Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start ‘Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!
We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke.
Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – in my case in alphabetical order because I am sad like that….
The trailer is on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBEVwaJEgaA
This is not the movie I was going to write about this week. The movie I had chosen (‘Die Hard’) depicted a US cop as a hero and I don’t feel this is appropriate at the moment. That said, researching ‘Gremlins’ it seems some writers have criticised it it as ‘culturally insensitive’ because some of the Gremlins behaviour seems to reflect African-American stereotypes (listening to black music, breakdancing etc). I decided to write about the film anyway and you can make your own judgement about this.
For those who have not seen it, Gremlins (Like Die Hard) is set at Christmas time. Inventor Randall Peltzer gives his son Billy a gift in the form of a cute creature called a Mogwai, which he bought from the reluctant owner of an antique shop in Chinatown. The Mogwai comes with some strict instructions: Never expose to sunlight, do not feed after midnight, do not get it wet. You can guess what happens – and the titular evil Gremlins are spawned to create chaos in the small town of Kingston Falls, where Billy lives with his family.
The results are both hilarious and surprisingly violent. I wrote about “An American werewolf in London’ and Gremlins has the same fine balance of comedy and horror. Apparently the original script was far more of a horror movie but was toned down before production.
The actual story was the idea of Chris Columbus, who later directed the first Harry Potter movies among many others. Steven Spielberg saw the pitch and use his influence to get the movie funded. He offered the directing job to Joe Dante who had not had a major movie project since ‘The Howling’ a few years earlier (The Howling is great too by the way).
It was when Dante was working on ‘Twilight Zone- the Movie’ that Gremlins came together. In fact the Twilight Zone segment ‘Nightmare at 20,000 ft’ is basically inspired by wartime stories of ‘gremlins’ that would case faults in aircraft. (The original episode of the TV show ‘Twilight Zone’ on which this segment is based starred a pre-Star Trek William Shatner!)
The casting for this movie is great. Billy is ably portrayed by the relatively unknown Zach Galligan but is backed up by a cast of movie veterans including the fabulous Dick Miller.
Why do I love this movie? Well it is completely anarchic fun! For a movie geek like me there are even some fun cameos in the inventors convention scenes at the beginning, including ‘Robbie the Robot’ from ‘Forbidden Planet’, producer Steven Spielberg and composer Jerry Goldsmith. The visual effects (largely puppets) are fantastic for the time.
The movie has a deliciously sly humour, which I love.
Geeky fact – it was the reaction to this movie, along with the reaction to his own ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ that prompted Spielberg to successfully suggest a new move rating to the US MPAA: namely ‘PG-13’ as it was realised that some movies were too light for an ‘R’ rating but too dark for ‘PG’. In the UK we already had the ‘A’ rating which theoretically did the same thing but had no restriction on age (which is why 9 year old me ended up being terrified by ‘Jaws’ in 1975 because my mother wanted to see it).
The sequel ‘Gremlins 2 – The New Batch’ was a true satire. It was forced on Dante by the studio who were keen to exploit the merchandising bonanza created by the first film. Dante slyly subverts this and makes the movie a satire on corporate greed – which probably completely escaped the notice of the suits who wanted it. If anything it is even crazier than the first film and I love it, not least because of a great turn by the wonderful Christopher Lee as the human baddie whose character name of Dr Cushing Catheter honours his great friend and frequent horror movie co-star Peter Cushing.
Gremlins 2 trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdCp0qLqnCY