#14: Gremlins — dir. Joe Dante
There’s so much to love about this film, I can’t even begin to explain. It came out in that nebulous time where they had to invent a PG-13, because there was too much wobble room between PG and R. And Gremlins toed that line, boy goddamn howdy. It’s a horror film, written by Chris Columbus, with some gruesome goddamn kills. Deagle going out the window, the Gremlins mauling people left and right — and then that entire glorious kitchen sequence. Holy Christ. People thought this was a cute kid’s movie.
Gremlins is my second favorite Christmas movie. It’s yet another instance where the holiday matters. It pervades the entire film. If this took place at any other time of year, it would not nearly be the same movie. It’s a subversively nasty swipe at commercialism, in particular, crass American commercialism. Papa Peltzer literally makes crap that no one needs and leaves his family to go traveling around trying to hawk it. Billy works for a bank. Everyone wants to own a mogwai. No one pays attention to the rules — even though sure, the mogwai kind of scheme their way forward. For every parent who buys their child a bunny or duckling on Easter, I hope you watch Gremlins.
What I like most about Gremlins is that it is genuinely fun and funny. That’s Joe Dante. He does horror, but with a malicious grin. He’s the Joker, the psychopath with a sick sense of humor. If Freddie Krueger didn’t exist, Dante would have made him. Gremlins flourishes with sick twisted glee, really nasty jokes, really gory humor. Like Sam Raimi, Joe Dante knows how to counterbalance hilarity with horror. And when that works, like in this film, it totally works.