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Bright light, bright light

Chinatown. Searching for a christmas present for his teenage son, Rand Peltzer meets a young boy, who leads him to his grandfather’s shop. While trying to sell old man Miyagi his new invention, the “Bathroom Buddy”, Rand hears singing from the back of the shop. He investigates and likes what he sees, but the old man refuses to sell, so Rand leaves disappointed. Outside, the boy catches up to him with a box, inside which is a Mogwai. The boy takes Rand’s money but warns him: with great Mogwai comes great responsibility – he must ensure the creature is not exposed to bright light, keep it away from water and never, ever, feed it after midnight…

In Kingston Falls, Billy and his dog head to the bank where Billy works, where they meet with the always lovely Phoebe Cates, wearing one of the worst blouses known to man. Local money-hoarder Mrs Deagle storms in, like a less-cheerful Wicked Witch, and demands that the dog be put down for destroying her snowman. After work, Billy’s father comes home bearing a gift – the aforementioned Mogwai, who he has named Gizmo. Billy and the little fella bond quickly, despite a couple of light-related accidents, and all is going well until Corey Feldman shows up (as is often the way). Feldman knocks a jar of water over Gizmo, causing him to spawn five new, mean Mogwai, including one with a stripe (most people would call it a mohican, but I guess Stripe’s a better name). Billy takes one to the local high school and demonstrates its amoeba-like reproductive ability to the science teacher, leaving the newborn Mogwai behind for tests. Science guy draws some blood and does his tests, then heads home, foolishly leaving behind half a sandwich which the creature eats. Back home, the mean Mogwai are getting restless, and Billy feeds them some chicken, not realising that they have sabotaged his clock and it’s after midnight.

The next morning, all the Mogwai (except Gizmo) are gone, replaced with slimy pod-like cocoons, which hatch Gremlins. At the lab, science guy offers his gremlin a Snickers but ends up stabbed with a hypodermic. Billy arrives and chases the gremlin, who escapes through a vent, never to be seen again. Billy calls home to warn his mother, but the gremlins cut off the phone. Mrs Peltzer, showing skills which might have come in handy later in the movie, takes out three gremlins in the space of two minutes: one gets liquidised, the second is repeatedly stabbed and the third is rammed in a microwave and melted. Unfortunately, she fails to see the fourth hidden in a christmas tree and is only saved by Billy’s timely return home. The gremlin is beheaded leaving only Stripe (and the missing lab gremlin, but the less said about him the better), who leaves through the window. Dropping his mum off with the local doctor, thus taking the best player so far out of the game, Billy tracks Stripe to the YMCA pool, arriving too late to stop the gremlin diving in and filling the pool with his evil offspring. Billy goes to the police for help; unfortunately, this is the 80s, so the sheriff doesn’t believe him. Meanwhile, a stop-motion gremlin army is causing chaos across the town – hiding in mailboxes, playing with traffic lights, driving Dick Miller’s plough into his home and, in the best gag of the movie, firing Mrs Deagle through a window on her stairlift. During all this, Kate is apparently serving drinks to gremlins in the bar. One of them flashes her, and a second tries to mug her, before Billy arrives and rescues her. Kate tells Billy why she hates Christmas (her dad got stuck in the chimney and died while playing Santa) and they kiss. They then find the whole population of gremlins in the cinema watching Snow White; opening a gas line, they set fire to the cinema and watch it explode, wiping out all gremlins except Stripe.

Following Stripe into a department store, Billy sends Kate to turn on the lights, but she only succeeds in turning on a fountain. Billy finds Stripe, who attacks him with a baseball pitching machine, a crossbow and finally a chainsaw. Kate finds the lights and Stripe retreats, but only as far as the now-full fountain. Gizmo races through the store in a toy car and arrives just in time to pull the blinds, hitting Stripe with daylight as he is about to spawn. Stripe goes all melty and falls into the water, dead. Back at the Peltzer house, old man Miyagi is angry and takes his Mogwai back, but leaves Billy with some hope: “Perhaps some day you will be ready. Until then, Mogwai will be waiting”.

There’s very little to be said about Gremlins that hasn’t been stated many times before. A childhood favourite of many people my age, my main worry watching the film for the first time in many years was that it wouldn’t have aged well. Aside from some of the clothes – with special reference to Phoebe Cates’ blouse as mentioned above – this is not the case. Zach Galligan does fine as Billy, Dick Miller is a joy as always and the practical effects used to animate Gizmo and the gremlins work as well today as they did 27 years ago. The film compares favourably to Dante’s other work (more on that later) and is the second feature written by Chris Columbus, who went on to script The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes, before moving on to directing Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire and a couple of films about a boy wizard. A christmas film, despite being released in June in the US, Gremlins is undoubtably fondly remembered by many – if you haven’t seen it in a while, maybe now’s the time to revisit Kingston Falls.

Gremlins stars Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, Judge Reinhold, Dick Miller, Glynn Turman, Keye Luke, Scott Brady, Corey Feldman, Jonathan Banks and Edward Andrews. It was written by Chris Columbus, and directed by Joe Dante.
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