Steven Spielberg was just coming off the success of E.T. when he released Gremlins, which can best be described as a horror film advertised toward children. I had never seen the movie Gremlins as a kid, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m grateful that it was never an influence on my development. This movie was offensive enough that it, along with Spielberg’s next big release, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, actually inspired the creation of the PG-13 rating. Before that, a live man’s heart getting torn out was totally PG material.
Obviously, Spielberg’s agenda in the 80’s was to mentally scar as many small children as possible. Here’s how that plan was executed in Gremlins:
1) The good guys act like idiots.
The story of Gremlins begins with a father looking for a Christmas present for his son. He discovers the perfect gift in the form of a pet, a species unknown to man called a Mogwai. From this point forward, every character that sees the Mogwai has the same reaction: “Oh, an entirely new and unheard of species? How cute! I’m sure it’ll make a great pet!” The retort from a sensible person might be something like, “Actually, you know nothing about it. You should probably report it to a scientific journal or something.” But nobody is sensible in this movie, so… yeah, apparently taking home unknown species as pets is perfectly okay.
The father is warned that there are rules involved in owning a Mogwai: It hates bright light (sunlight can kill it), don’t get it wet, and most importantly, never feed it after midnight. The dunce of a dad doesn’t bother to ask, “What will happen if I break the rules?” Of course, the answer would have been, “You’ll risk creating a mob of evil gremlins that will lay waste to your hometown and most likely kill some people.” Then he could have returned the Mogwai to its rightful owner and ended this idiot plot before it started.
Essentially every time someone could have done something useful in this movie, they just do the stupidest thing possible instead. The cops are getting drunk on the job, then driving, then watching people getting killed in front of them and not bothering to get out and help. When the female lead tries to turn on the lights in a department store to save the male lead from getting sliced in half with a chainsaw, she painfully flips one switch at a time. You know those nightmares you have where dream-you just won’t do the reasonable thing, and you get this overwhelming feeling of ineptitude and frustration? Watching this movie is like that.
Even when a character does well, like the main character’s mother does when she battles three gremlins in her kitchen, it involves incredibly gruesome imagery: one gremlin gets chopped to pieces in an electric mixing bowl, another is repeatedly stabbed with a kitchen knife, and the last is exploded in a microwave. This brings us to our next point…
2) This movie is gross.
While the good guys are busy being stupid, the bad guys are busy making you want to puke. The first bad guy we see is an unreasonably mean old lady, who spends most of her screen time explaining in detail how she is going to “slowly and painfully” murder the male lead’s dog. If you’re a kid with a dog, this old lady is definitely nightmare material, but she’s nothing compared to the twisted female lead.
Walking home from work one day, the female lead explains to the male lead that Christmas is a depressing holiday that she hates. This alone is enough to get kids’ warning lights flashing. She goes on to explain that the suicide rate is higher during the holidays, offering this graphically descriptive detail: “While most people are opening their presents, some are opening their wrists.” I literally cringed and shuddered at this line, hoping that most kids who saw this movie were too young to picture what she was talking about. This same character takes time out of a busy run-for-your-life scene to explain how her dad died on Christmas Eve by falling down the chimney, and then revealing that there is no such thing as Santa Claus, just to kill the dreams of any young believers remaining in the audience.
The human characters may act disgusting, but the Gremlins are pretty much the definition of it. The way they look, the way they act, and most of all the way they die. In the climactic final scene, the head Gremlin is melted alive in the sunlight. Not a quick and painless melting like the wicked witch of the west, but a slow melting, where we can see skin peeling away from muscle, and a gooey skeleton with nothing left but eyeballs. The movie took every opportunity to show off its detailed puppetry, even if it meant majorly grossing the audience out.
3) The ‘science’ makes no sense.
Given that this movie is fantasy, you allow it a certain amount of leeway when it comes to science. However, when a movie starts to break it’s own stupid rules it gets annoying.
When Mogwai and gremlins touch water, they reproduce by budding off babies from their backs. This becomes a problematic bit of logic when you realize that water is… kind of everywhere. It’s in the atmosphere in the form of vapor where it is pretty much constantly touching everything. So lets say they need liquid water. Once again, it shouldn’t be a problem since the whole town was covered in snow, which could easily melt under any living thing’s body heat. Well, what if the gremlins are cold-blooded? Lemme ask you this, alcohol contains water, right?
One thing I couldn't get past was how random lights and smoke were generated during the gremlins’ very scientific reproduction process. Actually, pretty much everything smoked and lit up in excess in the movie, including any machinery that malfunctioned. Because everyone knows that if you hit a boombox with a crossbow, fireworks come shooting out of the hole.
But all of this is nothing compared to the most offensive reason…
4) This movie is racist and xenophobic in every way.
Did I mention that the Mogwai was purchased in Chinatown? From a caricature of a Chinese grandfather? Because, clearly, potentially dangerous pets always come from other cultures.
Can you guess who is the first to die in this movie? The black guy, duh. But it’s okay because he was a weird sadist who enjoyed experimenting on the Mogwai. Wait…
There was literally an entire character devoted to being afraid of foreigners, saying they make the worst cars and later explaining that it’s because their machine parts are full of gremlins! Right… so he’s a crazy xenophobe.
This entire plot can be perceived as a metaphor for the fear of foreign invaders (represented by the gremlins), which wouldn’t be such a bad theme, if only the film actually fessed up to it. Instead, the Chinese grandfather reappears at the end of the movie to explain that the moral of the story is “treat nature with respect” or some other environmentalist message. It was all the writers could do to cover up the fact that this movie thinks foreigners are little demons running around destroying everything.
Traverse on April 22, 2020:
I grew up watching It and Gremlins and The Lost Boys, Zombieland, Superbad etc all as a kid and I'm 18 now, turning out fine. Get a grip.
Chris on October 25, 2019:
Water and alcohol are different chemical compounds.
So no. Alcohol doesn't contain water.
Kate on July 10, 2019:
I saw this in the theater when I was 4, and I turned out okay!
Ryan on December 07, 2018:
Wow. You must be a blast to watch films with.
Linda on January 07, 2018:
Gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe. Is that all you can do? This is a movie! It's not meant to be taken seriously or to be analyzed. Lighten up and stop being a pompous, humorless twit!
Burt on December 23, 2017:
You know, you gotta look at the time when the movie came out as well. Robert Sacchi makes some good points. This was the time of the cold war. And it is a damn horror movie! You don't need to read into it so much.
Robert Sacchi on December 27, 2015:
Yes, when Gremlins came out some people saw the movie without realizing they were walking into a horror movie. The gremlins were killed in all manner of disgusting ways but the humans were killed in a PG way. You may be reading too much into some aspects of the movie. Murray Futterman (Dick Miller) lost his job because of foreign competition. At the time higher quality and cheaper priced foreign goods were putting the bite on some American industries. Murray Futterman was not someone to be taken seriously. As with any horror movie you need stupid people.
Yousuf on August 24, 2014:
I haven't actually watched it but it sounds good though the gremlins don't look scary so does slenderman I saw. Both their pictures
Munky on August 16, 2014:
Hey George... So you're saying that the big problem you had with the film is how, in the imaginary world in which the GREMLINS were portrayed, the line that says that Santa's not real was used?!?!... Not the demon like critters, the violence, or the simulated deaths/killing of people? Your big problem is that parents would have to explain that they were kidding about Santa (or fess up), but apparently you have to problem or reason to explain the rest of it. Wow... They maybe gremlins, but you're a troll.
George on July 17, 2014:
The scene where the girl explains to the audience that there is no Santa Claus was completely unnecessary. Why put it in? It wasn't entertaining or clever, just cringe-worthy for parents, and spoke volumes about Columbus and Spielberg.
B. on March 13, 2014:
I saw this when I was 5 or 6 years old. I remember being terrified when in the dark for a long time - I was scared they might be behind the couch. It didn't help that my mom told me "it's not a big deal, it's just a movie geez" said with disdain for my childlike needs....thanks mom.
meghan on August 22, 2013:
You don't even realized how this movie messed my childhood up. Yes, geared towards children... it was shown in my daycare when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was terrified! My Mom had to tell me, "They were puppets," every night! I'll Never forget it! As a 30 year young woman today, I will say....,"Never let your kids watch this!" ... and I don't even have kids!
Skin Deep on June 04, 2013:
Your hub is pretty funny! I was laughing the whole time. I loved that movie as a kid. It is funny, because as you were describing the scenes and why you didn't like them, I was remembering those scenes and loving them all over again. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your perspective on the movie. I just happened to love horror movies, and Gremlins...
Chris Columbus, the screenwriter on the movie, said that he was inspired to write the script while he was living in a small apartment in NYC. It was Christmastime and he couldn't sleep due to a mouse infestation. He could hear them in the walls, and felt like he was being taken over by them.
Then he sat and wrote the script.
Anyway, thanks for the hub, the memories, and the laughs!
Kasey Rubenstein (author) from California on March 16, 2013:
Umm, I didn't say anything about fried chicken, or break dancing. I actually hadn't previously made the connection that I think you're making between the gremlins and African Americans. I was arguing that they are representative of foreign invaders, though I admit you bring up an interesting point just to immediately refute it.
As for your second point, I don't think it's necessary for a character of another race to be played by a white person in order for it to be racist. You said yourself, that would just make it MORE racist.
I realize that many other sci-fi films deal with issues surrounding xenophobia as well, but that doesn't make it any less true of Gremlins.
Barrie on March 15, 2013:
So characters in films shouldn't ever eat fried chicken because its restricted to African Americans only?
If you had Gremlins terrorizing a town in the 80's, break-dancing was a common dance back then.
Also, regarding the Asian man. It would have been WAY more racist if he and his nephew were portrayed by white actors.
I agree it is a gross movie, and very silly considering it's supposed to be a horror film, but to imply that it's racist/xenophobic is a little silly as well. And I am not a denier or racism apologist, I am super quick to judge if a movie really does portray negative racial stereotypes (while we're on the subject of 80's films, Short Circuit anyone?? White actor *Fisher Stevens* portraying a very stereotypical Indian man...)
Also, think of it, what media during the entire Cold War period (Movies, television, etc) was NOT xenophobic in some aspects? Everyone was afraid Russia would shoot nuclear arms at them. Gremlins is in the mid-80's which was still several years before the Cold War ended. Which isn't to say it's right, or was, but you'd be hard pressed to find something that was not during that era. So to say the "whole film is a metaphor for the fear of foreign invaders"... well, um, that's like 90% of sci fi/horror films too (hundreds of space alien invasion films, the Ghoulies movies, I could go on forever). So why this one in particular is singled out here is leaving me scratching my head.
In this instance particular, I think these allegations were just looked at a little too hard.
eleanor-says on August 02, 2012:
I love the film Gremlins as a kid, and i think i'm fine... haha
But this hub did make me laugh - "the whole film is a metaphor for the fear of foreign invaders" - i never picked up on it my self but maybe haha.