Friday, February 13, 2015

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins is one of those movies, man. I haven't seen it since I was a little kid, and let me tell you, it gave me nightmares. Yet I hear people talk about it like it's a comedy. So I guess it's just one of those things. It also has the distinction of being a horror film set on Christmas. Essentially, it's a movie about a bunch of critters wreaking havoc on a small town. If they were, like, cute little bunnies or something (like the Mogwai pre-transformation), it would just be funny.

But no, they had to be these demonic monstrosities, with reptilian skin, and those evil, red eyes. Now if they just went around town attacking people, then it would be plain scary. But because gremlins are supposed to be mischievous, director Joe Dante has these little nightmares giggling as much as snarling, and engaging in physical humor that borders on the slapstick. As a result, it's a potential mixture of both - scary and funny - depending on your perspective. Certainly more scary for little kids, who have wilder imaginations, and less experience to inform them that gremlins are a complete fantasy. (Right?)

In any case, it's a pretty clever premise, though I think people in their adultocentric perspective tend to undersell the horror part of it in favor of the comedy. If you swapped the score for something less whimsical, it would serve the horror better - though that goes to show that the creators were aiming for something tongue-in-cheek. And there's plenty of room for black humor. But the fact of the matter is, Mogwai are creepy in a fundamental way - and that includes their cute and fuzzy pre-transformation state, which comes just shy of this side of the uncanny valley.

I'm convinced these creatures are a primary reason why I was so paranoid and distrusting of Furbies when they came out on the market in the late '90s. Gizmo is basically a living Furby. Dare to feed it after midnight, and you'll come upon the cocoon state, which is just downright gross, in a straight body horror kind of way. I mean, they're even more disgusting than the eggs that the facehuggers came out of in Alien. And then they emerge, infinitely more horrifying than they were before. That scene where the eggs have hatched, and you know the gremlins are out there somewhere, is terribly foreboding, and one of the scariest I remember from when I was a kid.

The creature effects in this movie are really great - good enough that no amount of exposure significantly dulls the effect of seeing the gremlins. However, after the first few glimpses, they settle into their slapstick phase, and begin to act all goofy, and that takes the edge off to a considerable extent. Still, I wouldn't want to have one as a pet, and even though your first instinct is not to take someone seriously when they're engaged in wacky hijinks, when that someone is a grotesque spawn of hell, your aesthetic sense of evil kinda takes over. Gremlins may not be as viscerally scary to me now as it was when I was a kid, but I can still recognize its great potential for scariness.

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