While searching for a Christmas present for his teenage son, inventor Randall Peltzer discovers a small, furry creature called a Mogwai in an old antique store in Chinatown. The owner of the store refuses to sell the Mogwai to Randall on the grounds that owning one is too great a responsibility, but, as Randall is leaving the store, the owner’s grandson sells Randall the creature stating that the family needs the money. The boy gives Randall three specific instructions in caring for the Mogwai: never expose it to bright light; never get it wet; and never feed it after midnight. Randall then takes the Mogwai, which he gives the name “Gizmo”, to his family in the town of Kingston Falls. The following evening, Randall gives Gizmo to his son Billy. A glass of water is accidentally spilled on Gizmo, causing him to convulse and produce five new Mogwai from his own body, and these particular creatures are now friendly………..
Joe Dante’s enormously entertain blackly comic monster movie beautifully sets out a very traditional It’s A Wonderful Life-type environment, with a gentle pace that helps give the idea that this is going to be a sweet kiddie movie about a cute, if strange, animal. Then it proceeds to rip it up with vicious glee, with creature effects by Chris Wallas that are still very impressive. The Gremlins remain some of cinema’s best monsters, usually managing to be both scary and funny at the same time, yet they are so cool in their anarchic way that you can’t help but like them. Director Joe Dante doesn’t hold back with the tension and fear but cleverly manages to bring in comedy in almost every scene, usually of the very black kind, such as the superb set piece when the heroine Kate is beset by some Gremlins and proceeds to dispatch them imaginatively and all too easily. Perhaps he oversteps the mark with the notorious story that explains Kate’s hatred of Christmas, and it was this movie that caused the creation of the ‘PG-13’rating, but these days Gremlins just seems one of the highlights of that 80s Golden Age of scary family movies that Brave Kids Could See, and should maybe be shown to kids as their First Scary Movie. Chris Columbus’ terrific script parodies many conventional film plot lines and situations and mounts a considerable assault on technology, while Dante was obviously responsible for the umpteen film references. These are perhaps too much after a while, but rounded and likeable human characters help give the film a heart which was perhaps lacking in the funnier sequel. A genuine Christmas classic which rarely actually feels like one, and while it does have a heart in there somewhere [isn’t Gizmo so incredibly cute?], it is perhaps the perfect antidote to all that schmaltz and slush.