Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Judge Reinhold, Howie Mandel (voice)
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: October 26, 1984
4K/Blu-Ray Release Date: October 1, 2019 (Amazon.com)
A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town. (from IMDb)
With someone like me whose favorite film of all-time is the 1984 horror-comedy Ghostbusters, it may be hard to believe that I’ve actually never seen Gremlins. Beyond having a pretty awesome plastic Gizmo figure as a preschooler, I think I’ve only ever seen clips or snippets of scenes from either of the Gremlins films. So, with Warner Bros’ brand new 4K release of the 80’s classic, I figured it was time to experience another 80’s cinematic staple.
To watch Gremlins for the first time in 2019 is probably an experience most have when viewing a movie like this so far removed from the era in which it had been produced. The film feels very much like a product of the 80’s, but it doesn’t quite embarass like most of the teen films from that decade. However, with any 80’s movie, you’re going to get 80’s effects and usually, at some point, 80’s music. All of the creatures in Gremlins are brought to life with puppetry, which adds a much more tangible sensibility to the creepy feeling the movie gives off. The Gremlins are both disturbing and ridiculous at the same time, which can definitely feed a feeling of uneasiness for some viewers, but director Joe Dante does his best to offset this with some crazy humor, like having the Gremlins dance in costumes like something out of Flashdance as they get quite drunk in a bar.
I still can’t believe I’ve gone this long without really knowing the full backstory for Gizmo and the Gremlins. I had heard the ominous rules of “Don’t get them wet” and “Don’t ever feed them after midnight,” but I didn’t know their origin or how exactly the Gremlins accompanied the adorable little Mogwai, Gizmo. Gizmo’s cuddliness definitely lived up to the hopes of my younger self. The human characters in the film, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as interesting as the puppet monsters, but they all do a decent job. Watching the film 35 years after its release, I almost don’t see much about it that would make this be considered such a classic, except perhaps that it was just something so different and unique for its time. And, I have to admit, the Gremlins (and Gizmo) are quite memorable. Still, comparatively for its time, you just don’t have the same kind of standout human cast that movies of the decade like Back to the Future, Goonies, Ghostbusters, or even E.T. offered. Zach Galligan is okay as Gizmo’s new owner, Billy, and Phoebe Cates is undeniably cute as Kate, but Billy lacks the charm and charisma necessary to carry a big film like this, and I feel like a stronger casting job, coupled with maybe some better character development for him, could have really made Gremlins an absolute highlight of the decade.
I did think, while watching Gremlins, how it just wouldn’t have played as well as it did had the creatures been entirely digital creations. Perhaps I’m just old school, but I’ve always appreciated physical effects more than exclusively digital ones. And, honestly, there’s definitely a sincere creep factor in seeing the creatures in their physical forms. Sure, it’s just as easy to think about how you’re staring at actors reacting to puppets as it is to recognize a computer generated effect on the screen, but I think there’s something gained by seeing actors reacting to and holding and interacting with physical objects occupying the same space that they are.
Now, the 4K release for Gremlins is the first time fans are getting to see this 80’s nugget in Ultra HD. For the most part, the movie looks great, but there are plenty of scenes — like with most movies from this time period (including Ghostbusters, sadly) that look grainy and out of focus. On the other hand, there are also large portions of the movie where the color is vibrant and just pops! So while you’re just not going to get the 4K picture that a present day movie is going to offer, this still is the best you will have ever seen Gremlins.
The content is edgy for a PG-rated film, but it’s on par with these kinds of movies from the 1980’s. The Gremlins do kill a few human characters–all done off screen, but the aftermath is never gory or bloody. Billy sustains a scrape to the hand by a Gremlin that the camera never focuses on, while another man’s hand is bitten in the dark off screen, but we never see the wound. There is some language, including a couple uses of the Jesus’ name in vain, one “*ssh*le,” and there’s one particular character who often says “g*dd*mn,” as well as other cuss words. There isn’t really any sexual content, aside from a little bit of suggestive humor from the Gremlins, leaving the only other content to be violence. Most of it has a quasi-humorous feel to it, but one intense (and rather impressive) scene shows Billy’s mom fighting and obliterating several Gremlins–one in a blender, another getting stabbed to death off camera, and another blowing up in a microwave. Also, another Gremlin melts into a gorey pile of gooey bones at one point, and it’s pretty disgusting. Otherwise, any of the human violence is mostly obscurred or veiled off screen.
Gremlins is a bizarre 80’s comedic horror classic that is beloved by many. I feel a bit too late to the party, but as someone who feels as though I can still enjoy older films (even as far back as the early 1930’s), I don’t think Gremlins‘ age is a problem. If anything, I think it’s a film that may have been great for its time but just doesn’t hold up quite as well today. Still, it’s a decent film with great puppetry and a kooky, twisted sense of humor to it. If you’re already a fan, or this description sounds like it’s your kind of bag, then definitely checkout Gremlin‘s 4K debut.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/30/19)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of Gremlins are the following Extras:
Commentaries: There are two full-length commentaries. The first is the “Filmmakers Commentary,” featuring director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, and special effects artist Chris Walas. The second is a “Cast Commentary” featuring director Joe Dante, Zach Galligan (Billy), Phoebe Cates (Kate), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), and Howie Mandel (the voice of Gizmo).
Additional Footage – This is a montage of deleted scenes you can view on the 2D Blu-Ray disc. You can view the scenes with or without commentary (10:26). The first scene shows Randall talking to a woman in a Chinese mart. He asks the woman for a unique gift to give his son, “a gizmo,” and she just shows him one junky trinket after another. Finally, a kid comes by and brings him to his grandfather’s store (which is where he finds the Mogwai). Next, we see Billy at work telling Kate she looks pretty today. The boss calls him in and he gets reprimanded for being late. He then goes home to his room in the attic and begins looking through his own artwork. The following scene shows Billy being stopped by the priest who says he has a card for him somewhere, but is clearly absent minded. Next, Katie and Billy sneak into their boss’s office and they realize houses are being foreclosed on. Gerald catches them and wants to make a deal to keep silent about their snooping. The next scene shows a Gremlin overhearing carolers singing outside someone’s house and likes it. Next, Murray and his wife talk about the noodle factory closing down and there being no chance he could get his job back. Finally, after Kate shares her story about her father’s death, she and Billy hear a noise and walk thru the bank to find their boss, Mr. Corbin dead (with a little blood on him). They then find Gerald acting rather delirious and locked in the bank vault.
The last extras on the Blu-Ray disc include a Photo Gallery, 2 trailers and a trailer for Gremlins 2.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/24/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: One Gremlin kind of “flashes” a woman while wearing a trenchcoat. It’s not graphic, just meant to be silly.
Vulgarity/Language: 4 “g*dd*mn,” 2 “J-sus,” 1 “Chr-st,” 2 “cr*p,” 2 “G-d,” 1 “My G-d,” 2 “d*mn,” 6 “h*ll,” 1 “*ssh*le”
Alcohol/Drugs: Gerald orders a vodka martini as he’s in a bar with Billy; We see Murray at the bar acting very drunk; Gremlins tear up the bar. We see many of them smoking and drinking and acting crazy.
Blood/Gore: Water is accidentally spilled on Gizmo. He screams and puff balls pop out of his back. More cute little Gizmo’s hatch; We see many very gross, gooey pods or cocoons with clear slime oozing all over them; We see a rabbit heart beating on a TV screen in a science class. In the same setting, we see a human heart beating on the TV screen. Later, see more of it close up and beating; A Gremlin scratches Billy’s hand. We see it is a little bloody as he runs to get bandages to wrap it up. Later, the bandage has a bloody stain on it; Billy’s mom traps a Gremlin in a blender and we see green slime splatter and fly everywhere as it’s killed in the blender. (From the angle it’s at, we see its legs spinning around and it descending into the blender, but not the actual blades cutting it up); She then fights another one into a microwave. She traps it inside and turns on the microwave, causing it to explode in a blast of green slime inside; Billy comes in to save his mom just in time, grabs a sword off the wall and slices its head off, which lands in the fireplace and burns up; We see that Billy’s mom has bloody scratches on her face; Katie has an abrasion on her cheek; During his fight with Stripe, Billy has a little blood on his head; Light comes through the window above Stripe, burning him. He starts to melt while in water, too, and he begins to look very gory and gooey. We see its very gooey skeleton suddenly pop out of the water and continue melting on the ground.
Violence: A dog pounces an older woman and pulls at her coat. She threatens multiple times to kill it; Water is accidentally spilled on Gizmo. He screams and puff balls pop out of his back. More cute little Gizmo’s hatch. One lunges to bite at Pete’s finger; Billy finds his dog tied up in Christmas lights outside; A Mogwai is stuck with a needle and is in pain; We see alien pods popping on TV in an old movie; A man tries to feed a Gremlin under a desk and it bites his hand, which we don’t see. Billy finds the man lying with his head under the desk and a syringe sticking out of his clothed butt. It’s assumed that he’s dead; A Gremlin scratches Billy’s hand. We see it is a little bloody as he runs to get bandages to wrap it up. A Gremlin pops out and throws things at him and claws through a vent and escapes; We see Gizmo tied to a dartboard as they throw darts at him. They then throw him down a laundry chute; A Gremlin throws a glass at Billy’s mom’s head. She wields a kitchen knife. She then traps one in a blender and we see green slime splatter and fly everywhere as it’s killed in the blender. (From the angle it’s at, we see its legs spinning around and it descending into the blender, but not the actual blades cutting it up.) Another Gremlin throws stuff at mom and she stabs it dead, just off camera (we see her stabbing motions, but not the impact). She then fights another one into a microwave. She traps it inside and turns on the microwave, causing it to explode in a blast of green slime inside; A Gremlin causes a Christmas tree to fall on her and it strangles her with garland. Billy comes in just in time, grabs a sword off the wall and slices its head off, which lands in the fireplace and burns up; A Gremlin scratches Billy’s clothed chest, slashing his shirt, and jumps into a pool. We see it bubbling up violently as it reproduces; Gremlins drive a plow through a man’s house, presumably killing two people it corners (we don’t see them again after this); A man puts his hand into a mailbox and can’t get it out; A Gremlin messes with a traffic light and causes an accident off screen; A woman’s stair chair goes haywire and throws her out the house’s front window. She lands on the ground and dies. (We see the chair lying backward with her feet sticking up in the air); Gremlins swarm a Santa who then falls over. A cop car flips and a truck crashes into a storefront; Pete cuts a strand of lights to drop a Gremlin and it sparks; Gremlins tear up the bar. We see many of them smoking and drinking and acting crazy – causing a lot of damage. One goes flying from a speeding ceiling fan and crashes into a light-up sign. One shoots another Gremlin as they play cards; One shoots at Katie; We see lots of people in town struggling with Gremlins; Katie tells story of how her father had died in their chimney while trying to play Santa Claus, and when she lit a fire days later they found his body; Billy and Kate fill a movie theater with gas and light a fuse to blow it up (to kill all the Gremlins inside); Billy breaks a store window to get in; A Gremlin pops up on a store TV screen, spooking billy who hits the TV with a baseball bat; Stripe throws a saw blade at Billy, decapitating a mannequin, then embedding in the wall next to him; Stripe throws more stuff and baseballs at Billy. Billy has a little blood on his head. Stripe shoots billy in the arm with a crossbow arrow. He then comes at Billy with a chainsaw and he blocks it with his baseball bat; Stripe shoots at Billy and hits flower pots near his head. Gizmo speeds to the rescue in a remote control type car and causes light to come through the window, burning Stripe. He starts to melt while in water, too, and he begins to look very gory and gooey. We see its very gooey skeleton suddenly pop out of the water and continue melting on the ground.