Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Gremlins (1984)

Saturday evening I saw the 1984 film Gremlins at a special screening in Atlanta. The movie came out a couple months before I was born and when the sequel came out in 1989, I wasn't allowed to see it. Having not seen either film, I organized a group of friends to go see it (the original plan was to record for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood afterward, which didn't happen) and off we went. We ended up recording a podcast later, but here's the original review.

The Plot

The movie starts with a mediocre inventor (his gadgets all seem to fail spectacularly after a couple weeks, if they even last that long) buying a mysterious furry creature as a pet for his son. There are three rules for the creature--do not expose him to bright lights, do not get him wet, and DO NOT feed him after midnight. As you might expect these rules get broken at some point and trouble ensues.

The Good

*The movie is often really, really funny. It's described as a horror-comedy after all. The humor ranges from the bizarre threats the local mean rich woman makes toward the protagonist's dog, how a suburban mother takes on some monsters in her house, how villainous characters get their comeuppances, and the hilarious timing of a particularly dark back-story reveal. This is basically the main reason to see the movie.

*Although some people have objected to the characterization of the elderly Chinese storekeeper as a racial stereotype ("inscrutable Oriental"?), he's wiser and generally more competent than most of the Caucasian characters. I liked him better than the inventor character.

*The evil gremlins are kept hidden early on, revealing only a claw here or a brief glimpse there. People's imagination is often scarier than what you see on-screen, so this is a good path to take. Very much like Jaws, which isn't a surprise considering Spielberg was involved in both.

*Many horror films rely on the characters making incredibly stupid decisions, but in this one, the evil gremlins are pretty darn clever. The "stupid things the characters do" are the sort of careless things people do in real life, not "character idiocy is needed to advance the plot."

*The romantic subplot is foreshadowed by how the characters look at each other very early in the film.

The Bad

*There were places where it was rather slow. This is, of course, before the gremlin mayhem starts. Maybe some judicious trimming would have been in order.

*The special effects are a bit dated, which is understandable given how the movie was made the year I was born.

*The humor is dark and at times downright sadistic. I didn't have a problem with it, but I could easily imagine some people not liking it.

The Verdict

Worth seeing once. 7.5 out of 10.

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