Tag Archives: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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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Throwback Thursday: “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982)

Young people, let me try to explain what it was like for a kid who loved movies in the early 1980’s.

There was no trivia section for the Internet Movie Database.  There was no Internet Movie Database.  There was no goddam Internet.  This meant that information about new movies came mostly from other second-, third- or fourth-graders.  And that was one imperfect grapevine.

Sometimes the information was flat out wrong.  Brad Fisher told me at the beach in the summer of 1980 that Han Solo dies in “The Empire Strikes Back.”  (Yes, “Star Wars” fanatics, I am aware that Harrison Ford wanted the character to die.  Now grow up and watch Ron Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica.”)

Other times, the information was technically accurate, but confusingly articulated.  Such was the account of Jason Huhn, the kid across the street, of Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”  (That was a 1979 movie, but I wasn’t even allowed to watch the bowdlerized version that was on television a few years later.)  “Its head is like a tube.”  Jason told me thoughtfully.  “It has, like, two mouths.  It has a mouth, and then a mouth inside a mouth.”

Finally, the other boys’ reviews were occasionally just too spoiler-heavy.  In 1984, I had the entire rope-bridge scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” memorized in detail before I got to see the movie myself.  (Maddeningly, most of Mr. Greiner’s sixth grade class had seen it before I did, and Jason Girnius was particularly exuberant in recounting its climactic fight.)

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was something of a different animal.  None of the kids in the neighborhood could figure that one out.

“Michael isn’t in it!”  That was the buzz.  To a boy in the 1982, Michael Myers was an icon on par with “Friday the 13th’s” Jason.  (Leatherface was a bit before our time, and Freddy Krueger and Pinhead hadn’t arrived in theaters just yet.)  Even those of us who weren’t allowed to watch the movies had heard all about him.  It utterly confused us that that a “Halloween” movie could be made in which he was absent.

It … looked pretty scary, at least.  Its poster and tagline suggested that young trick-or-treaters would be victimized instead of teenagers old enough to babysit, so that was more frightening to a young boy.  (As an adult today, I suggest that this movie absolutely did not turn out to be a classic horror film, despite the pretty terrifying basic plot device revealed at the end.)

Today a simple Google search would inform us of John Carpenter’s plans — an anthology series in which every subsequent “Halloween” sequel was a standalone horror story with the holiday as a theme.  (I think I’d question the wisdom of that even as a kid; the studio wisely resurrected the slasher four years later.)

But the gradeschool grapevine was not so informed.  There weren’t even any tentative hypotheses among the kids on my street.  I think we just shrugged it off and returned to talking about “Star Wars.”  We just figured that adults sometimes did some really puzzling, really stupid things.  That’s a belief I still hold today.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I occasionally engender that belief in others.

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