Written by: Chris Columbus
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain
Caring for a pet comes with loads of responsibility for the owner. Part of the bargain with having a cute animal to look at and play with is the obligation the owner has to sustain its life even with all of the peculiarities one must be aware of. For dogs, one must know not to feed them chocolate, but for the mogwai in Gremlins, the mismanagement of their rules leads to a night in hell for an entire town.
While working at a bank and in a stable relationship, Billy (Zach Galligan) receives a cute little mogwai as a gift from his father. With caring for this creature, Billy learns the three rules which include not getting the mogwai wet, in direct sunlight, and never feed it after midnight. After a set of events that lead to one being fed after midnight, a large spawn turning into gremlins take over the town.
Part of what makes Gremlins such a fun feature to watch comes from two major facets: it sticks with its hilariously arbitrary rules and the unhinged violence on display. Heading into my first viewing experience of this film, I feared this would be one of the several 1980s favorites I would not connect to much like E.T., The Goonies, and Ghostbusters, among others but this feature goes all in on its zaniness in ways I did not expect and it genuinely surprised me with many of its narrative decisions and how it unapologetically goes completely unhinged.
The three rules to owning a mogwai are as arbitrary as it gets for raising an animal, and you can bet each of them plays an integral part of the plot. As arbitrary as it may be, it teaches a valuable lesson of what it takes to take care of a pet. Even if Billy can do anything in the world with it except those three things, it tends to be impossible to control something to such a degree where it can guarantee the avoidance of these issues. With real-world pets, it can be an honest mistake one can recover from but with the mogwai turning into gremlins, the consequences prove to be dire.
With it being an 80s monster movie taking place during Christmas, it genuinely surprised me just how monstrous these gremlins proved to be. I figured they would be annoying rascals, but no, these monsters genuinely kill people in this story. The first kill stunned me because of how unexpected the initial death proved to be but after that, they just continue to get more frightening. Part of what makes them so frightening comes with how real they look. Incredibly grotesque in nature but the practical use of effects to make them violently make their way around town feels like a lost art. You can easily imagine what this film would look like if remade today. This practical look makes them feel more tangible and with it, much more dangerous for the protagonists of this feature. It all becomes a race for survival and the morning sun seeing as one of the three rules states the danger of sunlight for these creatures.
Additionally, this film finds success in the balance between the comedy and the inherent horror of his being a monster movie. Yes, these creatures terrify the town with how they kill people but these rascals are pretty hilarious as well with their antics. The tone jumps from being a bit like a horror movie but then truly a Christmas comedy and does so seamlessly. The scene of the gremlins watching a movie in a theater really just sums it all up in relation to how this film views the monsters. They serve as destructive pests, you know the ones who swarm everything and do not let you enjoy a nice day out in the park, but in this instance, these creatures will take pleasure in actually killing you. This aspect of the film had the greatest opportunity to fall flat on its face but it never did, which serves as a testament to the film’s success.
A true bundle of fun displaying some of the best of the 1980s pop culture iconic features, Gremlins takes an admittedly silly premise and crafts it into a joyous, comedic, and scary adventure for everyone to watch. The transformation of the mogwai into gremlins may be one of the most terrifying evolutions simply by their contrast in cuteness but it does serve as a good lesson about what it takes to raise another living thing and the importance of following rules even when they seem wholly arbitrary. Sometimes these rules are in place for a specific reason and Billy’s town learns this the hard way.