GREMLINS ***** USA 1984 Dir: Joe Dante. 104 mins
Don’t be deceived by the slushy strains of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Gizmo” music, or the cuteness of the Mogwai themselves, for this Steven Spielberg production – filtered through the warped imagination of horror loving director Joe Dante – is as dark hearted as any Christmas horror flick. Its repeated references to seasonal classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE cannily remind us that the Capra movie was equally preoccupied with the dark side of Christmas until its saccharine, uplifting ending. Dante wittily mates INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS with THE MUPPETS, unleashing a brace of cheerfully vicious, sadistic little monsters on a satirically portrayed American town covered in fake Hollywood snow.
Much of the fun of this boldy grim PG-rated family holiday movie stems from the many ways in which the filmmaker relishes trashing small town U.S.A. and everything it stands for. The gremlins destroy dumb-ass cops, a seedy bar, a cinema, a toy store and even savage Santa. Its deceptively sentimental ending reinforces a bitter critique of our modern culture’s consumerist, self-absorbed character, a factor highlighted by the hero’s mistreatment of a miracle of nature. And, if you’re in any doubt that this is knockabout fun for all the family, take another listen to Phoebe Cates’ legendary monologue about why she hates Christmas so much. Played dead-pan straight and confirming the non-existence of Santa via a recollection of family tragedy and a rotting corpse at Christmas, it might be the darkest of all cinematic Christmas sick jokes.
Review by Steven West