12 Films of Christmas: Gremlins | Film reviews, news & interviews
12 Films of Christmas: Gremlins
Director Joe Dante gives the gift of mayhem to a Spielbergian small town
Joe Dante feeds the idealised small-town America of his producer Spielberg into the mincer of an anarchic Warner Bros. cartoon in this riotous 1984 hit. Chris Walas’s creature designs are crucial to it, as mysterious, lovably big-eyed pet Gizmo spawns scaly-backed lords of impish mayhem the Gremlins. Whether “carol”-singing Jerry Goldsmith’s capering theme or riding the back of the screaming local Santa, as triple-cigarette-puffing barflies or the world’s most anti-social cinemagoers, you soon warm to their tireless delinquency. Teenage hero Zach Galligan’s mum admittedly thinks otherwise as, outraged by their infestation of her kitchen, she proves equal to their Tex Avery ruthlessness, pureeing, microwaving and taking a carving knife to them.
Dante intended “a very old-fashioned movie about new-fashioned ideas”, and from the Max Steiner-scored opening scene, as Galligan’s dad acquires Gizmo in a mythic Chinatown straight from Forties Hollywood, we’re in the heartland of the black-and-white Christmas classics glimpsed here on TV. It’s a Wonderful Life is invoked especially strongly as Dante tours Kingston Falls, a storybook small-town with a sour, frayed edge. Dick Miller’s foreign goods-hating drunk is among its many jobless at Reaganomics’ height, scorned by merciless modern Scrooges real estate witch Mrs Deagle, and Judge Reinhold’s jeering yuppie bank-worker.
“When everyone else is opening up their presents, they’re opening up their wrists,” Galligan’s chaste girlfriend Phoebe Cates says of Christmas for the lonely, later revealing she doesn’t celebrate it since finding her Santa-suited dad half-way up the chimney, his ambitious attempt at present-giving gone fatally awry: “And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus...” However future Home Alone and Harry Potter director Chris Columbus’s screenplay meant it, Dante dares you to stifle your guffaws. Sight and sound gags also abound, as Kingston Falls gets the cackling Christmas presents it deserves.
- Gremlins is back in selected cinemas now
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