines. See more »
In Dorry's Tavern, when Kate turns the ceiling fan on that one Gremlin is hanging on to, in the close up shots, the ceiling fan is turning counter-clockwise, but when Kate jumps over the bar set to attack more of the Gremlins with the camera flash, the ceiling fan is turning clockwise. See more »
Seeing this again in a theater today on 35mm, and it strikes me how much this is a product of the 1980's even as it holds up (that is if you are one of those few brave souls who love the hell out of practical effects and creatures that have to be built - so many of these things have great individual personalities and designs, even as they're all either gremlins or mogwais). Dick Miller as Mr. Futterman, for example, plays the sort of borderline-adorable xenophobe - his one character trait here is that he doesn't trust a single thing that comes from another country - that today in America is not so adorable anymore (a Nixon frame on his wall seems quaint by today's standards). And the gremlins themselves can be seen as the sort of "other" or "outsider" threat that's coming to get us if we're not careful; it's not that we can't or shouldn't have in these foreign critters, but the responsibility is on us, perhaps, to make sure we don't turn them into hideous terrorists....
I may be reading a bit much into this. But it's still a piece of Spielberg Americana, a small suburban town (maybe less suburban than ET but close enough) where everyone seems to know everyone, but given Joe Dante and Chris Columbus's extra-dose of love for B movies and Loony Tunes. It also is wonderful as an homage to the sort of small town one saw in It's a Wonderful Life (which we see on a TV here) and gets sort of featured with the one cantankerous woman who practically runs the bank (her storyline gets put by the wayside for one reason or another).
Not unlike with the Evil Dead series, the first movie is more of a horror movie than a comedy, and I think it takes a little while for the comedy to find its footing - as a kid I found Billy's dad, played by Hoyt Axton, to be amusing, though now as an adult he doesn't hold up as well with the running gags of his mishap inventions (it's kind of cute, at first, but runs out of steam). But once the bad mogwais and especially the plethora of gremlins take over the town, it is an amazing pop-comedy spectacle. If nothing else it's worthwhile for the set pieces in the second half: that bar scene with Phoebe Cates at the mercy of all these damn creatures (the highlight of this movie for me is the jazzy, Tom Waits-like gremlin accosted by the one with the hand-puppets); all of them watching Snow White; the finale with 'Stripe' and how it's an actually effective suspense sequence, with maybe one too many false endings.
And in the middle is little Gizmo, like the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi built for no other purpose except to be sickeningly cute and... who wouldn't want a Gizmo, long as one is responsible for the little guy? It may take a little while for him to become notable to the plot, but when he does it's also a great deal of fun in that finale. So, there is a lot of nostalgia in this for me, as this was one of the first movies I can remember seeing as a little kid. How I respond to it today isn't too different, though I do recognize some of its flaws. Perfect ending.
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