Horror films, even a comedic kids creature flick like Gremlins 2, need to have a monster. Sometimes the monsters are human, as in Psycho and Cannibal Holocaust. Sometimes it is an animal, as in Cujo and Jaws. Or it could be aliens, a ghost, vampires, a haunted snowman, or even the devil himself. The point is that the tension and conflict at the heart of every horror film comes from some version of the monstrous. In 1984’s Gremlins, the monsters were the gremlins themselves. The same is true of Gremlins 2. However, the film also sprinkles in a few bad guys who initially seem like they could emerge as monsters in their own right. But, none of these human bad guys are given the full commitment and power of a true monster.
Tag: Joe Dante
Joe Dante’s distinctly American genre career has focused on the horror of suburbia: Gremlins, Small Soldiers, The Hole and, even in title, The ‘Burbs all concern what can happen in our very neighborhood—be it supernatural, science fiction, or just plain ol’ crazy neighbors. Not to be confused with the primarily 80s and 90s staple sub-genre of the Domestic Thriller (such as Poison Ivy or The Babysitter), Dante’s Suburbia Horror almost always positions families, rather than a sole individual, as victim or perpetrator, at the center of the terror. At the center of The ‘Burbs is a family…or two.
Keep them away from sunlight. Don’t get them wet. Whatever you do, don’t feed them after midnight. The rules that keep the cute, toy-like creatures in GREMLINS from transforming into reptilian pranksters were always meant to be broken. The question is, why?
“I hate cul-de-sacs. There’s only one way out, and the people are kind of weird.”
THE ‘BURBS makes me anxious. Leaving aside the fact that I saw it far too young (either my babysitter or my parents were under the impression that it was a loveable Tom Hanks comedy; my sister and I both lost sleep because of their mistake) the film still leaves me twitching in my seat. It is funny, but never light, and honestly creepy. The film’s isolation and insulation are the major sources for my angst and the genuine sources for the horror in THE ‘BURBS.
Gremlins – 1984 – dir. Joe Dante
Sporting Steven Spielberg as an executive producer and released under the auspices of his Amblin Entertainment production company, Gremlins attempts the tricky feat of fusing the cuddly sentiment of Spielberg’s E.T. with the monster movie mayhem of Jaws. It just about succeeds on that count, offering a solid mix of gross outs and laughs, and in the wildly imitative world of 1980s horror films, that meant that there was soon a rash of similar tiny-monster flicks, from the tolerable knockoff Critters to the dire Ghoulies and the laughable Hobgoblins. But what makes Gremlins such an interesting film to revisit is not so much its (admittedly transitory) influence as it is the tensions that pervade a film formed from such contradictory impulses. Much like 1982’s iconic Poltergeist, which was produced by Spielberg but directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur Tobe Hooper, Gremlins was helmed by a horror movie veteran in Joe Dante, late of Piranha, The Howling, and Twilight Zone: The Movie. What results is a strange fusion of a big ‘80s adventure movie and something a bit spikier.