Thursday, November 02, 2006


1984, US, directed by Joe Dante

Gremlins is one of those huge 1980's hits - like Ghostbusters or E.T. - that has been happily interpreted and re-interpreted by critics, who see everything from an allegory of parent-child relationships to an environmental commentary in what is, at heart, a great big B-movie that takes most of its pleasure in playing with a host of venerable Hollywood traditions, from monster movies to Christmas tales, with a few buckets of exploitation-grade goop thrown in to the mix. The gooey violence, in particular, reveals director Joe Dante's low-budget origins, and there's a great sequence where Mom defends herself in the kitchen that parallels any number of women-in-peril scenes; this is one mama the gremlins do not want to mess with. The opening parts of the movie, set in a backlot Chinatown and snow-covered small town, are especially good; the local colour is sketched in with economy and wit, setting up the perils to come. Dante also shows a healthy disrespect for convention: the small-town idyll is punctured by a freeloading cop and tales of rent problems and factory lay-offs (despite the film appearing during the alleged Reagan boom years). While the special effects inevitably seem rather quaint now - some of the effects were old-school in 1984, never mind in the age of CGI - Gremlins remains a tremendously entertaining comedy/horror blend, and it's a movie-lover's delight, with direct or indirect references to dozens of films (everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to, in one of the movie's funniest jokes, Cocteau's Orphée). The scene, near the end, when the gremlins sit, rapt, in a movie theatre singing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is, perhaps, a touch of genius.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States