Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Hoyt Axton, Keye Luke, Scott Brady, Arnie Moore, Corey Feldman, Harry Carey Jr., Polly Holliday, Belinda Balaski, Judge Reinhold, Chuck Jones, Kenny Davis, Frances Lee McCain, Nicky Katt, Jonathan Banks, Frank Welker (voice), Howie Mandel (voice)
Written by: Chris Columbus
Directed by: Joe Dante
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 106
Date: 08/06/1984

Gremlins (1984)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feeding After Midnight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Taking a second look back at Joe Dante's career, I realize he was actually one of the most interesting American directors working. An animator at heart, he always begins with a Spielbergian vision of something wondrous and exciting, something so awesome it takes your breath away. But due to the irresponsibility and selfishness of human beings, this wonderful thing turns quickly into a nightmarish vision of mayhem, darker and more dangerous than anything Steven Spielberg himself could dream of (at least not until his most recent films A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report).

With this new take on Dante, I re-watched some of his essential films, all recently released on DVD, starting with Gremlins (1984). I found myself gleefully enjoying it on a whole new level, far beyond the simple Hollywood entertainment it was marketed as. By far Dante's most popular movie, Gremlins benefited from Spielberg's clout as producer and the similarity to his blockbuster E.T. from two years earlier. But in truth Gremlins could not have been more different.

A small town bank worker named Billy (Zach Galligan) receives a cuddly, otherworldly creature named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) for his birthday. Gizmo comes with three ominous rules: don't expose him to bright light, don't get him wet and don't feed him after midnight. This last was especially slippery -- isn't it always after midnight? Of course, the stupid humans break every rule, and an army of slimy green gremlins, led by the evil Stripe, takes over the wintry town. To top things off, Billy's girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) tells the gruesome story of why she doesn't like Christmas that sent many viewers over the edge.

Dante painted Gremlins with film references and personal touches by casting animator Chuck Jones in a cameo and character actor Dick Miller in supporting role, and began a close collaboration with many of his cast and crew who would return to work with him again and again. (See also: Gremlins 2.)

The 2008 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment DVD is bargain priced, and comes with two commentary tracks, one by Dante and the actors, the other by Dante and the technicians. (Unlike many of his contemporaries, he's equally at home with both.) Other extras include deleted scenes. In 2019, Warner Bros. released a 4K edition that also includes a Blu-ray and a digital copy. The Blu-ray includes the two earlier commentary tracks, a behind-the-scenes featurette, the deleted scenes (with and without commentary), a photo gallery, and trailers. (The Blu-ray is apparently the same one that was issued in 2009.) The new 4K disc only includes the commentary tracks. But this is a classic, so it's always recommended.

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