This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Gremlins.”
The Movie: “Gremlins”
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton
Director: Joe Dante
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85 percent
Brown: A week ago, Froemming and I hypothesized about a man becoming a monster in “10 Things I Hate About You.” Not the director’s actual vision, but it’s too hard to ignore nowadays.
This time, we will take a look at some actual monsters, made from the folly of man (or water, I guess) in “Gremlins.”
Everyone seems to have very fond memories of this movie, and Gizmo is the most adorable Furby in existence, but I’ll be damned if I remembered anything about this movie other than “Don’t feed it after midnight.”
So, it was time to revisit this and ask a question frequently brought up in JOE-DOWN movies: Is it really as good as we remember it?
While I hide all my beer in case gremlins start running amok, what were your thoughts heading into this one, Froemming?
Froemming: Like you mentioned, I have fond memories of this film growing up. It was part of the DNA of kids who grew up in the ‘80s-’90s, along with “E.T.” Hence the popularity of “Stranger Things,” which pretty much recycles these films and smashes us over the head with nostalgia. It worked very well.
But I hadn’t seen this film in probably a decade. Does is still stand up as a great film I want to remember. I would argue it has aged very well, and I enjoyed it much as a 35-year-old man, but probably not as much as I did when I was 8 or 9.
While I am blatantly disregarding the warnings of an ancient man who sold me a possessed Krusty the Clown doll, Brown kick this this off.
Brown: Fun fact: I own a possessed Krusty the Clown doll. My “Simpsons” fandom knows no bounds.
So we start out in Chinatown, which is the racist ‘80s way of letting us know we’re in for some sort of sorcery, and we’re narrated by
Bob Hoskins in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Randall Peltzer, an eccentric inventor who is trying to peddle his products to a shopkeeper. While talking to the shopkeep and his grandson Short Round, Randall hears the cooing of something. Turns out, it’s a mogwai. And apparently mogwais are a real thing (Thanks, Wikipedia). Because Christmas is coming, Randall throws down a lot of money to try and buy the mogwai for his son. The shopkeep says no, but the grandson knows they need the money so they make a deal on the side.
However, the mogwai comes with three warnings.
- It hates bright lights. Sunlight will kill it.
- No water.
- Do not feed it after midnight, no matter how much it begs.
This isn’t going to go well, is it? Listen to the racist caricature of a Chinese man smoking an opium pipe, Randall.
Froemming: Randall isn’t going to listen to a doped-up junkie. This is America, dammit!
Yes, Randall purchases the mogwai, and brings it home to his son, Billy, who already has a pet dog named Barney. I learned early on in this film that Randall is, to be polite, a complete moron who forces his son to work at a bank to keep the house. There is no way Randall is paying the mortgage with his failures of inventions.
Billy takes a shine to his new pet, which he names Gizmo. And, as a 35-year-old man, I find Gizmo to be the most adorable thing I have ever seen on film. That’s right, even jaded monsters like me have a soul.
Now, Billy works at the local bank and has a nemesis in Mrs. Ruby Deagle, a woman who has no qualms shoving people out of the line at the bank to yell at this poor kid about his dog. She even threatens to murder Billy’s dog.
Mrs. Deagle is a (REDACTED) monster. But it was the ‘80s and people were apparently fine with this sort of behavior.
Brown: My question is what bank is OK with a mangy dog just waltzing in with one of its workers? Seriously, Barney is great and all, but that dog NEEDS a bath.
Also, Billy walks to work because his car won’t start. It’s Christmas time in his hometown of Kingston Falls. But that car looks like it’s been on Hoth or something. I’ve dealt with (REDACTED) winters before, but that car was obscenely frozen.
Mrs. Deagle… Mrs. Deagle needs to go to jail. She is threatening animal cruelty on the reg because Barney broke a crappy snowman sculpture. And she’s threatening everyone in earshot over it, saying she’ll put Barney in the dryer! This is a crime, folks! Surely, there’s a cop working at a bank that will at least take this sawed-off sociopath away from this dope teenager with a clip-on tie. I don’t know if there is a hell, but if there is, there’s a special place for animal abusers.
Also, we have Katie, Billy’s adorable co-worker, played by ‘80s dream girl Phoebe Cates. Then minutes later, we see Judge Reinhold playing a yuppie young VP of the bank. My question is: Considering their interaction in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” how awkward was that scene for these two? Hopefully Katie knocks before she goes into the bathroom in this movie.
Froemming: I actually didn’t make the connection to “Fast Times.” I am not a huge fan of that movie because I found Sean Penn insufferable before he became a raging (REDACTED).
Anyway, Billy is mocked by his yuppie boss for, you know, providing for his family rather than being a selfish prick. The ‘80s were a weird time, man.
But Billy’s bad life choices that is keeping his family sheltered and fed take a turn for the worse when we meet his friend, Pete (Corey Feldman). If history has taught me anything, once Feldman is in your life, everything will quickly go to (REDACTED).
This is not an exception.
Pete, being a little snot, accidently knocks a glass of water on poor Gizmo as the mogwai is singing the song of his people. Rule No. 2 is now broken.
What happens? Furballs pop out of Gizmo’s spine like raging popcorn being heated up, causing pain to the poor mogwai. These furballs turn out to be evil little mogwais, whose leader is Stripe.
Even these evil little bastards are adorable!
Brown: When the babies starting popping out of Gizmo’s back, I was concerned for Pete. That kid was young and while I know Corey Feldman played the character, I’m going to assume Pete was too young for sex ed. That kid probably grew up thinking that every time his mom took a shower, a brother or sister would appear.
And after these new mogwai were born, it was hilarious to see the disdain in Barney’s doggy face. All Barney could think of was murder, I assume.
So when you own an animal of lore that just sprouted a bunch of babies thanks to a cup of water, who would you raise questions to? A zoologist? Nope. A middling high-school science teacher who is probably jaded after years of underachieving public school kids like Mr. Goldenfold from “Rick and Morty.” So the teacher, Mr. Hanson, keeps one of the mogwai for observation. All the while, Billy has Katie to tend to.
Froemming: I, too, was baffled by Billy bringing the mogwai to a high-school science teacher. I was secretly hoping it was going to be Walter White. Instead of blue meth, White could have made a fortune selling these things.
Katie tends bar at the local watering hole, where we see Trump supporter Murray drowning his sorrows and raging against foreigners. He even has a theory: Foreigners are putting gremlins (cue Peter Griffin “He said it!” moment) into all exports, thus ruining America. We laughed then, but today Murray would probably be nominated for Secretary of Defense with that way of thinking.
Katie sends our future on his way, and Billy meets up with her to walk her home. We find out that Katie has a heart of gold and a chip on her shoulder about holidays. We find out the truth about that later in what is now the most shocking laughs-to-things-got-real moment in the JOE-DOWN since Steph said she couldn’t have babies on “Fuller House.”
Brown: Is it just me or did this movie have a weird xenophobia to it? You get Murray’s rant at the beginning of the movie when he rags on Billy’s car for being foreign. There’s a jab at foreign TVs at one point. And, our mogwai/gremlin menace is a foreign myth.
Froemming: This was when America was great, Brown. Get used to it or GET OUT!
Brown: All we needed was a speech from Katie about the benefits of Reaganomics.
Anyways, back to the movie. So one night as Billy ignores all the mogwai while Gizmo is in his bed watching a movie, Stripe and the gang start asking for food. Looking at his clock and seeing that it’s 11:30 p.m., he feeds them some leftovers. And at the high school, Mr. Hanson is eating before leaving some food on his desk within reach of his mogwai.
So Rule No. 3 is about to be broken because of Hanson’s negligence. However, my question is this: Why is Mr. Hanson still at the school past midnight? Does he have trouble at home? I’m legit concerned.
One more thing: The mogwai puppets are well done but OH MY GOD, their little mouths eating chicken is disgusting. My biggest pet peeve is people eating with their mouths open. I wanted all the mogwai to choke.
Froemming: Mr. Hanson is a public school teacher. I am not surprised he is still at work. He is either at work or drunk.
It turns out the mogwai had manipulated Billy’s clock so they could be fed after midnight.
This has always bugged me about the film: When can you feed these things? Technically, it is always after midnight. Do you just starve these adorable things? Also, they do not consume water. That is impossible. The science of this film is baffling.
Now, before this, Stripe and the gang hung poor Barney outside with Christmas lights. Billy thinks it is Mrs. Deagle, and seeing how she got giddy describing how she would murder his dog earlier in the film like a serial killer, this is not outside the realm of impossibility.
What happens when mogwai eat after midnight? They incubate like butterflies. Ugly, ugly butterflies.
Brown: I thought they were becoming Brundleflies. Ugly, ugly Jeff Goldblums.
So when these formerly adorable things hatch out of their cocoons, like a member of “Fight Club,” they know only one thing: Mayhem. And we see it right away with Mr. Hanson face-down under his desk. And then we see these mogwai form into gremlins, which are legit freaky when they’re first introduced. Later, when they start smoking and looking and moving around like Ray Charles, not so much.
And then the gremlin goes into the vent and becomes the tiniest Xenomorph you’ve ever seen.
And at Billy’s house, his fivesome of gremlins have hatched. Only Billy’s mom stands in the way for the gremlins, and all but one make it out alive. These gremlins suffer some awfully gruesome deaths.
Froemming: At the school, I laughed at the vent thing because I assumed that was also where Annie’s Boobs from “Community” also hid.
I want to bring this up, because it bothered me: Billy sees his teacher dead, and he doesn’t call the cops. In fact, by the end of the film, I assumed Mr. Hanson’s body will probably not be reported until the janitor finds him after Christmas break.
Now, Billy’s mom takes out some gremlins, and it is awesome and gross. She cooks one in the microwave and chops one up in a blender, which has been seared into my head since I was 8 because of how screwed up that was. And the gremlins are torturing poor Gizmo, throwing darts at his head and tossing him down the hamper.
These things are out of control.
Brown: We got one left: Stripe. And he manages to escape the house, eventually ending up at the YMCA, probably under the assumption he’ll get himself clean and have a good meal.
Now, this is where my biggest gripe comes in: There is snow everywhere. It’s winter. The moment Stripe makes contact with the snow, shouldn’t Stripe be giving birth? It’s water… granted, in a more solid form, but water nonetheless. Nope, they can follow Stripe’s tracks in the snow instead of watching a bunch of baby gremlins litter the street, creating an endless cycle of birth.
I thought, “Hey, maybe the gremlins can’t reproduce like the mogwai can.” Nope. In the YMCA, Stripe falls into the pool and turns it into the primordial ooze of evil.
Maybe I shouldn’t expect science in a movie called “Gremlins.”
Froemming: Billy shows up at the police station after seeing Stripe recreating “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in his own grotesque way.
Yes, Billy is reporting that gremlins are overtaking the town, but not once mentions poor Mr. Hanson’s lifeless body at his school. The two officers on duty are having none of this because it is Christmas Eve and they need to get their drink on.
What is Stripe and the others up to? They hit the bar, tearing it up like there is no tomorrow. Kudos to them, I guess. They seem fun when liquored up.
Katie, on the other hand, isn’t having much fun serving them. Also, who the (REDACTED) would think “Oh, ugly green gremlins are in my establishment. Better serve them drinks.”
Brown: Yes, the gremlins seem fun when they’re drinking. But they’ve also gone from monsters to uglier California Raisins. Whatever, it’s fun. Also, Katie serving the things makes no sense. I sincerely doubt she thought, “Oh well, paying customers.”
And, after our scathing commentary on her earlier, Mrs. Deagle gets her comeuppance when a gremlin tinkers with her stairlift, speeding it up and launching her out of her house like she was attached to a trebuchet.
I applauded here.
Froemming: Katie needs to escape, and she finds her out when she starts using the flash on her camera to blind the gremlins, leaving them to serve themselves at the bar. She and Billy and Gizmo head to the bank, where in the middle of this chaos, she drops a story on Billy and Gizmo about why she hates Christmas.
And it is the biggest WTF moment of the film. We go from whacky hijinks to Katie telling the tale of her dad, dressed like Santa, snapped his neck and died in the family’s chimney and how they didn’t know he was in there until the smell of his rotting corpse became apparent.
Look, I get that we needed a reason for a character to hate the holidays, but that is some messed up (REDACTED) there.
Brown: Yeah, that was a little heavy for Katie’s dad dying due to stupidity.
With sunrise coming closer and closer, Billy and Katie decide to look for a dark place where the community of gremlins are hiding. Their first hunch is perfect: The movie theater. So as the gremlins are watching “Snow White,” our heroic duo sneaks into the boiler room and
avoid Freddy Krueger open the gas, eventually setting the theater ablaze. What a bunch of buzzkills.
So, we are down to one gremlin once again: Stripe. So begins a manhunt in a department store before Stripe finds another source of water and begin the process once again.
Froemming: Tarantino stole the theater thing and used it in “Inglorious Basterds.”
Yup, Stripe is on the run as Billy, Gizmo and Katie are on his trail. Stripe finds a nice water fountain where he can continue his chaos, spawning more gremlins. There is one thing Stripe didn’t take into consideration: Gizmo driving a pink Barbie car to thwart his plans! Gizmo breaks Rule No. 1 and pops open a skylight as Stripe is trying to spawn more gremlins, and melts him very much like when the Nazi’s stare into the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It was, I admit, pretty disgusting.
Brown: Stripe didn’t deserve to win. He had a pile of saws in front of him and only uses one to throw at Billy. Almost got him. And yet, Stripe stops. Then near the climax, Stripe has a chainsaw and somehow can’t cut through a wooden bat.
But, Stripe is dead (although the water he fell into was bubbling. Sequel opening!) and Billy and Katie are alive. They head over to Billy’s house with Gizmo, relieved to survive such a horrific ordeal. Then, we get a surprise visitor at the house: The shopkeep from the beginning of the movie to retrieve the mogwai his grandson had no right to sell in the (REDACTED) first place.
Then he starts yelling about Randall about not being ready to handle a mogwai because, according to the shopkeep, Randall’s people destroy everything, just like in nature.
Is this some weird anti-imperialism or pro-nature theme the movie tried to shoehorn at the end? It could have been as simple as “Hey man, don’t steal my (REDACTED).” Instead it’s “You Americans destroy everything. You turned an innocent creature into monsters.”
This is a movie called “Gremlins.” Don’t try to get political here.
So we bid adieu to Gizmo. And we get a warning from Randall that before we think something is broken, you better check to see if it’s a gremlin first.
So, we better get to recommendations before a gremlin chews starts cracking open my beer stash.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Absolutely. It’s classic ‘80s cinema with Phoebe Cates, whom I still have a crush on. It’s the right mix of creepy and hilarious.
Froemming: Absolutely. This is one of those films that is just really fun to watch. It has aged very well, and it is a blast.