Our Daily Trailer: GREMLINS

If you're not watching GREMLINS on Christmas, you're doing Christmas wrong.

When I think of Christmas, I think of gaudily decorated pine trees, steaming mugs of hot cocoa, the feverish unwrapping of presents and crotchety ol' Mrs. Deagle, rocketing up a staircase to her death in Joe Dante's Gremlins. What can I say? I saw Dante's 1984 horror-classic when I was just six years old, and...well, that shit left a mark. When it came time to make my selection for Holiday Horror Week, there really was no other choice.

 Gremlins starts gentle: we meet a cooing Mogwai inside a Chinatown antique store, and then we're whisked away to picturesque Kingston Falls, NY (with Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" blaring pleasantly on the soundtrack), where Christmas is just around the corner. The snow is piling up, the shopping's getting done, and Christmas trees are being purchased. Down at the local bank, a fresh-faced young man by the name of Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is generating some very G-rated sparks with his co-worker, Kate (Phoebe Cates). For its first 10 minutes or so, Gremlins is cheerful, comforting and warm. Then a terrifying old woman (the aforementioned Mrs. Deagle, played by Flo herself, Polly Holliday) bursts into the bank and starts making some not-so-veiled threats about killing Billy's dog.

Yikes.

Gremlins is a horror-comedy, but how many horror-comedies can you think of where the horror gets just as much play as the comedy? They exist, to be sure, but they're few and far between. The truth is, many horror-comedies are happy to use the barest framework of a horror film (a slasher movie, perhaps, or a good ol' fashioned haunted house tale) as the means to deliver a comedy; they only rarely contain genuinely horrific elements. That's because making genuine horror/comedies ain't easy.

But you know who makes it look easy? Joe friggin' Dante. Over and over, Gremlins delivers scenes that walk the horror/comedy tightrope with ease. Many of these moments rank amongst the film's most iconic: Kate telling the story about her father dying in a chimney during an ill-advised Santa-related stunt, the "Do You Hear What I Hear?" fight sequence in the Peltzer living room, the genuinely disgusting sprinkler-death of Stripe during the film's grand finale. You chuckle during these scenes, but you're also sorta unnerved by them. Dante nails it, over and over again.

While we're at it, though, we really should give credit to Chris Columbus, who wrote Gremlins on spec (as a sort of feature-length calling card for future studio work) never expecting that it'd actually get made. Setting the film over the holidays was a stroke of genius, as it only accentuates the film's horror and comedy elements (it also makes for some fantastic visuals, as when the Gremlins leap at Billy's mom out of the Peltzer family Christmas tree, or when one of the Gremlins commandeer and wreak havoc with a snow plow).

I feel like Gremlins is a film many of us have started to take for granted. We've all seen it a million times, we'd all testify to its status as an absolute classic...but when was the last time you actually sat down and watched Gremlins? This being my sort of Christmas movie, I make a point to watch Gremlins every Christmas (just as I make a point to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles every Thanksgiving, or Fletch on my birthday: it's an annual tradition, and it'll go on as long as I'm still kicking). I suggest you do the same. There are very few genuinely awesome holiday films around, and even fewer that are both delightful and able to scar a six-year-old's psyche.

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