Gremlins
was released in 1984, the summer I turned 10. I saw it with my cousin. We loved it. I bought the novelization and read it repeatedly. (It says Gizmo is an extra-terrestrial!) I bought a plush Gizmo toy that squeaked when you shook it. My school folders were festooned with Gremlins stickers, drawings, and other merchandise. To me, Gremlins was a perfect horror movie -- scary and fun with some humor thrown in for good measure.

Then I grew up and the Internet happened and I started to read other people's views on the film. Apparently it was a dark comedy? What?! That scene where Kate tells Billy how her dad died on Christmas Eve -- that was supposed to be morbidly funny, not sad? Huh.

With new eyes I watched Gremlins again recently, the first time in at least 15 years. Sure enough, it does play better as a macabre spoof of 1950s monster movies -- in fact, that's the only way the illogical and arbitrary "don't feed them after midnight" rule can even work: as a parody of illogical and arbitrary rules. Kate's story really is funny, as are the other juxtapositions of horror and Christmas (Santa Claus mobbed by gremlins, the monsters posing as Christmas carolers, etc.).

A few things struck me in particular this time around. First, as a protagonist, Billy (Zach Galligan) is pretty useless. He's painted as a nice guy with ambitions of being a cartoonist, but for some reason he still lives in his parents' attic, has a dead-end job at a bank, and drives a car that doesn't work. He's a loser. He manages to save his mother from a gremlin (after she's already taken care of three others by herself, thank you very much), and he succeeds in dispatching a theater full of others later on by doing something that doesn't take much brains or bravery: he sets it on fire. In the climax, it's Gizmo who saves the day while an injured Billy watches helplessly.

Billy is also kind of stupid. When Kate tells him she doesn't celebrate Christmas, he says, "What, are you Hindu or something?" That's not just insensitive, but clueless, too: In the United States, wouldn't Jewish be your first guess? I'm just sayin'.
categories Features, Cinematical