RETRO REVIEW: “Gremlins” (1984)


For the past few months I’ve dedicated Wednesdays to doing Retro Reviews. The way it works is I put up three options on my Twitter feed (you can follow me @KeithandMovies). Followers vote, I rewatch the movie, and then post the review the following Wednesday. Whatever film finishes second comes back the next week against two new choices. So basically you pick what I watch and review.

Going into last week’s poll I had a pretty good feeling how it was going to turn out. Sure enough “Gremlins” won in a landslide. I can’t say I’m disappointed. “Gremlins” is a movie I first saw during its original summer 1984 theater run and it’s a movie I watched countless times once it came out on VHS. But it has been years since I last sat down and watched it. So I looked forward to seeing it again with a pair of fresh eyes.


Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Gremlins” was directed by Joe Dante in what would easily be the biggest film of his career. He worked from a script written by Chris Columbus. While doing a little business in Chinatown, a struggling inventor Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) stops in an old antique shop to get his son a Christmas gift before heading home. Tucked away in the back is a cute little mogwai – adorable but with three very important rules. Don’t get them wet. Keep them out of the light (especially sunlight). And most importantly, no matter how much they beg, never feed them after midnight.

Rand returns home to the quaint town of Kingston Falls. He surprises his son Billy (Zach Galligan) with his new pet which they name Gizmo. Billy is an all-around good guy who works as a bank teller but aspires to be a comic book artist. He also has his eye on his co-worker Kate played by Phoebe Cates (I mean who wouldn’t). They, along with the comical array of townsfolk we meet, have pretty normal lives. That is until those critical mogwai rules are broken. Soon Kingston Falls is overran by devilish gremlins who throw this once cozy little community into absolute, unfettered chaos.


Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Dante has a blast embracing every facet of this sci-fi, horror, comedy, creature-feature. He, Columbus, and executive producer Steven Spielberg start with a heavy emphasis on the cute and cuddly Gizmo. The first 30 minutes alone probably sold countless stuffed animals. But they let it rip in the wild, rambunctious, and often riotous second half which is probably best epitomized in one hysterically anarchic bar scene. It’s a preposterous mix of comedy and violent mischief that cracked me up the same way it did years ago.

Interestingly this was Galligan’s first movie role and easily the biggest role of his career. Cates would appear in a few more films before retiring from acting in 1994. Both do well in this wacky movie rich with running gags, laugh-out-loud humor, creature mayhem, and a healthy splash of 80’s nostalgia. While some of the lines feel a bit dated, overall the movie has aged well and it has the same fun, over-the-top energy that made it such a big hit in 1984.



16 thoughts on “RETRO REVIEW: “Gremlins” (1984)

  1. This was my favorite film of my favorite film year. So much of that first half is perfect but might be forgotten when the mayhem arrives. When the chainsaw comes out in the last battle, I almost bust a gut laughing. Jerry Goldsmith was my favorite film composer, and this score encouraged me to write the only fan letter of my life. I never got a response but I never really needed one. He has a brief moment on screen in the movie wearing a ridiculously big Cowboy hat. Glad you are a fan of this 1984 gem.

    • It’s so much fun and I had a blast finally showing it to my kids. I’m telling you, when the gremlins show up Christmas caroling my daughter and I rolled on the floor laughing. And I love the running gag about Peltzer’s inventions. So funny. Corey Feldman, Flo from “Alice”, the great Dick Miller, and of course Phoebe Cates (one of my earliest crushes). So many fun things.

  2. I love this movie and it has a sequel that is just fucking nuts. Man, I feel like this is one of those films where the villains are the ones that are misunderstood. Come on, how can you hate the Gremlins? All they wanna do is watch Snow White, eat junk food, and kill mean old bitches. Is that wrong?

    • I remember liking Gremlins 2 but it has been soooooo long since I last saw it. It’s a ton of fun. I may put it up in an upcoming Twitter poll. That’ll give me a good opportunity to watch it again.

  3. Pingback: RETRO REVIEW: “Gremlins” (1984) — Keith & the Movies | Los Angeles feedback film festival

  4. This was one of the two movies that directly led to the creation of the PG-13 rating, along with the more famous Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s one I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.

    • I remember it well. I saw both of those movies in the theater and I distinctly remember the parents who were upset with the darker elements of the films. The PG-13 rating popped up soon after.

      • Yes, I heard that both got quite a few parental complaints (although to be fair, Steven Spielberg warned parents at the start of Temple of Doom’s theatrical run not to bring their 10-year-olds).

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