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Throwback Thursday: “Gremlins” (1984)!

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.

 

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A few thoughts on “The Wolf Man” (1941)

So I finally watched “The Wolf Man” (1941) for the first time a few nights ago, and I indeed had a lot of fun with it.  Sure, it’s tame by today’s standards, and bit corny too, but it was interesting watching Lon Chaney, Jr. for the first time and seeing the granddaddy of all werewolf films.

Here are a few things that jumped out at me while watching the film and reading a bit about it afterward (and, yes, I do realize that most people already knew these things):

  1.  I knew I recognized the senior Talbot — it’s actor Claude Rains, who was none other than Louis in the following year’s “Casablanca.”
  2. Chaney was a big man.  He is almost always both the tallest and broadest character on screen, and for some reason that surprised me.  Maybe it’s because that in the posters and other media I’ve seen, the Wolf Man always seems smaller in comparison to Dracula, Frankenstein or the Phantom of the Opera.  I half expected the diminutive Rains to become the Wolf Man, while Chaney’s character would become the hero who has to protect the girl, etc.
  3. This is weird … but Chaney bears has a strong resemblance to my best friend from early childhood, Shawn — who also grew up to be a big guy like the actor.  It’s uncanny.  It’d be nuts if Shawn were his great grandson, and we just never knew it.
  4. It was a little odd seeing Rains cast as Chaney’s character’s father, as he didn’t seem much older.  Rains was only 17 years older than Chaney.
  5. The old gypsy man is played by Bela Lugosi.
  6. Rains is easily the best actor here, followed by Maria Ouspenskaya as the old gypsy woman.
  7. This seminal film was not the first Universal Pictures werewolf movie.  That would be “Werewolf of London,” which preceded it by six years.  That movie is the one that inspired the 1978 “Werewolves of London” song by Warren Zevon, as well as John Landis’ 1981 masterpiece, “An American Werewolf in London.”
  8. The Wolf Man monster was made famous for a certain onscreen transformation that represented groundbreaking special effects for its time — the gradual transformation of the monster’s face on camera.  But that key effects sequence didn’t appear here in the 1941 original — only in its several sequels.
  9. The movie was released on December 9, 1941, just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

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