As a self-professed failed movie viewer, GREMLINS is one of those movies that I had always pushed off. Part of this has to do with people’s mixed feelings on the movie as it was most definitely a certain type of horror that only certain crowds could enjoy. The other part had more to do with my own childhood memories of the film. I remember the creature being featured on the VHS cover (back when Hollywood Video and Blockbuster still carried VHS), looking all cuddly and adorable. The adorable critter Gizmo was a sight to see but did little to convince the adolescent me just dipping my toes into horror into renting the film and taking it home. Now, for its 35th anniversary, GREMLINS is getting the 4K treatment and I guessed that now would be as good a time as any to finally take that plunge and watch the film. Needless to say, it’s about what I expected in terms of campy horror goodness with adorable critters I want to squeeze.
The film follows a gadget salesman named Randall (Hoyt Axton) who is looking for a special gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan) and finds one at a store in Chinatown. Coming across the most adorable little critter, Randall wants to purchase the creature to take home to his son. However, the shopkeeper is not so keen on selling it to the salesman. He eventually acquiesces but gives Randall a warning. The creature called the “mogwai” cannot be exposed to bright light, cannot be doused with water, and absolutely cannot be fed after midnight. The consequences aren’t really touched upon but, given that this is a horror movie, the consequences are hinted at being dastardly at this point. Randall brings the creature home to Billy and both decide to name the cutie Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel). However, it’s not long until the break the rules that the shopkeeper gave them and shenanigans start to happen in abundance. A gang of gremlins sprouts up and basically attack the town on Christmas Eve, resulting in arguably one of the better Christmas movies out there.
I’ll be honest. The plot of GREMLINS is definitely not its strongest suit. But one needs to take into consideration the viewing audience that the film was geared towards (I’m assuming teenagers because they watched these types of movies in abundance back in the ’80s), but also the fact that it’s a 35-year old movie. The movie definitely hasn’t aged well and comes across as very dated, which is unfortunate. However, despite the silliness of the plot, it is fun and ridiculous and entertains with the silliness that has been injected by writer Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and handled by director Joe Dante (The Howling). And, come on. We all know that we really will just come back to re-watch this movie for Gizmo and the rest of the creatures in all of their practical, puppetry glory.
GREMLINS‘ adaptation to the 4K format for its 35th anniversary is definitely nice to look at. The transition from the film, that was originally shot on 33 mm and released on 1:85 flat ratio, to the 4K HDR 10 updated scan helps to bring out the smaller details we would have otherwise missed out on. There is a slight graininess to the film but, at most, it’s really only moderately grainy in some places. It’s definitely not super distracting. The color transitions seem brighter, with only some slight graying effect on the blacks and shadows. I’d be curious to see what would have happened if production had used less smoke machines to see if that would have had an impact on why the blacks look the way they do in this 4K scan. I also wonder if the colors would have popped better in a daytime setting because they seem wasted at times on this particular film. But then that would have changed the intensity of the plot most likely given that midnight feeding rule.
Overall, after my initial viewing of the film, I’d say that GREMLINS is definitely a product of its time, but it’s got a lot of heart. While the plot is fairly typical for the ’80s realm of critter-based horror, you can’t help but fall in love with the adorable Gizmo and want to keep it from harm. And, really, we can’t fault the critter for its owners not following the rules, you know? Really, the events of this film could have been avoided if people had listened. In terms of the 4K, GREMLINS benefits from the transition to the 4K format, but it is a little bit easier to see the flaws of the coloring in the process due to how the film was dressed and shot. It’s a minor quibble, but worth mentioning.
GREMLINS is now available on 4K UHD Combo Pack and Digital today. Bring home your own little mogwai. Just remember the three rules and you’ll be fine.