I know this is not the normal time of year for a horror movie, but this week was my daughter’s turn to pick for our weekly family movie night, and she wanted to see Gremlins! After some explanation of how scary it would be, she and my son still wanted to watch it, so… just remember the three rules:
I saw this in the movie theater when it came out and I remember my younger brother had to leave early with my dad. Too scary for him! Even at the time, I remember I found something about the movie dissatisfying, and seeing it again as an adult, I believe that thing is that the movie does not know what it wants to be.
At the time, I believe it was marketed as a scary movie appropriate for kids. Notice my parents took my brother and me without a second thought. Steven Spielberg’s name was featured prominently on the movie posters, along with a cute little critter! But there are two or three scenes with real gore, a bizarre creepy story one of the characters gives in the middle (which also mentions there’s no such thing as Santa Claus), plus lots of pretty scary (for kids) scenes. This is not a good kids’ movie.
But neither does it work as a straight scary movie. Too many cute parts, and not nearly enough real thrills for a teen or adult audience. Nope, not a good scary movie.
What I think the movie is really going for is black comedy. A couple unlikable characters meet ironic demises, and that creepy story I mentioned is so over the top I think it’s meant for laughs. Plus, the gremlins themselves are presented as malevolently mischievous, rather than outright evil. But again, having to appeal to kids undercuts the black humor. It can’t show any of the characters as truly despicable, so their deaths feel undeserved. Actually, one of the town’s unlikable characters we meet early on (an ambitious and callous young bank executive) doesn’t show up again later, making me wonder if his death scene was cut to keep the movie rated PG.
In the end, Gremlins is mildly entertaining and well-made, but muddled in tone. Let’s run it through our ranking system.
Story/Plot/Characters–Characters are two-dimensional but do have some thought put into them, dialogue is decent and sometimes even clever, plot is coherent, pacing is effective. (3 points)
Special Effects–A little dated now, but for it’s time quite good, if not state of the art. (1.5 points)
Scariness–Some parts will be scary for kids, but nobody over the age of twelve will blink an eye. (.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–No. Here’s where the tone works against the movie. The cutesy kids parts ruin any tension or atmosphere. (0 points)