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THN Advent Calendar Day 17: Gremlins

by Martin Daniel McDonagh


Christmas is a time for tradition – presents, decorations, carols, and mince pies. But what better tradition to celebrate than the Christmas movie? Join The Hollywood News for the Movie Advent Calendar – a film each day ’til Christmas. For the full Advent Calendar so far, click here.

The narrative of this fantastical comedy-horror begins when Randall Peltzer buys his son a strange, furry creature called a ‘Mogwai’ for Christmas. He doesn’t consider the level of responsibility involved in taking care of the newly christened ‘Gizmo’, despite being warned by the mysterious figure he procured it from. So, it is not long before his son breaks two of the three rules governing the protector of the Mogwai: do not feed it after midnight; do not allow water to come into contact with it; and make sure it avoids bright lights. These mistakes bring about a reproductive frenzy, but the spawn of Gizmo are nothing like their harmless predecessor, and they soon take over the town with their anarchic and riotous behaviour.

Now, most Christmas movies tend to glorify and celebrate the sweet ideals of the holiday season. However, many of these films neglect to point out that Christmas can also be a time of unfulfilled expectations, which can lead to frustration and loneliness. GREMLINS (1984) is the Christmas film for people who do not like what Christmas has become. It is subversive, without being patronising or didactic, and it provides a humorous story, with a diverse range of characters (some of whom are three-feet tall, tyrannical and green). It achieves this whilst managing to not drive a metaphorical train full of over-sentimentalised, puerile bilge towards your senses.

Admittedly, it has its flaws. The protagonist, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is about as convincing as the concept of an obese red man – which is surely a sign of chronic alcohol abuse – who, over a period of less than twelve hours, manages to give presents to every spoilt little brat in the world (except the poor, the needy, and non-believers). Billy has a certain vacancy and vapidity about him that you might expect to find behind the eyes of a ‘Miss World’ contestant, not a burgeoning thespian. Furthermore, the film does not even attempt to explain the existence of these otherworldly beings, which completely defies all human logic, as we are designed to seek out meaning in all the weird and wonderful things we encounter in our lives.

However, these are endearing qualities in a cheesy, nostalgia-inducing eighties comedy, so deal with it! The reasons why it should be considered at least one of the best Christmas films of all time, far outweigh any faults it may have. Firstly, Gizmo is possibly the cutest creature to have ever graced our screens, and is still one of the most memorable extraterrestrial characters in modern popular culture. Secondly, Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is one of the most lovable human characters in filmic history. His constant struggle to be a model father, and to convince everyone (including himself) that his ‘inventions’ are ‘fantastic ideas for a fantastic world’ really resonates with the audience. He is perfectly imperfect, like the world he resides in and his ridiculous inventions (which include the ‘bathroom buddy’, and a smokeless ashtray, which almost constantly exudes a thick plume of smoke).

There are too many positive points to make about GREMLINS, so, at the risk of boring you to tears with shameless campaigning, here are just a few more highlights: Billy’s mother dispatching gremlins with the ice cold precision of a contract killer; an intellectual professor attempting to coax a gremlin out of its hiding place with a snickers bar; and Corey Feldman. Feldman instantly makes any film he appears in twice as brilliant, especially if said film was made during his prime (the 1980s). So, now that we are all agreed, let’s finish with an appropriately sappy observation.

GREMLINS subtly hints at the fundamental flaws in society, which increasingly rise to the fore during the Christmas period. Often, instead of spending quality time with the ones we love, or helping those who need it (in this case, Gizmo), we choose to erratically flock towards retail outlets, throwing flipping great wads of cash at – already rich – corporations. We briskly rush past the weak and feeble in order to buy the last meaningless item in stock before someone else does. Instead of turning into these gremlins, we should be enjoying the film with our loved ones, because, after all, it is probably the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

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