If ever there was a bestest, most beautifulest film on earth, it would be Joe Dante's 1984 horror comedy Gremlins. It should be noted that I'm incredibly prejudiced. Objectively speaking, Gremlins is probably not the bestest, most beautifulest film on earth.
Personally speaking, Dante's film is an imperfectly perfect charming B-movie with a large budget. This Saturday, a couple theaters are showing this wonderful gem. Upon hearing the news, I squeeed a squee that only Fantine would appreciate. Gremlins is an adorable, horrific, goofy Christmas gift that continues to give decades after it was initially unwrapped. Below are but four of the numerous gifts Gremlins has left under my proverbial celluloid tree.
Moichandising, where the real money is made!
In the '80s, I owned the dolls, the film novelization, the Jerry Goldsmith orchestrated soundtrack on tape, had any available poster, a xeroxed copy of the original screenplay, and any magazine or newspaper clipping about Gremlins. When the film was eventually released to video stores later in the year, I audio taped it on a tiny boombox. For the record, the movie, which cost $79.95 at the time, was too expensive for me to purchase. I'm ever so thankful that Gremlins has never attained Star Wars status. As an obsessed fanboy who can't properly adult, I still buy anything/everything related to the film. I don't want to humble brag but I own Dante's gem on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download in case of a possible stuck-alone-on-an-island-with-only-one-movie-to-endlessly-watch situation should ever occur. Honestly — and this is not hyperbole — if you've never seen this wonderful treasure, I'll gladly let you borrow it but I need it back as soon as you're done with it.
B-movie Appreciation 101
It was recently announced that Goonies, Ghostbusters, and Die Hard were officially put into the National Film Registry but not Gremlins. Oh hell no! It's a film that is a smorgasboard of movie references. If you pause or skip ahead to 43 minutes and 10 seconds into the film, you'll notice a guy in a beard and glasses wheel by Robby The Robot (from the '50s sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet) and another gentleman in a phone booth. The two fellas are none other than the film's composer Jerry Goldsmith and executive producer Steven Spielberg. The xenophobic Mister Futterman and his overly chipper wife are portrayed by Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph — B-movie legends who frequently appeared in films by another B-movie legend, director/producer Roger Corman, the man who was a mentor to Dante, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, and James Cameron.
While I'll never forget the joy of being at a drive-in and peering over my parents' shoulders to watch Darth Vader choke the ever living shit out of a rebel, it can't top little green men choking the ever living shit out of the Christmas spirit.
When I saw Gremlins at ye olde Ultravision 4 in West Ashley, I sat in a packed theater alongside other kids and their parents lured by the unsubstantiated promise of "A Steven Spielberg Production" being a cute, goofy companion piece to his E.T. They weren't prepared for the film's anarchy while Phoebe Cates' told a cryptic Santa Claus story. I saw parents storming out of their seats yanking their crying kids out as the cute Gizmo scenes metamorphosed into anti-social scenes of gremlins breakdancing, flashing, smoking, gambling, drinking, gnawing the heads off gingerbread men, and pulling long strings of snot from their noses. It was a glorious time that helped birth the PG-13 rating. So glorious.
It was around early 1985, Steve Guttenburg and his cohorts were on their first assignment in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Judd Nelson was the envy of many a male when he got to swap spit with Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, and Bruce Leroy was giving Sho'nuff a taste of "The Glow" in Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon. I was doing big things as well. I was sitting at my desk during whatever class it was in fourth grade, drawing my umpteenth drawing of Stripe, from the 1984 film Gremlins, in my notebook. In the desk across from me, this kid Donovan with an Alfred E. Newman-esque grin was leaning over, taking a gander at my doodle.
"Is that Stripe from Gremlins?"
"That movie is awesome."
Thus a friendship betwixt two dorks was born.
To his credit, Donovan was a fan but nowhere near as crazily OCD about the film as I was.