Dearest family, it’s that wonderful time of year again and as lovers of all things jingly and sweet, we’re now bathed in nearly complete Christmas nirvana (if only Nirvana had made a Christmas album). We’re so close to the 25th of December that we are now bound to soaking up the eggnog of life, laughing at snowmen, sliding down hills to the point of injury, secretly loathing the elf-on-the-ever-loving-shelf and perhaps, our favorite celebration of all, streaming a constant flow of Holiday movies. Big movies, small movies, his movies, her movies, more movies, more movies, all in a row.
I have elected this X-mas routine religiously for more than 30 years, and for the past 10 years, technology and the birth of my three children have exponentially inflated the process. I’ve begun to bore of many of the classic movies once treasured, not that I don’t still put them on the screen, but that they’ve become an annoying background noise, nevermore a family feature. I’ve even dug up some rarities to fill my empty heart: The Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, The Star Wars Holiday Special, and anything odd from the golden age of claymation. Predictably, my kids laughed at the desperation of my plight, but as twilight faded each night last year, I silently wondered what movie might save my Christmas dreams. Then it hit me, late this past January, like a Dickens character on Christmas morning.
Gremlins, to paraphrase Mr. Putterman, was the solution. Gremlins, mother-humping Gremlins! The answer had been right in front of my eyes the whole time, shining like a bright light, bright light. Not only was director Joe Dante’s 1984 ode to campy horror of the 1950’s a favorite movie of my youth, it was a holiday movie not yet exploited by the eating disorder of my December appetite. Holiday movie, you ask? Gremlins? Abso-Gizmo-lutely. Let me explain the mirth of it all.
If you’re not like me, you haven’t seen Gremlins for years, likely because the memory of its silly nature is too much for you and your Grinch-like maturities. By now you’ve surely banished the doldrums of revisiting nostalgia to a sentence more suited to its priority–the waning years of your fruitful retirement. Allow me to help you with that, Mr. Scrooge, before it’s too late.
Gremlins is a one of a kind film (if we can forget the awful sequel) that opens with a mysterious shop in China Town, as half-baked inventor, Randall Peltzer, attempts to purchase a rare species of intelligent mammal(?), or “mogwai,” a furry cat/dog-plush-toy-looking-thing named Gizmo, from the 12-year-old grandson of an aging, Confucius-style stereotype, the shopkeeper. Wise Grandfather immediately says no because the Mogwai is “not for sale” and when grandson disobediently takes the $200 from Mr. Peltzer in the back alley to save his family’s store from eviction and because Mr. Peltzer just needed that “perfect” holiday gift for his twenty-something son still living at home, the transaction was made with a caveat, three simple rules that could each have disastrous consequences if broken: Don’t get Gizmo wet, don’t expose him to sunlight, and never, ever feed him after midnight. Am I the only one that smells Christmas here? Joy to the Whole Wide Mogwai World? I’m not the first, so look at Clipd.’s story about 15 movies not likely considered Christmas movies, and hear me out.
The Christmas-Monster mayhem then ensues musically over the opening credits of Gremlins with Darlene Love’s neo-classic, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” carrying us through a bird’s eye view of Kingston Falls, an all-American snow covered town, too small to be a city but big enough to be its own kingdom, in the days leading up to the yearly holiday. We meet our story’s protagonist, William “Billy” Peltzer, son of inventor Randall, himself a struggling 20-year-old local cartoonist who works at the bank to compensate for his father’s short earnings. His stay at home mom, Lynn Peltzer, carries the weight of her husband’s lack of finance, her son’s commitment to family, and the constant reminder of Randall’s broken inventions throughout the house. We meet Billy’s 10-year-old buddy who hangs out in his room, meet his faithful mutt, Barney, meet his spray paint snow-covered Volkswagen reluctant to start in the cold of Kingston Falls’ mornings, meet his WWII veteran neighbor, displaced and demented Mr. Putterman, who swears against foreign manufacturing, and Mrs. Deagle, the Dickens era villain who controls the bank where Billy works and where so many Kingston Falls natives like he and his family secure their mortgages. Nasty Mrs. Deagle, for added Wicked Witch of the West effect, has a vendetta against old Barney the canine for smashing her snowman lawn ornament, and wants his dog blood in exchange. Gulp. We also meet the object of his affection, Kate, who like him, suffers to survive in this seemingly idyllic yet wage starved town and helps him clip on his tie at work.
There are many more characters and surprises in store for those who may be too young, too old, or too Wall Street to have remembered the plot, but rest assured that mayhem grips the town of Kingston Falls when Confucius’ warnings go unheeded. Gizmo got wet, he made more mogwai, they ate after midnight, Kate admits she hates Santa because her Dad was dressed like him when he accidentally died coming down the chimney, the extra mogwai turned Gremlin and Mr. Putterman’s paranoid WWII fantasies came to violent life, terrorizing the town on what appears to be the eve of Christmas Eve eve. I don’t want to spoil it, but I think you get my blessed point.
Trust that there are Christmas references, Christmas messages, Christmas songs, and Christmas lessons. Poetically, Mrs, Deagle, the unlikely Dickensian character of redemptive hope in this story was not offered forgiveness from the Gremlins, her ghosts of Christmas’ yet to come, but given a one-way trip through the ceiling of her mansion, landing upside down in the snow to her untimely end. The forgiveness was given to Randall, through the efforts of his only son, his wife gone mad with a blender, microwave and butcher knife, by the love of Kate, and by the wisdom of Wise Grandfather, who miraculously tracked down Gizmo in Kingston Falls and returned the would-be Gremlin to safety. Holiday saved. Merry Freaking Christmas. Say goodbye to Charlie Brown and Pee Wee. Hallelujah….and beware feeding pets after midnight.