It’s a classic, it’s horror meets comedy, and it’s one of the most beloved movies of the 1980s. But is Gremlins a Christmas movie really?
Gremlins came out in 1984, was directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Speilberg. It told the story of the small Mogwai which can turn into an evil Gremlin if not handled properly. As much as it seems like a horror movie, it’s actually a Christmas movie.
Gremlins was a big deal to me as a kid. It was one of those movies that felt a little off-limits because we knew it would be scary. It was also something of a pop-culture sensation, and Gizmo was a beloved character.
There remains some confusion as to what type of movie this really is. Once you take a deeper look at it, you can see why Gremlins is a Christmas movie, and allow me to show you why.
A Quick Recap On Gremlins
So you have an inventor who is looking for a gift for his son. He stumbles upon a store that features the bizarre Mogwai creature. He buys the gift for his boy but it comes with a few stipulations. And you better know them, in case you don’t:
- Don’t get it wet
- Keep it away from light
- And whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight
So we meet little Gizmo and things are going pretty well, until one night when he gets wet and starts to spawn off some other little Gizmo’s. There is now a bunch of cute little creatures running around that sound A LOT like Ewoks…
But these things are smarter than you think – especially their little leader, Stripe. They trick Billy into feeding them after midnight allowing them to metamorphize from cacoons to full-on Gremlins. They then go on to terrorize the town while systematically getting killed off – including a very graphic blender and microwave death.
The majority of the Gremlins are blown away while watching Snow White in a movie theatre and it leads to a final showdown with Stripe in a department store. Gizmo helps comes to the rescue exposing Stripe to an immense amount of light which ends up melting him.
Gizmo is picked up by the owner of the store as it’s thought that the Western world is not ready for the existence of the Mogwai.
Here are some of the main performers not including Barney the dog played by a dog named “Mushroom”. OK, let’s meet our cast!
- Billy Peltzer is played by Zach Galligan
- Kate Beringer is played by 80s icon Phoebe Cates
- Randall Peltzer is played by Hoyt Axton (he’s also appeared on The Dukes of Hazzard, Diff’rnt Strokes, and co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis
- Mrs. Ruby Deagle played by Polly Holliday (she was Flo from ‘Alice’ and you might remember her as Gloria from Mrs. Doubtfire)
- Lynn Peltzer was played by Frances Lee McCain (she was Stella Baines – Lorraine’s mother – in Back to the Future which I did not know until just this very minute)
- Roy Hanson was played by Glynn Turman – he was also a doomed scientist in Super 8, was on T.J. Hooker, Matlock, and Murder, She Wrote.
- Gerald Hopkins was played by Judge Reinhold (My name is Judge…) who also starred in Fastimes at Ridgemont High with Phoebe Cates
- A young Corey Feldman played Pete Fountaine – he was a lot younger than Billy because the character of Billy was supposed to be younger too until they went in a different direction.
The Production & Success Of Gremlins
Even though Gremlins is a Christmas movie, it came out on June 8, 1984. The idea originated with writer of the movie, Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter, etc) A friend of his mentioned that ever since Jaws, there hadn’t been a great monster movie made.
Columbus tells the story to Alec Baldwin on the Here’s The Thing Podcast about living in a loft in New York that had mice running around:
“ I would sleep with my hand draped over the bed and the mice would go by in the middle of the night and I thought these tiny creatures are frightening. So I spent the next six weeks writing this script called Gremlins”.
Columbus wasn’t a notable filmmaker yet so he wrote it on his own accord with no specific interest in it – it was just something he thought would be interesting. He sent it to his agent who liked it but thought it was a little dark. It was sent to about 50 producers and studio executives.
And they all passed on it.
This is where a little serendipity comes into play. Somehow, in 1982, a script for Gremlins had got as far as the desk of the secretary for Steven Spielberg. Speilberg was on his way out and happened to notice the script sitting there. He thought that the title seemed interesting, picked it up, read it that weekend and then decided he wanted to make it. Columbus was flown out to meet Speilberg and Gremlins was on its way.
Gremlins was, of course, a huge hit and made $153 million on a budget of only $11 million. It also opened on one of the best weekends in history alongside Ghostbusters. It’s also interesting because it came out during an interesting time in movies. Gremlins is violent black-comedy, but kids and parents were easily drawn in with how cute Gizmo and the Mogwai were.
But this movie would be heavily criticized for how gory and violent it was.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the movie that kickstarted the era of PG-13 as it was also considered too violent for a standard PG rating. Gremlins was grouped in with this too and within 2 months of it coming out, we had the new PG-13 rating (this is a very interesting story that you should check out in my blog all about it).
Some Gremlins Fun Facts:
We’ve got a lot of Christmas stuff to get to, but there are some very interesting production notes that happened over the course of the movie. Here are a few:
- The dog actually jumped when Gizmo pops out of the basket and they had to hold him back in the scene.
- The microwave scene was changed as the original version was much gorier if you can imagine that
- Gizmo was voiced by germaphobe Howie Mandell
- Steven Spielberg makes a cameo at the trade show in the guy riding by in the scooter
- The movie theatre displays the titles “A Boys Life” and “Watch the Skies” which were the working titles for E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Jonathan Banks aka Mike from Breaking Bad plays the younger of the two cops
- Two of the voices of the Gremlins were done by Peter Cullen and Frank Welker aka Optimus Prime and Megatron from Transformers (check out my blog all about Transformers and also my one on all the amazing work Frank Welker did in the 80s)
- The Gremlin that shoots at kate hits a picture of a WWII B17 bomber which were called “Gremlins”
So that’s the quick rundown, but what makes Gremlin’s a Christmas movie? I’m glad you asked:
The Obvious: Gremlins Is a Christmas Movie As It’s Set At Christmas
This seems the most blatant, but it goes a bit deeper. Gremlins takes place in the town of Kingston Falls in the days leading up to Christmas – including Christmas Eve. It features everything that you would expect in a Christmas movie from snow, music, carolers, decorations, toys (check out the stuffed E.T. and Smurfs which were some of the hot toys of that Christmas year).
There is constant talk about the season and the very basic premise of the movie is about a father buying his son a gift. The colors and images are all explicitly Christmas-based and even the Gremlins themselves are green with red eyes. When they hatch out of their cocoons, the cocoons also glow both green and red.
We also get the inclusion of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, possibly the definitive Christmas movie.
The Christmas Music
The entire movie is filled with Christmas music. Even the score of the movie is Christmas themed. The classic Christmas carol Silent Night is woven into the musical score of the movie and creates a specific mood and atmosphere that sets the tone of the film – specifically near the end.
You also here this Christmas tone in the soundtrack, especially in the opening theme called “Fanfare in C/The Shop/The Little One. “Late for Work” has a decidedly Home Alone type Christmas sense to it. “The Gift” has a specific carol sense to it and “The Lab/Old Times” even features church bells and magical Christmas sounds throughout.
The movie itself opens with Christmas (Baby please come home) by Darlene Love. Besides that, we also hear Do You Hear What I Hear and other caroling songs including Silent Night.
Gremlins Is All About The Dangers Of Commercialism At The Holidays
This is probably the main point to focus on when asking if Gremlins is a Christmas movie. Again, the basic plot of the movie is about a father buying a present for his son. But it’s not just a random present. Billy’s father has been so absent with his travels for business that he has been pretty neglected.
Randall realizes this too and is trying to find the greatest gift he can give him. But affection and love can’t be bought with commercial goods – one of the big problems that have emerged with Christmas over the decades. The Gremlins also represent the chaos that happens when consumerism takes over the heart and soul of a holiday.
They are running amuck the same way capitalism and commercialism have during the season. The Gremlins represent the damage that can be done when the focus shifts from joy, love, peace, and family and into greed and want. You don’t need to buy the latest and greatest gift to be a good parent or show someone you love them.
The Gremlins spreading out of control as the movie progresses represent how our greed and commercialism at Christmas have also spread out of control. I think it’s why Silent Night plays through the score in those last parts of the movie – people need to slow things down and quiet their hearts compared to the chaos the season has evolved into.
One last part about this: Gremlins is also a comedy at its heart – albeit a dark comedy, and you might wonder why the movie takes the bizarre turn it does. The Gremlins are now caroling, dressing up for the movies, drinking in a bar, and doing things like the Flashdance dance (the song featured during this scene is called “Mega Madness” and was actually performed by the Micheal Sembello who wrote the original “Maniac” from Flashdance).
Anyhoo, I believe the Gremlins take on their absurd/cartoony personas as a way to show how absurd everything during the holidays has become. From people breaking bones to get a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1983, to the madness of Black Friday today, It’s all a bit ludicrous.
The Movie, & The Gremlins, Represent How Christmas Is A Difficult Time For Many People
Christmas is great. From its true meaning, up to the candy canes and mistletoe, there’s a lot that’s joyous and wonderful about it. But it’s not that way for everyone. Christmas can represent a difficult time of year and not everything is shiny and bright.
The movie and the Gremlins themselves represent the opposite to the many movies that force Christmas cheer down your throat. Sometimes it is ok to be upset and realize that not every Christmas can be perfect. It’s also ok to not felt caught up in the joy of the season. Some people feel anything but joy even though everything around them is snowy and white. And Gremlins reminds us of that.
This is all summed up perfectly by Kate’s speech about how she really found out there isn’t a Santa Claus, and it doesn’t get much darker than that.
Gremlins exist as not an “anti-Christmas” movie, but one that shows the opposite side of the coin. It’s a helpful reminder that there are struggles, anguish, and strife for many people during the holidays.
So how do you sum this up? Is Gremlins a Christmas movie, A Christmas horror movie, a dark comedy, or just an awesome movie from the 80s? I believe it’s all of these, but it is, at its core, primarily a Christmas movie. The setting, style, tone, and message are all about the Christmas season.
It shares a few lessons on the dangers of consumerism, and not having to feel forced to act a certain way. Christmas can be whatever you make it, so make it a good one.
P.S. If you love Gremlins, Christmas, and gifts, check out some sweet Gremlins items I saw on Amazon. I’m an Amazon affiliate so buying through these links helps me out!