Toy Commercial Tuesday: Gizmo From Gremlins

After watching the commercial the first time, I wasn’t fully convinced that any of it was real. I mean, sure, the 80s were corny, but a full-on theme song about the rules from Gremlins (one of the greatest films of all time)? That seemed like too much to be believed (as did the fact that the plush looked like the love child of a Chihuahua and a dust bunny), but according to the least amount of research possible, it all appears to be legit.

Okay, so it’s real and I guess it would have been pretty cool if you were a kid back when the movie came out, but I definitely prefer the plush Gizmo that NECA made a few years back. In addition to actually resembling the character, it doesn’t look like the kind of thing your cheap uncle found in the parking lot of the mall after a rain storm.

Added bonus: after three viewings, the song really grows on you. Can we get a full version, dance remix and then a stripped-down folk cover please?

Joe Dante Is Awesome

the burbs poster Joe Dante is the kind of director who was wildly influential on me as a kid, though I only realized it recently. After enjoying The Hole so much I decided to look at his filmography and saw that he made a ton of movies I loved as a kid that are still awesome to this day.

Of course I knew that he did Gremlins and Gremlins 2, which were probably my first monster movies, but I didn’t know he was the brain behind a movie like Innerspace which I haven’t seen in probably two decades, but loved when I was younger. I also had no idea that he helmed five episodes of Eerie, Indiana, another show that had a huge impact on me. Long before I was into actual horror, I was sitting on my living room floor staring at this wonderfully weird show with eyes wide open.  And, man, how good was Matinee? I’ve only seen that movie, but now that I actually know who William Castle is, I need to revisit it.

With that kind of revisiting mentality, I did what was natural and opened up my unwieldy DVD binder and got flipping. First I watched another Dante classic from my childhood that introduced me to all kinds of horror, suspense and haunted house tropes while also playing with them and turning them on their heads. Of course, I’m talking about The ‘Burbs, the director’s 1989 suburban horror suspense comedy starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun and Henry Gibson.

Here’s the gist. Hanks’ Ray is on vacation and wants to just relax in his neighborhood, but his wife Carol (Fisher) wants to go to a lake. Of course, that winds up being the least of Ray’s problems as his paranoid neighbors Art (Ducommun) and Rumsfield (Dern) start convincing him that their new neighbors, the creepy Klopeks, might have killed their other neighbor. All of this leads Ray and his pals down the road of madness (though funny madness) as they become obsessed with finding out where the potential bodies were buried.

I saw this movie long before things like Rear Window or House On Haunted Hill which do get borrowed from, at least in tone if not direct plot points. Dante’s able to weave actual scary elements along with cartoonish comedic bits that make this film not only unique, but a joy to watch. There are still parts of the film that get in my head and make my skin crawl a bit and then the next moment I’m laughing. And a lot of that comes from Dante and company taking the mundane — having weird neighbors — and making it feel epic. It helps that Hanks is so good at conveying that regular guy normality as well as the pushed-to-the-limits nature of the character, something he displayed in The Money Pit too.

While watching the movie I also realized that I’ve wanted to live on a street like this my whole life, one where neighbors actually talked to each other and would join forces in this kind of insane endeavor (or watch from the sidelines like Feldman’s Ricky does).

piranha_poster From The ‘Burbs, I immediately went to Piranha, a film I saw for the first time thanks to the excellent Shout Factory offering from a few years back. My second viewing brought to mind many of the praises I had the first time around, most of which revolve around the fact that what was probably originally intended as a straight-up Jaws rip off, turned out to be a lot more than that. I don’t think I’d bust out the word masterpiece to describe this movie, but I do think Dante did a whole lot of awesome work with something that could have been just another cash grab.

One of the elements of Dante’s work that I appreciate is the variety of the material. I haven’t seen his first full-length movie Hollywood Boulevard, but he went from a drama to a fairly low budget horror flick like Piranha and then onto what I assumed was the larger budget The Howling. From there he did everything from the Gremlins flick to Masters Of Horror episodes and Looney Tunes: Back In Action to Hawaii Five-O episodes.

I’m pretty excited to check out Boulevard and the more kid-oriented Explorers, both of which are on Netflix Instant. I’d also really like to revisit The Howling ( usually I don’t like werewolf movies), Matinee and also Innerspace. I’ve even heard a few good things about Small Soldiers, so let’s add that to the must-see list too.

Anyone who can keep making quality films for 40 years deserves all the accolades in the world, especially when he or she can make a series of movies and shows with all different kinds of themes and settings. Those are the kinds of artists that inspire me and the ones I hope to be like.

The Great Gremlins Goof

I tried getting over it, but I just can’t. As regular readers will hopefully remember, I’m a big fan of both Gremlins movies. I even watched both of them leading into Christmas again this year. Heck, I watched Gremlins twice because I realized after I finished it the first time that director Joe Dante and company did a commentary track that I had never listened to before, which spawned me to watch the sequel with a similar commentary.

So, when I saw that Mondo would be selling the above, awesome Gremlins poster drawn by Ken Taylor I was pretty excited, I even mentioned it in my increasingly sporadic Casting Internets section last week. In an effort to get my hands on one of the posters–I liked the above basic one better than the variant–I started following Mondo on Twitter and kept my eyes peeled. In fact, I only left my computer for about 10-15 minutes to take a shower. And guess what? That’s when the poster went on sale. Blam, I missed it.

Now, I don’t usually get too excited about these things. The reality of the situation is that I don’t actually have space to put up cool posters like this. I don’t currently have an office and as cool as this poster is, it wouldn’t really fit in our living room. I’ve been cutting way down on the amount of geeky stuff I purchase mostly because of space and financial restrictions, but I figured this poster would be worth it to buy now and hold on to for that fateful day when I actually have an office or man cave.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. By the time I got back to my computer it had sold out. It was about 10 minutes. The Gremlins 2 poster was still available, but it just didn’t strike me as much as the other one. I know I should be over it by now. I had a wonderful Christmas with my wife and daughter–her first. I’ve had some great time off with family and friends. And yet, it still gnaws at me a bit. I made the mistake of looking them up on ebay yesterday and they’re going for hundreds of dollars. Ugh. Well hopefully, this post will help get the disappointment out of my system. I mean, there’s way bigger things in this world to worry about than a poster, right?

Mini Monsters: Gremlins 2 The New Batch (1990)

I love Gremlins 2. I probably shouldn’t but I do. It’s nowhere near as good as the original movie with it’s amazing mix of comedy, humor and horror, but it holds a special place in my heart. I can’t remember if I saw it in the theaters when I was 7 and it hit theaters. I have a feeling I did, but can’t say for sure. Anyway, the sequel is much more over the top and sillier, but it’s also filled with lots of slapsticky site gags and all kinds of mutated Gremlins running around causing all kinds of havoc which makes it perfect for kids. They even had trading cards, an NES game and I would assume toys, though not a full roll out like you might expect. But I can see where that kid focus would put older viewers off. Had I watched this movie for the first time as an adult without any of the nostalgia or love, like I did with, say, Lost Boys, I’m fairly certain I would have scoffed my way through the movie instead of smiling like a damn fool the whole time like I did when I watched it the other day.

Even having said that, I’d say that there are elements to the movie that might be fun for viewers of all kinds. Like the first flick, there’s humor here, but this time around it feels more in the same vein as Naked Gun than something more understated. I also appreciate that the movie has a sense of humor about itself. Not only do you have some control room guys making fun of the three rules from the first movie, but there’s even an appearance by Leonard Maltin as a critic where he slags the movie only to get attacked by Gremlins. You also can’t discount how good the special effects are. Gizmo and the Gremlins look so rad, especially the Bat and Spider ones. Man, they’re creepy.

One of the benefits of watching the movie on DVD–which I bought a while back, but can’t remember if I’ve actually watched all the way through–was seeing the original “film break” scene in the movie complete with woman complaining about the movie being too scary for kids and Hulk Hogan threatening the Gremlins to let the movie start back up. See, on the VHS version and, I believe, the one they showed on TV, there was a “tape break” instead. I couldn’t tell you what the differences all are, but I like that they went back to the original on the DVD version (I wonder if the VHS scene is on the DVD, I should check).

Anyway, I’m not really sure what else to say about the flick. There were some pretty lame parts like the very roundabout way they took to get Gizmo wet (malfunctioning drinking fountain) and the fact that Phoebe Cates had something bad happen to her on Lincoln’s Birthday too. But with the humor, going in with affection and the ass kicking special effects, I think Gremlins 2 has a lot to offer the right kind of viewer.

Christmas Stories: Gremlins (1984)

I haven’t been doing as many Christmas Stories this year because, frankly, I burned through pretty much all of the regular Christmas movies we watch in last year’s posts. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more great Christmas themed movies, TV specials and CDs out there for me to talk about, like Gremlins for instance. Joe Dante’s classic is one of those on-a-pedestal movies that thankfully holds up from my childhood. I remember watching this flick on TV whenever it would come on and was a huge fan of the sequel, which doesn’t hold up nearly as well, but was clearly kid candy with all the different kinds of Gremlins. When I think about Gremlins, I don’t think about it as a a horror movie or a Christmas movie or a sci-fi flick, it’s just Gremlins, this perfect, offbeat amalgamation of all those elements.

It had been a while since I watched the movie all the way through. I think I started it last Christmas but fell asleep or something and didn’t get back to finishing, but man, I was incredibly impressed this time through. The movie is SO GOOD and uses the holiday setting as well if not better than John Carpenter did with Halloween. From the story and performances to the special effects, which still look awesome even 26 years later, this movie has it all.

I mentioned above that the movie is offbeat, which is something I really noticed on this most recent viewing. Even though there’s so many horror elements from Billy’s mom kicking Gremlin ass in her kitchen to the asshole cops who won’t believe our hero because his story sounds crazy, I never think of it as just a horror movie. I think that’s because the music is so whimsical at times. You also can’t discount the absolute cuteness of Gizmo, both of which turn even gory moments like Billy’s mom shoving a Gremlin into the microwave where it explodes, seem not as gross as a similar scene in a different movie. I’ve read the Chris Columbus’ original draft of the movie was a lot darker and more violent, but I’m really glad that Dante reined it in a little bit to make it something unique: a Christmas-themed horror movie that the whole family can enjoy.

And how great is the cast in this movie? Zach Galligan nails the regular guy hero role. I know Fast Times fans will disagree with me, but Phoebe Cates will always be the adorable yet deeply damaged Kate. The way she tells the story about her dad is insane. It’s a ridiculous story, but she sells it like Billy’s dad wishes he could sell, well, anything. Speaking of which, Hoyt Axton and Francis Lee McCain as his parents are so great. She the long suffering wife of a dream and he the dreamer trying to make things work. This movie introduced me to the amazing Dick Miller and possibly Corey Feldman as well (can’t remember if I saw this, Goonies or The Burbs first). After poking around the IMDb page I also discovered that Transformers voice actors Frank Welker and Peter Cullen helped voice the Mogwai and Gremlins to go along with Howie Mandel as Gizmo (which I knew).

Speaking of firsts, I believe this is the first movie with rules that I remember, which might make it one of the earliest bits of geek memorization in my life. Then again, who doesn’t know that you can’t feed a Mogwai after midnight, get them wet or put them in the sunlight? I wonder if learning those rules and wondering who created them and thinking about a place where Mogwai are just running all over the place living their lives like squirrels helped fuel my imagination as a kid. Even just thinking about that last bit paints a picture of an epic battle in my head between two sides of the same coin with the Mogwai trying to defeat the Gremlins, many of which are their siblings and family members. It’s pretty intense.

While Gremlins might not be what you think of when you think of a traditional holiday movie, it contains all the hallmarks. You’ve got lots of decorations, a family overcoming adversity, a man trying to follow his dreams and people realizing how important other people are in their lives. Now onto the sequel!

News Of The Day: Tom Whalen’s Gremlins 3G Entry

The Autumn Society will be doing a show called Three G or Triple G (or possibly 3G) at Gallery1988 in the near future which will be focusing on Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Goonies, three of the greatest movies of all time. You can check out several of the pieces posted on the blog here and here. Today Tom Whalen, an artist I’ve gone on the record as being a big fan of, revealed his Gremlins piece for the show. Check out all the pieces, they look awesome.