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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


For my after-school horror class, last night I showed them Gremlins, from 1984. You may find it surprising that I had never seen it before. I was surprised to find out how bad it is.

Gremlins was a successful film, and introduced things to the culture, namely the three rules of owning a Mogwai, the Furby-like creature that is unbearably cute. Don't expose them to bright light, don't get them wet, and most of all, don't feed them after midnight. That's when the little furballs turn into reptile-like gremlins, who maliciously damage mechanical things and don't care if by doing so they kill people.

The movie begins with Hoyt Axton, an inventor, browsing through a Chinese junk shop (here is a durable cliche--the Chinese owning stores where mysterious and magical items are purchased by the Western and unwary). Keye Luke, the proprietor, wearing a Fu Manchu mustache, will not sell the Mogwai that Axton finds, but his grandson, oblivious to the danger, sells it to Axton, who gives it to his son (Zach Galligan) as a Christmas present.

Galligan loves it, but does not heed the warnings. Getting it wet makes it multiply, and then, when one of the Mogwais cuts the cord on his clock, he feeds them, and then he was gremlins on his hands. One of them jumps into a pool, and soon the town has a big gremlin problem.

I read up on the origin of gremlins. It's not from some medieval folktale, although the word might be. The concept of a gremlin comes from aviation, when unexplainable mechanical difficulties were attributed to them. One of the more famous uses of them in pop culture was the Twilight Zone episode when William Shatner sees one on the wing of his plane.

The problem with Gremlins, directed with confusion by Joe Dante, is that it is a dumb story, and the special effects are very dated. I'm not sure they were cutting edge at the time--this was two years after E.T., and he was much more realistic than any of the gremlins. We get the requisite plot points, such as Galligan being attracted to a girl (Phoebe Cates) who ends up helping him (her monologue about her father's death is ghoulish fun, even though it's an old Tales from the Crypt story). There are the policemen who don't believe Galligan's story, of course, and the mean old lady who is done in by the gremlins.

One of the more bizarre scenes is when the gremlins attend a screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In an example of how times change, when my students heard "Hi Ho" they giggled, Beavis and Butthead style, about the word "ho."

For some reason I passed on seeing Gremlins way back in 1984. My intuition was right.

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