If there was one great gift the 80s gave us, it was the gift of the B-flick, horror movie. Malicious villains like Freddy Krueger and Jason were born in Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Both of these films kept children awake at night with nightmares of gruesome deaths. Parents regretted not heeding the “R” rating that drove those children into their beds. I still remember my dad waking up with bruises left from me kicking him in the back. Shame on him for allowing this five-year old kid to watch Freddy eviscerate everyone on Elm Street. The Gremlins was one movie that received acclaim during this era of low-budget horror. The story revolved around a young boy who received a pet Mogwai, named Gizmo, as a gift. However, much like the Amazing Spider-Man, with great Mogwai comes great responsibility. When two rules are broken, all hell breaks loose in a small town that is victimized by mutated Gremlins.
The Gremlins is one of those movies where the details get blurred by time. If you watched the film as a kid, you probably remember that water and food were both bad. One made Gizmo multiply and the other transformed his misbegotten replicas into mischievous, hooligan Gremlins. Midnight was also somehow involved in the equation. You probably also remember that Gizmo was the cutest and coolest made-up pet to ever hit the big screen. Who didn’t want a Mogwai growing up? Hey, I still want one.
With Gremlins 2 out on Blu-ray this month, I got the chance to rewatch the first film. It starts off as cheesy as you’d expect. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) enters a trinket store and finds a stereotypical Chinese shaman, Mr. Wing (Keye Luke). Although Peltzer can’t pawn off his inventions, he decides to find a gift for his son, Billy (Zach Galligan). After spotting the Mogwai, Randall offers the shaman two-hundred dollars. Unfortunately, the shaman rejects the offer stating that Randall can’t handle the responsibility of taking care of a Mogwai. The movie would have ended there if not for the shaman’s grandson, who completes the transaction in the alley out back.
This is the first event I totally forgot. The shaman never sold Gizmo to Randall. In fact, Randall might as well have stolen Gizmo. He knowingly bought the Mogwai from the grandson, knowing it was a back-alley deal (quite literally). Shame on Randall, who you later learn is overwhelmingly loved by his wife and son, despite being a failed inventor and salesman. Randall walks off with the Mogwai and the boy disappears into the foggy streets of Chinatown.
Right here, I was shocked. If the grandfather didn’t sell the Mogwai to Gizmo and the boy ran off, who the heck told Randall the rules?
Key voice over.
Apparently, the rules were only told to Randall in voice over. As such an integral moment in Gremlins history, I would have imagined that this line would have been said on camera. Alas, it was not.
Regardless, the rules were clearly stated. Mogwais hate light. Don’t get them wet. And, whatever you do, don’t ever feed them after midnight.
Skipping forward past all the contrived dialogue, and even a villain reminiscent of Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from It’s a Wonderful Life (which coincidentally is playing during the movie), another geek thought popped into my head. You’re not supposed to feed Mogwais after midnight, right? Is that based off of the Earth’s position in relation to the moon and sun? What happens if you’re in a different time zone? How about daylight savings? Midnight is never “always” midnight, eh, except for humans.
But, you know what? Who cares. Gizmo is still one cool pet. Almost thirty years later, Animatronics still kick butt. He dances, he drives a pink car like a pimp, and he’s more emotive than any pet. Watching Gizmo on screen, still makes you feel like a Mogwai can be real – kind of like how Christopher Reeve made you believe that a man could fly every time you watched the original Richard Donner Superman movie. Seeing Gizmo in action reminded me of how much I raged at Guillermo del Toro for going CG crazy in Hellboy II: The Golden Army and how much I still wag my finger at George Lucas for screwing up the original Star Wars movies with modern day CG. Somethings are timeless. Gizmo is too.
Another interesting discover I made in rewatching Gremlins was that House of Lies star Glynn Turman was in the film. Every time I see Turman it just brings a smile to my face. Whether he’s Mayor Clarence V. Royce on The Wire or Dr. Woodward in Super 8, I always remember him from The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World as Col. Bradford ‘Brad’ Taylor. When I saw him last December at a Showtime party, I let him know that I looked up to the Col. and wanted to join the military because of him. Sadly, my desire to be one of The Avengers or a part of the Justice League took precedence and neither dream came true.
When I spotted Turman on screen, I should have immediately known what comes next. Black man in an 80s horror flick. He’s got to die first. Sure enough, he does. It’s not the greatest death in the movie, but it is the first. The best death goes to the woman who gets launched out of her window, right off of her staircase wheelchair lift.
By the way, do you know who else was in Gremlins?
Corey Feldman. Yeah, he’s up to his usual Goonies shenanigans and causes the initial Mogwai foible.
If you’ve ever watched Gremlins then you’ll also recall the titular villain Stripe. While all the other Gremlins were mindless (except for in the sequel when they all had personalities and even super-gremlin powers), Stripe’s spiked hair somehow made him smarter than the rest. He even throws buzz saws as if they were ninja stars. It’s also humorous to see Stripe pulling out a gun at every other moment. Where was he hiding it? Who knows. Gremlins didn’t really wear clothes until Gremlins 2, when they went at it in New York.
To backtrack a little bit, I said there was a lot of contrived plot and a villain similar to Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. On the Blu-ray special features, you learn that the movie had about another hour worth of footage in the initial cut, which featured more of the supporting characters. However, due to time and pacing, they were cut. The Mrs. Deagle character was whittled down. Initially, she was trying to buy up homes to build a chemical plant.
Gremlins is still as entertaining to watch today as it was over twenty years ago. It may not give you nightmares, but it’s a great movie to turn and embrace the era of the 80′s B-movie. Done with friends, and a cocktail or two, it’s even better.