4 Reasons Why Gremlins is the Last Movie Your Kids (or Anyone) Should See
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.