Gremlins ★★★

Tell me what to watch for a week: Day 6

"This is supposed to be Christmas, what the hell is going on?"

Ahh, Christmas time. A time for the whole family to come together and—for the first and last time of the year—agree on what movie to watch. Every family has its Christmas movie, whether it's the touching drama of It's a Wonderful Life, the hilarious antics of Elf, or the pulse-pounding action of Die Hard. These movies usually feature a family which comes together (like the ones on the couch) to experience a forgotten sense of love and community, and there's some sort of message about enjoying what you have because you won't have it forever.

Then there's Gremlins. Gremlins takes place on Christmas, and it centrally features a family of sorts (the father's dysfunctional inventions indicate a deeper disquiet) but the similarities end there. Part of what's so wonderful about Gremlins is that it takes the audience's expectations and throws them back in its face. There are heavy visual references to It's a Wonderful Life—heck, Billy Peltzer even watches it on TV—in the same movie with a silly special effects monster spinning around in a blender, his green blood splattering all over the walls. Gremlins is like your friend that always sings In Da Club at birthdays because that's just who he is. It is exactly what it wants to be without making concessions to generic mass appeal.

In purely technical terms, Gremlins is also quite good-looking, and I'm not just talking about the title characters themselves. As a proponent of practical effects I can't help but love them along with their comedic counterpart in the form of Papa Peltzer's malfunctioning machinery. But on top of that the movie is actually lit and shot in a very classy way. The dark scenes have a purposefully cheesy imitation noir aesthetic and the lighter family scenes look like they're pulled straight from the best of ET. And as is important in any comedy, the musical cues are impeccable (see: "Do you hear what I hear?").

However, like your friend singing 50 Cent, Gremlins is not exactly a masterpiece of cinematic construction. The story is functional enough, with Billy Peltzer as the audience's conduit into the mayhem, but there's not much of an emotional core to the film. Sure he sort of gets the girl, but what minimal character plotting there is happens parallel the central action without ever really intersecting it. And it certainly doesn't help that some of the acting could be much more convincing.

But these are far from insurmountable shortcomings, and thanks to the film's unique sense of humor and consistent visual style I can see why it developed the cult following it enjoys today. Let's just keep those little guys out of the control room so we can enjoy our reviews in peace.

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