(director:Joe Dante; screenwriter: Chris Columbus; cinematographer: John Hora; editor: Tina Hirsch; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer),  Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer),  Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Peltzer), Polly Holliday (Mrs. Ruby Deagle), Judge Reinhold (Gerald), Corey Feldman (Pete Fountaine), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Arnie Moore (Alex), Scott Brady (Sheriff Frank), Harry Carey Jr. (Mr. Anderson), Chuck Jones (Mr. Jones), John Louie (Chinese Boy), Keye Luke (Grandfather), (Gizmo voiced by Howie Mandel), (Stripe, Mogwai, Gremlins voiced by Frank Welker), (Rockin’ Rick y Rialto voiced by Don Steele); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Michael Finnell: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment; 1984)

“A wholesome Christmas family flick that veers over to the dark side.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joe Dante (“Piranha”/”Innerspace”) calls his humorous horror film, that was executive produced by Steven Spielberg,  an ”E.T. with teeth.” Its cute gremlins are small furry creatures called mogwais, who become nasty when wet and tampered with against the rules it comes with. The juvenile horror film was written in a chilling but spirited way by Chris Columbus so it can be enjoyed by both adults and children. The film proved to be a commercial success, and its popularity and acclaim has grown over the years.. It’s a wholesome Christmas family flick that veers over to the dark side.

Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a normal 20-something living in a small town with his housewife mom, Lynn (Frances Lee McCain), and eccentric unsuccessful inventor father, Rand (Hoyt Axton), and has a job in the bank as a clerk. The kid receives an exotic birthday present during Christmas from his dad. It was bought in an out of the way shop in Chinatown, and sold to him by the owner’s grandson (John Louie) who had no permission to sell it from hid grandfather (Keye Luke). It’s a cute fuzzy bear-like small thing he calls Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel). Nobody in Billy’s neighborhood is familiar with a mogwai, but there are instructions in the box that says if you break the rules, you get lots of baby ones that aren’t so cuddly.

Here are the rules: (1) It
must be kept out of the bright light, especially sunlight, which can kill it; (2) It must be kept away from water; and (3) It must not, under any circumstances, be fed after midnight.

Of course Billy screws up and breaks all the rules. The creatures, believe it or not, change into cannibalistic slimy green monsters (gremlins) and invade the town (which is no idealistic “It’s A Wonderful Life” town). With the crisis afoot, Billy gets help from his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates). How they resolve things by saving their beloved town from this midget army is a hoot.

This was the animator Joe Dante’s best film. I liked it better than
Spielberg’s cuddly E.T..

It might be the darkest mainstream Christmas film ever. Of note, there are several cameos from characters like Dick Miller, the animator Chuck Jones, and stars like Scott Brady and
Harry Carey Jr.. There are also plenty of in-jokes, movie references to excite the movie buffs and superior special effects (no CGIs) and masterful puppetry.