Rich would like you to remember: a Gremlin is not just for Christmas.
According to Bruce Willis, “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.” Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with you there, Bruce – it’s set during the festive season, John McClane travelling home for Christmas is key to the plot, and now he has a machine gun: “Ho ho ho”. Okay, Hans Gruber and his cronies don’t go round singing carols on a crazed mulled wine binge, but Christmas runs through Nakatomi Plaza like sage and onion through a turkey. The same can be said of Gremlins. Like Die Hard, Joe Dante’s anarchic comedy-horror was released in the summer months and does little to celebrate peace on Earth and good will to all men. Yet it overflows with Christmas spirit. The creature that starts all the carnage, the implausibly endearing Mogwai, is a gift; the most Christmassy movie of them all, It’s A Wonderful Life, plays throughout (Kingston Falls is a blatant nod to Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s classic); and the most emotional scene comes when Phoebe Cates’ Kate reveals why she hates Christmas.
It turns out her dad broke his neck when climbing down the chimney impersonating Santa Claus – and his body wasn’t found for weeks. Warner Bros executives were sceptical about the scene, but director Dante fought to keep it in. “To me it encapsulated the whole tone of the movie,” he said. “This is a story that sounds funny if someone else tells it, but if it happened to you it wouldn’t be funny at all.”
That mix of darkness and comedy is why Gremlins has always been my favourite Christmas movie – it features menace, but never gets too nasty. It’s family-friendly horror, scares through the filter of executive producer Steven Spielberg, and it’s significantly toned down from future Harry Potter director Chris Columbus’s script drafts. But even without the head of the hero’s mum bouncing down the stairs and Gremlins eating the customers in McDonald’s, Gremlins exists on the more extreme end of the Amblin spectrum, like ET’s naughty cousin.
And there are few cinematic bogeymen more memorable than the Gremlins themselves. They hog all the best moments, whether it’s having a close encounter with a microwave, becoming the stuff of bar staff nightmares, or indulging in a mass singalong to Snow White. In another film they’d probably be genuinely sadistic, bloodthirsty maniacs but in Dante’s hands they’re just mischievous, high-spirited children – albeit with a few psychotic tendencies. A Gremlin or a kid on Christmas morning? I challenge you to tell the difference...
Don’t expose Rich to sunlight or water, and never feed him after midnight.