Monday, 21 December 2009

Tell me something, Billy. How come a cute little guy like this can turn into a thousand ugly monsters?

No 310 - Gremlins
Director - Joe Dante

It is time to crack out some of the alternative Christmas classics. This is a brilliant Christmas film in that, like the equally brilliant Die Hard, it happens OVER Christmas but it isn't directly about Christmas. It also comes through the period when Speilberg was producing bonkers 80's comedies. The Goonies is a surprisingly dark film for a children's adventure, but it pales in comparison of the awesome darkness on show in Gremlins.

This is violent messy anarchy. Surprisingly gory and full of messy explosions. It is a shame to see something so wildly madcap and dangerous made into something as anodyne as broadband repair. But that is the problem with nostalgic advertising execs.

The film begins like a smokey film noir, reminiscent of Blade Runner with the voiceovers, Chinatown and shadowy figures wearing trilbys. However, that is only a brief introduction before we are introduced to the Mogwai in the form of the painfully cute Gizmo. Look at him. He is just adorable. I'm surprised Dante never sued Furby over the toys.... the similarities in both visuals and sound are there in abundance.
There is nothing more Christmassy (in my eyes) than Gizmo in a santa hat.

Gizmo is soon introduced into a small American town with three important rules.
  • No bright lights
  • Don't get them wet
  • Don't feed them after midnight.
(that last rule is the most confusing... surely it is always 'after midnight' - when is it safe to START feeding them? What happens if you're on a plane chasing timezones.... that rule is too arbitrary - shouldn't it be don't feed them after dark or something?)

Of course, the rules get broken and all hell breaks out in the form of the titular Gremlins. I like the Gremlins because they have the best motivation for villainous monsters. Eat food, get wet so they can multiply, blow shit up. That appears to be it. Also, they seem to have ADD so they constantly get distracted by stuff. The cinema being the best bit. There is nothing I can think of funnier than the sight of all the Gremlins in the cinema singing 'Hi Ho' from Snow White. Brilliant. Bonkers bonkers brilliance.
That is what is great about this film - it is just bonkers. The Gremlins offer Dante the opportunity to unleash complete anarchy into the film. What is impressive is the level which he takes it.

If you 0nly ever seen Gremlins on TV, hunt out the DVD pronto. For some reason there is a TV edit that decided Gremlins would work as a PGish creepy horror-lite for kids. This means you miss out on all the best bits of the film.
Firstly you miss out on almost all of the Gremlin deaths, because Dante (quite rightly) realised that you want the Gremlins to die big messy deaths. So we get them mostly exploding into puddles of gore. Be it in blenders or be it in microwaves. Just big messy red BANGS. Most of the really big death are done in 3 minutes by Billy's mum who proves to be pretty damned badass at fending for herself.
The human deaths are also pretty dark, Murry's death is quite savage as he is mowed down by his tractor, whereas the cruel and heartless Mrs Deagle gets thrown out of the window by a super fast Stairlift - that is pretty funny. All the big messy deaths are pretty funny. Its like Final Destination with a sense of humour. And puppets. Puppets can only ever make a horror story better and funnier.
The only 'clean' death is when Billy manages to kill off most of the Gremlins in one fell swoop by setting the cinema on fire. If 2009 has taught me one thing it has taught me that if you want to kill off a large number of baddies (be they Gremlins or Nazis) set the cinema on fire.

You also miss the best line (or speech) to be uttered in the entire film. Billy's love interest, Kate, doesn't like Christmas. To be fair she has a ruddy valid reason not to...
The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

I was watching this and my little sister just turned to me and told me that she wanted to laugh but felt bad. This is a REALLY black comedy (When it isn't a violent madcap slapstick one) and it surprises me that Chris Columbus went from writing this to writing the painfully saccharine first two Harry Potter films.

The madness isn't just there in the scenes with the gremlins, it also appears with Billy's father. He is a truly terrible inventor (I love the ominous tones the film takes whenever a character approaches one of the inventions... both the music and the camera seems to take a note of DOOM) and goes off to an inventors conference which looks brilliant.
Steven Spielberg whizzes past
H.G Wells' time machine vanishes between two scenes
Robbie the Robot appears to try and sell a car over the phone (though I can't be sure).
The little cameos and nods to other films (at one point Stripe, the head Gremlin, hides behind an ET doll) are just brilliant touches in a very good, very silly comedy.

It is the ultimate 80's film really, in that it ticks all the boxes. It has comedy, it has cute puppets, it has evil monsters, it has gore, it has explosions, it has Corey Feldman (a necessity in the 80's) it even sort of has a moral about responsibility.
Gizmo is reclaimed by his 'stereotype Chinese old man' owner but it is still a happy ending.

After all, Gizmo says Billy can return for him when he is older. Billy gets the girl and his father finally gets an invention accepted.

It is the kind of ending that you want at Christmas. A warm fuzzy feeling that immediately follows watching a gross monster melt.

Happy Times.

1 comment:

fingersandtoes said...

Oh, I'd forgotten how brilliant that film was. And I hadn't seen that ad before - love it!