31 Monsters in 31 Days: Gremlins

If I’m going to look back fondly on the creatures of my youth it’ll be necessary to revisit Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s 1984 blockbuster GREMLINS, as it was the first scary movie I “survived.” Yes, while li’l Scotty liked his Godzilla movies and Universal monster rallys, he was adverse to anything genuinely scary. (I remember when commercials for HALLOWEEN II sent me fleeing the living room in abject terror, thanks mainly to Carpenter’s original score.) In fact, I can’t even be sure why my mother and aunt took me with them to the theater.

I do recall being very apprehensive at the start of the film, then relaxing once I entered Dante’s Capra-esque world. After the first act I was so absorbed that I forgot I was even scared . . . until those damned cocoons started hatching. I whispered fiercely to my aunt something along the lines of, “We’ve got to get out of here!” only to hear, “We’re staying. We’ll meet you in the lobby.” The nerve!

It wasn’t long until GREMLINS reined me back in, thanks to Dante’s expert balancing of fun and fright. The audience helped too, I think, laughing and hooting as Frances Lee McCain fends off Gremlins in her kitchen; it made the experience less threatening, without compromising the funhouse thrill. When the house lights came up I begged to watch it again, my earlier terror completely discarded.

Although the grown-up me (who jadedly sifts through such cinematic larks as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, COMBAT SHOCK, and ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS) would love to see the original, much darker version that was initially planned–which would’ve featured Gizmo transforming into Stripe, Glynn Turman’s character receiving a faceful of syringes, and the decapitation of Barney the dog–I’m glad Spielberg and company kept the current toned-down incarnation. Maybe I would’ve eased into edgier genre fare with something else, but GREMLINS remains a crucial element of the cinematic being.

Oh, and it also introduced me to Phoebe Cates, which caused me to seek out FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, which caused me to–never mind, I’m rambling now.

(See also: GHOULIES, CRITTERS.)

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