Looking back at the films I remember from the 1980’s I’m always amazed by the number of films that Steven Spielberg has had a hand in. The guy is some kind of film making dynamo, yet most of what he does is also pretty darn good too. Anyway, Spielberg was executive producer on the excellent Gremlins, which was released in 1984. The film was directed by Joe Dante, who along with Spielberg was also behind another favourite film of mine, Innerspace.
Gremlins is a black comedy horror film which revolves around an attack on a small American town carried out by the titular creatures. Things start out innocently enough when Billy Peltzer receives a strange creature as a Christmas gift from his inventor father, who picked it up in a funny little shop deep in New York’s China Town. The creature is called a Mogwai, and is a cute little fella, covered in white and brown fur with huge bush baby like eyes and funny pointy ears. Naming the creature Gizmo, Billy is warned of the three rules of looking after a Mogwai, which are:
- Keep it away from bright light.
- Don’t get it wet.
- Don’t feed it after midnight.
Of course, the three rules all end up getting broken in due course. The first rule doesn’t cause too much trouble, with Gizmo just complaining about the light being too bright, so Billy just dims it for him. No harm done. Unfortunately the second rule gets accidentally broken when a pot of water is knock over and some of it gets on to Gizmo. Poor little Gizmo kicks and screams in agony, his skin pulsing. Eventually, a number of small furry balls pop off of Gizmo, and slowly grow and unfurl to reveal a whole group of new Mogwai.
Understandably surprised, Billy keeps his inflated collection of pets in a box by his bed, but it appears the new Mogwai aren’t as well behaved as Gizmo. They start to cause a bit of a stir, so checking the time on his bedside clock, Billy goes to get some chicken legs with which to feed the Mogwai, then goes to bed. When he awakes, his room is covered in horrible sticky cocoons, which appear to be the new Mogwai, and only Gizmo, who didn’t eat, remains a cute and furry little creature. Billy checks his alarm clock, and discovers that the power cord has been severed, and realises it must have been gone midnight when he fed the Mogwai, and has therefore inadvertantly broken rule number three.
Eventually the cocoons hatch, and what emerges are the Gremlins, horrible lizard skinned creatures with a thirst for mischief. After first attacking Billy’s Mum they escape the family home, and run riot throughout the town getting up to all kinds of mischief. Billy must now correct his mistake, and goes to get help from the police, who don’t take his pleas seriously. He realises if he is to save his home town, he will need to take action himself.
The film does of course have a happy ending, with Billy ridding the town of the Gremlins, but there is a tinge of sadness as the owner of the shop in China Town arrives and takes Gizmo back, saying the world is not yet ready, but that one day, Billy just might be…
A sequel emerged in 1990 entitled Gremlins 2 – The New Batch, which reunites Billy with Gizmo, but of course things get out of hand again. The second film is much more played for laughs than horror, with a particularly memorable bit being when the Gremlins take over the playing of the film half way through the story. There are various cuts of this depending on whether you watch the film at the cinema or on video. The cinema version for example has the film pause and burn through, with the Gremlins playing up doing shadow puppets until Hulk Hogan, in a cinema audience, gets up, rips off his T-shirt and tells them to start the film again, which they grudgingly do.
Rumours abound of a third film being in the works, but currently the Gremlins are on our TV screens again as they currently feature in an advert for British Telecom’s IT support service.