Sam on Gremlins

DAD: Well, now you’ve seen Gremlins.hitcounter
SAM: Yay! That means I never have to see it again!

So, oddly enough, the child (7) who loves Revenge of the Sith and Temple of Doom, who thrills to Jurassic Park and Zathura, strongly disliked Gremlins. He didn’t mind it being scary, and he didn’t mind it being, essentially, a dirty trick. What bothered him was, oddly, the violence.

Not the violence against humans, mind you — he disliked the violence against the gremlins. From the moment the mother takes on the gremlins in the kitchen, blending one, microwaving another, he was disgusted and horrified. Not by the movie taking a sudden left turn into the horror genre, but by the mother killing creatures who were, despite their faults, her son’s pets.

DAD: But they’re trying to kill her, dude!
SAM: It doesn’t matter! You can’t kill them even if they’re evil monsters!

When Gremlins opened in 1984, I was working in a twin cinema that showed it on both screens — one showing every hour, for 24 hours, for the entire first weekend. It was quite an experience to see how different audiences would react to the movie. For the matinee audiences, there was a point in the movie in every screening where parents and their children would go dashing for the exits — and strangely, it was always the children leading the adults, saying things like “Mommy, take me away from this movie!” The 3am audiences, on the other hand, saw it for what it was — a sly, genre-bending comedy, a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking.

The mid-80s Spielberg productions Gremlins, Goonies and Roger Rabbit were all marketed as childrens’ movies and all contain mountains of profanity and important story points relating to suicide, alcoholism, sex, gunplay, drug use and birth defects. What struck me about Gremlins today was its sourness and brutality, aspects that never seemed apparent to me until I was watching it with my 7-year-old son, who generally enjoys both scary movies and violent movies (which he prefers to refer to as “actiony” movies). Even the mega-brutal Temple of Doom has a lighter tone and goofier spirit than Gremlins.

SAM: Did Steven Spielberg work on this movie?
DAD: Yeah, this is one of his movies.
SAM: Boy, he really likes that weird, ugly violence, doesn’t he?
DAD: Gosh — does he? I guess I’ve never really thought about him that way. (Or, rather, I’ve never heard anyone complain about it before.) But you know, when this movie, Gremlins, came out, parents were really angry about it. Because they all took their really little kids to see it, thinking “Hey, it’s Steven Spielberg, he made E.T.!
SAM: Yeah, and he also made the, you know, the melting faces and the guy getting his heart pulled out of his body and the guy dissolving into a skeleton…

God knows what he’s going to think of Saving Private Ryan.


34 Responses to “Sam on Gremlins”
  1. planettom says:

    You gonna try to get him to watch GREMLINS 2 (Which I actually really like, more so than the first one)?

    • Todd says:

      It’s definitely much more overtly a comedy, but I doubt he’ll be interested in seeing it any time soon.

    • curt_holman says:

      A friend and I still like to quote ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch,’ especially the automated, “macho” voice of Clamp Tower, which says things like “Mister, welcome to the MEN’S room!” and “Have a POWERFUL day!”

      • planettom says:

        I like when the building catches on fire, and the automated voice says something along the lines of, “Fire! Man’s friend, but also his enemy! Please head to the nearest exit!”

        • curt_holman says:

          I looked it up:

          Building Announcement: Fire: The Untamed Element, Oldest of Man’s Mysteries, Giver of warmth, Destroyer of forests, right now *this* building is on fire.
          Woman In Corridor: What?
          Building Announcement: Yes! The building is on fire! Leave the building! Enact the Age Old drama of Self-Preservation!

          The scene in the first Gremlins when the mom kills the Gremlins in the kitchen is my favorite part of that movie.

          • memento_mori says:

            Re: I looked it up:

            I love Gremlins 2.

            “You make a place for things. Things come.”

            • mikeyed says:

              Re: I looked it up:

              I never realized other people liked that movie… I just haven’t encountered others with the same enthusiasm for it. I’ve loved that movie ever since my grandma taped it off HBO for us.

          • Todd says:

            Re: I looked it up:

            “The scene in the first Gremlins when the mom kills the Gremlins in the kitchen is my favorite part of that movie.”

            When that scene came along, Sam did the age-old horror-movie response. “No! Don’t go up there! Why is she going up there? Turn around and leave the house!”

            Then, for good measure, “Hel-lo? Lady in the movie? Listen to me, I’m talking to you!”

          • Re: I looked it up:

            That announcement cracks me up every time.

  2. stormwyvern says:

    Your son and I now have something in common: we’ve both just seen “Gremlins” for the first time. Of course, I’m nearly thirty and missed the movie’s original release due to being too easily frightened for my parents to risk it. In hindsight, I think they were right, as I wouldn’t have had the emotional distance and movie experience to know that hero, love interest and family = safe, everyone else = expendable, African-American science teacher = dead. I liked certain parts of the movie, but plot-wise, it’s clearly a mess.

    I’d like to hear your take on Love Interest’s story about her dead Santa dad. Is that supposed to be funny or sad? The beat totally baffled me and I really felt neither sympathy nor amusement.

    • planettom says:

      Well, much of the movie’s humor is rather mean-spirited and malicious. Also, keep in mind that the backlash of parents taking their kids to this and TEMPLE OF DOOM are what caused the PG-13 rating to come into existence.

      But there’s a real payoff in GREMLINS 2, where Love Interest (who, incidentally, is Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline’s wife and memorable to many from FAST TIMES AT RICHMONT HIGH) reveals she also has a horrible childhood memory from President’s Day. This time around, knowing how uncomfortable that Santa scene was in the first movie, it’s definitely funny, with the implication that, had there been a GREMLINS 3, she would probably have dredged up with terrible reminiscence about Arbor Day…

    • T

      Spielberg REALLY didn’t want that scene in the movie, nor did the Warner Brothers executives, but Joe Dante felt it was completely integral to the film and threatened to walk if it was cut. It’s such a weird scene!

  3. autodidactic says:

    that weird, ugly violence

    Sam’s got a point. I bet Spielberg saw a dead body when he was young. You know, like Rob Reiner or something.

    • piehead says:

      Re: that weird, ugly violence

      Oddly, we just watched that movie this weekend, my wife for the first time.

    • perich says:

      Re: that weird, ugly violence

      like Rob Reiner or something

      I KNEW he was a doppleganger!

      • autodidactic says:

        Re: that weird, ugly violence

        Like Rob Reiner did. Christ, you can totally tell I wrote that half awake. 😛

        • Todd says:

          Re: that weird, ugly violence

          For a second there I thought you were saying that Rob Reiner on All in the Family would be mistaken by the young Spielberg for a dead body. I figured there was a joke in there somewhere but I couldn’t think of what it might be.

          • autodidactic says:

            Re: that weird, ugly violence

            Oh god, now I sound totally nuts.

            *deep breath*

            I’d always heard that the inspiration behind Stand By Me was that Rob Reiner saw a dead body as a kid, and I was trying to make a half-joke and now it’s so completely tanked I think I’ll go hide behind the chips and salsa.

            • Todd says:

              Re: that weird, ugly violence

              Oh don’t worry I finally got the reference, it just took me a beat or so.

  4. jbacardi says:

    Heh. We saw Gremlins in its theatrical run, without my son, who was 2 when it came out. A year or so later, we bought him a stuffed Gizmo doll, and he seemed to really like it…until he actually got to see the movie. After that, he wanted no part of anything to do with it- he was terrified of Stripe, and I guess he thought that the stuffed Gizmo would change somehow.

    We had a similar experience with E.T.; one of my son’s baby toys was a little plastic E.T., which he played with quite often. When the film was re-released a few years later, we took him to see it (his first indoor film) and he was fine until the scene early on in which Elliott and his alien friend first meet- Elliott screams, E.T. screams, and my son started screaming…until we took him out of the theatre and back home.

    Of course, he’s 26 now and likes both films. But THANKS A LOT, Mr. Spielberg, for SCARING MY KID!

    • bobmungovan says:

      I was terrified as a kid the first time I saw E.T., as well. It was during the first theatrical run, and it was exactly as you described: “Elliott screams, E.T. screams, and [I] started screaming.” I would have been 9 years old at the time.

      I remember my mother removing me from the theater, calming me down, then going to watch the rest of the movie.

  5. gillan says:

    You know, Sam’s analysis has made me realize that a lot of the instances of upsetting movie violence from my childhood were Spielberg movies. Pretty much exactly the ones he mentioned.

  6. mr_noy says:

    I’m just guessing but I think part of the reason why Sam had such a strong reaction to seeing the Gremlins killed is that unlike faceless, nameless Stormtroopers or battle droids the Gremlins have, if not fully developed characters, at least recognizable personalities – some are even given names (although I don’t think their names are mentioned in the actual film.)

    While Stripe is portrayed as psychotic the other Gremlins seem, by comparison, like a bunch of mischievous kids who’ve gotten way out of hand and need to be disciplined; sent to their room perhaps, but not necessarily shot, burned, microwaved, pureed, etc. Giving the Gremlins names and personalities makes it harder for us to enjoy their ignominious ends. As you mentioned, Sam has no problem with the Star Wars films but had the Geonosians displayed any recognizably human characteristics or memorable personality traits would we be so nonchalant as the Jedi slice through them by the thousands?

  7. popebuck1 says:

    So, just out of curiosity, which scene was the tipping point that made children in the audience drag their parents toward the exits?

    I have a theory, but I won’t say anything in case I’m wrong.

    • Todd says:

      The moment Spike jumps into the pool at the YMCA. Every showing, without exception, that was the point that the kids pushed the “eject” button.

  8. When are you getting to last night’s Venture Bros.?

  9. kornleaf says:

    at least spielberg isn’t as violent and gory as gibson movies….

  10. Anonymous says:

    What about Joe Dante…

    I think there’s a missing point in all those comments on Gremlins…and it’s the director himself, Joe Dante.
    Of course it’s a “Steven Spielberg presents” movie but it’s first of all a Joe Dante movie, and I think most of the “dirty” spirit of the movie comes from him. And God, I love Dante’s movies and I think he’s one of the most underrated director in Hollywood. And that’s just such a shame that he hasn’t directed a movie for so long.
    Anyway, I know that Spielberg have been keen in few of his movies to show us his dark side (hello Temple of Doom…) but I think that on this one, it is really the result of Dante’s dark humor that we can appreciate during that great movie that is Gremlins (truly one of my favorite childhood’s movie…).

  11. Anonymous says:

    How old was Sam when he saw his first movie

    Hi Todd,

    Reading about your movie nights with your son Sam, I was wandering what was the first movie that he watched and how old was he then?
    As a father of a little boy myself, I’m quite curious about your advice on the question.

    Thanks a lot