There are few movies more quintessentially 80’s than “Gremlins” (1984). To this day, I still think it was a strange movie because of its successful juxtaposition of elements.
On the one hand, it was a family film with a sense of wonder and the kind of wholesome sentiments about the American family that you would associate with Steven Spielberg. (I was surprised to discover that though he was executive producer here, “Gremlins” was written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante.) It takes place in a small town on Christmas, and follows a Spielberg-esque, young, good-natured, male protagonist.
On the other hand, the violence and black humor were pretty unexpected for a mainstream blockbuster feature film. (If you’ve seen the movie, you can vividly remember the titular monsters being dispatched by the blender and the microwave, for example — and the murder of an elderly disabled woman is maybe the film’s biggest sight gag.) Even the monsters themselves (which were skillfully rendered in this era of pre-CGI practical effects) were a little too scary for younger kids. It was this movie, along with 1984’s “Indianan Jones and the Temple of Doom,” that led to the MPAA to establish its “PG-13” rating — for films that didn’t quite merit a hard “R,” but were still more intense than a mere “PG rating.”
What’s remarkable to me, though, is that these disparate elements were woven together more or less seamlessly. “Gremlins” isn’t “Casablanca” (1942), but it’s a fairly decent goofball movie that kinda works.
A little trivia — the department store where the heroic Gizmo finally dispatches the villainous Stripe is a Montgomery Ward, which modern audiences would not recognize. The chain went out of business in 2001. (The eponymous online retailer has no relationship to the old brick-and-mortar stores.) I last remember being at a “Ward’s” at Spotsylvania Mall in Virginia in the 1990’s.