Practical effects, matte paintings and a dark, playful sense of humour… They just don’t make them like the used to.
I was delighted when I returned to the Family section of the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book that Joe Dante’s horror comedy Christmas movie (it’s set at Christmas therefore it IS a Christmas movie) was the next recommendation following my screening of Toy Story.
Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates (who I crushed on so bad in this movie, and that other one 😉 ) star as Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer, a young couple on the verge of having a relationship when things go sideways in their little town of Kingston Falls (which looks uncannily like Back to the Future’s Hill Valley – same small town sets on the Universal backlot).
Billy’s father is an inventor and on one of his fruitless business trips he comes back for the perfect, special gift for his son. He comes home with a gift that just can’t wait, the adorable little mogwai, Gizmo.
He is given three rules that the mogwai must live by, don’t get them wet, keep them out of the light, and never, ever feed them after midnight.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if that didn’t happen, and what follows is a dark, funny, reference filled film that still entertains to this day.
When Gizmo gets wet, he reproduces, and out pops a bunch of the new little furry guys. But their a little more mischievous, and scheme to get fed after midnight, which transforms them a la Alien egg into gremlins who ransack the town with maniacal glee.
The film is filled with pop culture references, in fact it’s hip deep in them. There are nods to films, cameos (Spielberg makes a rare on screen appearance, as does artist Chuck Jones).As the gremlins trash the town, and yes, pile up a bit of a body count, Gizmo, Billy and Kate have to save their small town.
The film isn’t afraid to get funny and dark at the same time, Kate’s Santa speech is a prefect example, and running through it all is a sense of fun… and the very real presence of Gizmo and the gremlins. There are moments captured that just wouldn’t happen with computer generated images, like Barney the dog’s interactions with the mogwai, not to mention the actors. Yes, you know it’s not real, but the suspension of disbelief around the little guy and his homicidal companions is very high.
Featuring a joyous, manic score by Jerry Goldsmith, this remains one of my favourite Dante films, and was one of the first films I saw as a burgeoning film fan that showed me that you could be funny, dark and scary all at the same time.
So much fun!