When his absent-minded father gives young Billy Pelzer (Zach Galligan) a new pet, he warns him to abide by three rules. The rules get broken, of course, and the pet--a cute Mogwai named Gizmo--unwittingly gives birth to the vicious Gremlins who proceed to terrorise the town.
Although the long shadow of Producer Steven Spielberg hangs over Joe Dante's 1984 comedy Gremlins almost as much as it did over Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982), Dante doesn't allow it to overwhelm his own quirky style too much. Glimpses of Robbie the Robot and The Time Machine (which promptly disappears) at an inventors' convention reveal his passion for old-movie references (which culminated with Matinee, 1993). Aided and abetted by Spielberg's guidance and a script by Chris Columbus (who would go on to direct and produce the Home Alone franchise) and a music score by Jerry Goldsmith, Dante had all the help he needed to make the biggest hit of his career.
Much of the humour derives from Dante's playful handling of the setting in Smallsville, USA, whose inhabitants are as much the target of his satire as they are of the Gremlins' unwanted solicitations. The xenophobic neighbour who warns prophetically of "gremlins" in foreign cars and machinery provides a subtext for the attack on homely American values, as does showing Invasion of the Body Snatchers on TV while the wicked Gremlins hatch. The sight of the little tykes cavorting in a bar, getting drunk and even dancing in pink leggings looks suspiciously like a satirical dig at the whole 1980's culture of selfishness: with their destructive impulses and overindulgences the Gremlins are the ultimate egotistical yuppies. As with many Spielberg projects, the bland hero saves the day for nostalgic, old-fashioned values, but there are plenty of laughs along the way--for example in the now-classic scene when the hero's mother fights off Gremlins in the kitchen by stuffing them in the blender and microwave. Dante's 1990 sequel is even more satirically pointed, and he effectively remade the original with Small Soldiers (1998), replacing Gremlins with toys.
On the DVD: Disappointingly, there are no extra features at all here, aside from subtitles and "interactive menus"--which simply means there is an onscreen menu and it works. --Mark Walker
Classic creature comedy horror directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg. When Billy Peltzer (Zach Gilligan) is given the cute and friendly little Mogwai, Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), for Christmas, he is told never to expose it to bright light, get it wet or ever feed it after midnight. But one night when a glass of water is accidentally spilled over little Gizmo, Billy soon finds out why he was told to follow this advice as Gizmo begins to convulse, producing five new Mogwai. As Billy and his science teacher, Mr. Hanson (Glynn Turman), then seek to find out more about the creatures, a series of events lead to the escape of a number of them; and due to their heightened intelligence they know exactly how to replicate themselves. Soon after, the town is overrun by a new breed of Mogwai - the 'Gremlins' - who are menacing little reptilian creatures, and far from friendly.