Festive Frights: GREMLINS Deserves a 24 Hour Christmas Marathon
We all know Halloween is a horror fan's biggest holiday, but Christmas is a close second. Welcome to our celebration of yuletide fueled terror, our 12 Days of Festive Frights.
We all have our holiday movie traditions. Personally my family always watched Holiday Inn, which in story alone isn’t really that much about Christmas even though it does bookend the film. While the titular Inn of course has a celebratory Christmas number, the holiday standard “White Christmas” sung here by crooner Bing Crosby, we also get songs ranging from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July. The open disgusting sore on the film is of course the infamous Blackface number for Lincoln’s Birthday. As a child, my parents shielded me from such vile imagery and for good reason. The nauseating history of blackface as entertainment in the United States is strongly weaved in the continued systemic oppression of people of color in this country. And yet as we have progressed - who hasn’t read a BuzzFeed listicle about a recent idiot celebrity who thought it’d be a good idea to darken their skin to go as some TV character? - this bullshit still goes on, and like a Demon in Waniverse, if you know its name you can destroy it. So we always need to keep calling blackface out until #wipipo stop. But this isn’t about Holiday Inn, which aside from the blatantly racist Lincoln's Birthday song, really is quite charming. Fred Astaire is at the absolute top of his game, featuring a remarkable inebriated tap dance that is a career best and some of Irving Berlin’s greatest standards like “Happy Holidays” and “Easter Parade”. This is about nostalgia that the film represents for me. Homemade biscuits, donuts from the Village Bakery in West, TX, that one Christmas in ‘96 after Hasbro released the first new line of Star Wars toys, all of these amazing memories that can never be replicated again but live inside this little holiday bubble. And while a deeply problematic film happens to be in my bubble, the great part of growing up is how you can create your own new traditions. And my tradition is now Gremlins.
While some of these “alternative holiday” films have generally been hotly disputed, Gremlins never dealt with that debate. The image of Gizmo wearing a Santa Hat is as synonymous with the film as the classic rules. Darlene Loves' “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is an apt opening song over the tableau of a snow covered Kingston Falls. You can’t think of the color palette to the film without the neon glow of red and green twinkling lights in contrast to the deep crimson of blood and the jade tint of the Gremlins bodies. Joe Dante and Chris Columbus make no fuss about it: Gremlins is a holiday film.
But then why do we never see it in regular rotation on Christmas morning?
It could stem from the fact that parents and censors alike had no idea what to do with Gremlins in 1984. While clearly the cutesy fluff of the Mogwai Gizmo brings in the families and merchandising opportunities, the Gremlins themselves held back no punches in terms of terror compounded by the fact that we had never seen special effects quite like this before. The creature designs were created by Chris Walas, the man behind your favorite face melting scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Fly II, and proof in the pudding for the power of practical effects: Gizmo and the gang still look just as breathtaking as they did years ago. Gizmo would lure them in with a false sense of security, then Stripe would come bounding on screen sending kids jumping behind the couch. But it’s because of this intense action, specifically the #BAMFMOM scene, that the MPAA on suggestion of Producer Steven Spielberg, altered their rating systems to include the new PG-13 (Red Dawn being the first to adopt the new rating).
But with the advent of the internet and social media, especially in a 24-hour news cycle where younger people are feeling more emboldened and civically engaged than ever before, your average 12-year-old is a far cry from that of the early 80s where a creature exploding in a microwave might have caused alarm. Kids can now appreciate a little rough edge to our family friendly entertainment, and with the rising popularity of shows like Stranger Things for people of all ages, the Amblin holiday horror film Gremlins is perfect for an all-day marathon.
It’s been 20 years since TNT first decided to air Bob Clark’s (Black Christmas) A Christmas Story in a 24-hour marathon on Christmas Day. Since then various other outlets have begun to adopt the all-day marathon format for other films on other holidays - hell even ABC’s Freeform channel now shows Hocus Pocus in an all day marathon (and also how did I NOT know about this?!), but A Christmas Story over these last two decades has really carved itself the top spot with being synonymous for Christmas morning. And for good reason: the movie is damn near perfect! By why not another damn near perfect film: Gremlins?
The easiest litmus test for these marathons is this question “Can you turn it on at any point in the film and be able to enjoy it?” For A Christmas Story, with its vignette story structure mimicking the semi autobiographical tales that Jean Shepherd wrote in his collection of short stories, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”, every new scene feels like a new individual story chronicling Ralphy’s quest for the Red Ryder BB Gun. While Gremlins doesn’t have the same plot structure, what it does have is a simple plot. Billy meets Gizmo, Gizmo Meets Water (Thanks Feldman!), Gremlins meet Billy, and then Gremlins wreak havoc. With the exception of maybe one or two establishing scenes in Dorry’s Tavern, and of course the infamous Santa Claus monologue, you feel like you can drop into any single scene and be able to follow along. And if for some reason you are having trouble following along…
Don’t worry because visually it’s the gift that keeps on giving. As I mentioned before, Chris Walas’ special effects still looking beautiful today and definitely for the kids, will be what they gravitate to. Trust me, I was that six year old who would run home and watch Gremlins. Kids want to be FRIENDS with Gizmo and the gang because they look AWESOME, and as the story continues and the Gremlins amass their numbers, individual personalities of each little monster emerge. I’ve been watching the film now for the better part of 25 years and I bet you I still will find new and fun things in the Midnight Madness scene, or as the Gremlins all gather in the movie theatre. This idea, of course, is amplified to the MAX in yet another damn near perfect film: Gremlins 2 The New Batch.
But more than anything, Gremlins is inarguably entertaining. I don’t know if I can trust a person that gets bored during Gremlins. Howie Mandel’s voice work as Gizmo is ridiculously adorable, there are cameos galore, in-joke you have to hunt for, and one of the best Jerry Goldsmith scores ever. But beyond all that, Gremlins would be fresh. As I mentioned, A Christmas Story has been crushing the Christmas Movie Marathon game now for twenty years. Many reading this right now have never lived in a world that DIDN’T have that movie on during the holidays.
And, again, A Christmas Story is GREAT. Just.. Gremlins is better.