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.
“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.
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.
VERDICT – 4 STARS