Christmas is a holiday that is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that it keeps popping up in every facet of our culture. Not only is it a time for gross capitalism and spending, but also a time for holiday jingles, TV specials and stories told to children about a fat man who used to be a Turkish saint/pagan fertility figure before settling down to lead a modest life of having a workforce consisting only of fictional mythological creatures churn out what must be an endless wave of toys and gadgets only to embark on a yearly flight around the world in a sled drawn by flying reindeer, one of whom happens to be luminally endowed in the nasal department. But such an important holiday is also one of the favourite times for the film industry. Countless movies have been made either directly related to Christmas or set during Christmas. Choosing a favourite from among them is no easy task. One must remember the gleefully gothic Nightmare Before Christmas, a work of art in stop-motion animation, while there is also something to be said of the comic antics of Ernest Saves Christmas (not much, though). It's A Wonderful Life is, of course, a classic, and there's even something for those who enjoy things that are terrible: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians. But none of these movies measure up to the movie that I personally think is the greatest Christmas-themed movie of all time.
Yes, Gremlins, that 1984 horror-comedy where a bunch of nasty scaley creatures terrorize a small town during the holiday season. The story is a classic take on the "a boy and his dog" formula, except in this case the dog is a terrifyingly cute animatronic puppet called a mogwai (Chinese for "evil spirit" and also a pretty good Scottish indie band) that the boy's (whose name happens to be Billy) father purchases for him as an early Christmas present for a sagely Chinese man. The mogwai, who is given the name Gizmo, comes with a set of rules: don't get him wet, keep him away from bright lights (sunlight will kill him) and never, ever feed him after midnight.
As the story begins unfolding Gizmo accidentally gets wet, causing him to multiply. The creatures that are thus born look like Gizmo, but are a bit more mischievous. While Billy doesn't see the potential danger in the creatures at first they eventually trick him into feeding them after midnight, causing them to form scaly cocoons that eventually hatch into the titular gremlins. Hilarity ensues, and by hilarity I mean wholesale chaos and mayhem with a soundtrack by Danny Elfman.
While the movie is actually quite dark (and nearly traumatized me for life on account of having seen it at the tender age of six) it actually has a pretty Christmasy feel to it. The cold-hearted and miserly Ruby Deagle, the most unsympathetic character in the entire movie (and that is saying a lot when you consider all the destruction that the gremlins cause) gets her comeuppance and even the Holiday-hating Kate (played by the lovely Phoebe Cates) learns to appreciate Christmas in spite of the fact that she's got a past trauma associated with the season (hilariously spoofed in the sequel to the movie).
The movie ends with the sagely old Chinese man retrieving Gizmo from the family after all the destruction caused by the gremlins and even here the movie manages to slip in a covertly Christmasy message: Mr. Wing chastises the family for their carelessness, also remarking that all their misfortunes were caused by their desire to control and own that which they shouldn't have. What better way to end a movie than with an anti-capitalist pro-environmentalist message?
All in all, if you're looking to revisit one movie from the past this holiday season, I would heartily recommend that it be Gremlins. The sequel, titled Gremlins 2: The New Batch is not as Christmasy as the first, but it is more comedic and irreverent and definitely worth seeing if you enjoy the film. With that, I leave you with a set of follow-up discussion questions about the movie for those who have seen it:
- The main moral of the story in Gremlins is "Do not take gifts from sagely old Chinese dudes." Discuss.
- Gremlins: pro-Christmas or anti-Christmas?
- Gizmo: cutest thing ever or the cutest thing ever?
Off to watch it for a millionth time, Patrik Renholm