Underrated and Overrated: “Gremlins”


Illustration by Amelia Chiarelli

Natasha Speiss, News Editor

When people talk about good holiday movies, “Gremlins” (1984) is rarely on the list.Supposedly, the film’s holiday spirit is undermined by its horrific elements. But it has too long been sidelined; if “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie because it takes place on Christmas Eve, then “Gremlins” is too, being the perfect blend of anticipation, humor and holiday references.

The plot combines horror and comedy, making for an unparalleled viewing experience. When Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) scrambles for a last-minute Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan), he sets his sights on a mogwai creature named Gizmo (Howie Mandel). The shopkeeper’s grandson warns Randall to never expose Gizmo to bright light, let him touch water or feed him after midnight. Through a series of accidental mishaps, Gizmo multiplies and his counterparts turn into destructive creatures called “gremlins.” Led by the mischievous Stripe (Frank Welker), the gremlin army wreaks havoc on their small town on Christmas Eve.

Using animatronic puppets for Gizmo and the gremlins was one of the movie’s best creative choices.

The 80s special effects turn the film’s horror elements into a laughing matter. All kills are done off-screen, or in an extremely over the top way––like a stair lift in an old suburban home. The puppets are so unrealistic-looking that it’s hard to imagine anyone finding them truly scary––they’re more endearing than anything.

Part of the movie’s brilliance is that it makes you fluctuate between loving and despising the gremlins, showcasing the complexity of their little characters. When they throw darts at Gizmo, I despise them. But when they take a break from the chaos to watch “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” together, as one happy little reptilian-looking family, I cannot think of a moment in modern-day cinema that’s more beautiful. The movie perfectly blends its tones to create something not only light but also substantial and interesting.

Of course, no film is without its issues. The orientalist portrayal of Chinatown—as if it’s a place of mystical beings instead of actual people is hard to watch, and some of the humor is slightly dated too. But watching “Gremlins” feels like snuggling underneath a blanket, its warmth enveloping me in an unforgettable story. The gags and jokes are perfectly spaced so that the movie doesn’t feel repetitive, and the action sequences have me on the edge of my seat, even after countless rewatches.

Its wonderfully absurd concept has arguably made it into the holiday season’s least-known classic––and I highly implore you to give it a watch.