Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Remember the rules
This weekend I picked up a new copy of Gremlins, Joe Dante’s 1984 horror comedy. In this Steven Spielberg-produced classic, creatures run amok in the Capra-esque town of Kingston Falls on Christmas Eve; it’s the kind of odd mix (of humor, heart, and horrific satire) that shouldn’t work but does. The premise is beyond ludicrous: Gizmo, a cute as a button “Mogwai,” multiplies with water, and these new, meaner creatures transform into vicious armor plated beasties once they eat “after midnight.” (What are we talking about here, 12am-6pm? And what about time zones? A technician wonders about this in the sequel, and is brutally mauled for his trouble.) As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with this movie and especially its sequel, the unbelievably entertaining Gremlins 2: The New Batch. You know how kids have their comfort movies and books that they can watch or read over and over again and never get tired of? Gremlins 2 was mine, though the original got its fair share of viewage—after twenty years, the VHS was finally showing its age this weekend, which is why I broke down and bought the DVD at Virgin Megastore. But I didn’t just watch the movies; I bought the puppets, trading cards, and toys, and drew my own Gremlins comics and stories. In elementary school, I got upset when I tried to draw a rabbit and everyone in my class—including my teacher—was convinced I’d drawn a Gremlin! I can also remember asking Santa if Mrs. Claus could sew me up a Gremlin puppet (only Gizmo had gotten one at this point), as my horrified parents shook their heads “no” in the background. (They’d already been forced to tear apart the house looking for the missing Nutcracker I was convinced “Santa” could find years earlier.) I’ve never really thought about just what it was that so fascinated me with Gremlins. I was always a “spooky” kid—the one whose preschool teachers deemed him in need of evaluation because he was always talking about witches and monsters—so Gremlins definitely served my appetite for the latter. And maybe, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins subversively spoke to my need to make Halloween extend all year long; at one point, Kingston Falls’ DJ yells, “Hey kid, this is Christmas, not Halloween!” Besides, I was a Catholic school student, and the oppression of my environment was brilliantly skewered by the Gremlins’ anarchist sensibility. These creatures are gleefully nasty, spitting in the face (at times literally) of order. Mrs. Deagle, the cantankerous bitch (as unforgettably embodied by Polly Holiday) gets her comeuppance in one of Gremlins’ most famous scenes; her automated wheelchair zips up the stairs and out the window, and for a kid who nearly had a nervous breakdown because of his third grade teacher, this ghastly demise probably filled a deep psychological need. On another level, fresh scrubbed cutie Billy (Zach Galligan, an appealing actor who went on to not much of anything else) was an early indicator of my sexual identity. (From the sounds of his sibilant commentary on Gremlins, Zach and I might have something in common.) Beyond all this self analysis, though, Gremlins was just an original and fiercely entertaining franchise. The movies are campy and extremely dated, but they hold up surprisingly well. Slickly produced and cast, they offer laughs and chills and go out of their way to be as wild and enthralling as possible. I’ll always have a place for them in my heart, and I have a feeling my own children will, too.