A heated conversation ensued the other day after, whilst talking to the most Christmassy man I know (a man who, for the last however many years, has been the local Santa Claus), as to the greatest Christmas film of all time.
He insisted upon Elf, a film which, astonishingly, has yet to make it into one of our VH advent calendars.
I said Gremlins.
What followed was the classic debate as to what makes a “Christmas Film”, as opposed to a film simply set at Christmas. There are obvious contenders in both camps. Elf, clearly, is a Christmas film. There’s Santa, there’s presents, there’s a full-on assault to the senses of all things holly-jolly. Trading Places, meanwhile, is a film simply set at Christmas.
And then there’s Die Hard…
For me, Gremlins is part of the great check-list of Christmas viewing. Admittedly, my list is somewhat eclectic; Nightmare Before Christmas, Love Actually, and, of course, as discussed last year Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.
A unique combination of morality story, blatant commercialism and Cold War propaganda, Joe Dante’s film is one of the most bizarrely iconic films of the utterly iconic Eighties.
The film sees family man and hopeless inventor Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) determined to find the perfect Christmas present for his son, Billy (Zach Galligan). After stumbling across a creepy little store in Chinatown, he unwittingly unleashes hell upon the small town of Kingston Falls when he brings home the seemingly sweet and innocent mogwai, Gizmo.
Three rules: Don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight, and don’t expose them to sunlight.
Accidentally spilling a glass of water on the furry critter, Billy suddenly finds himself the minder of a brood of mischievous furbies who, after sneakily getting themselves fed in the early hours of the morning, transform into demonic little monsters intent only on destruction.
Sure, it’s not exactly Christmassy after the initial gift-giving, and, aside from Billy himself, there doesn’t seem to be a single resident of Kingston Falls who actually likes Christmas; the legendary Dick Miller hates all things non-American (there’s our little Cold War representation for you), Polly Holliday’s Mrs. Deagle is the reincarnation of Bedford Falls’ evil bank manager Potter, and the beautiful Phoebe Cates still steals my heart every year with her retelling of The Year Daddy Never Came Home. But surely that’s the hallmark of a great Christmas movie? Amidst negativity (and what could be worse than little green men destroying your town?), one boy’s determination to have a perfect Christmas wins out in the end.
Add to this the fact that for years after, kids across the globe were clamouring for Gizmo dolls, a craze reinvigorated by the even-more-adorable Gizmo of Gremlins 2. Take that, Turbo Man!
There have been Christmas-themed horror movies since time immemorial, whether it be the genius of Krampus, or the festering festive shite that is the likes of Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night. But what makes Gremlins special is that it has heart. It’s a character-driven family film with set rules and a feel-good moral. And, by the end, even the most anti-holiday Phoebe Cates feels the joy of Christmas in her pretty little heart.
Just look at her… Oh Phoebe… Please come back to movies…
So, yeah. It’s a freakin’ Christmas film, Paul. And it’s a damn sight better than most of the other festive turds out there.
And remember; the next time your air-conditioner goes on the fritz, or your washing machine blows up, or your video recorder conks out, before you call the repairman, turn on all the lights. Check all the closets and cupboards. Look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house…
Merry Christmas from all of us here at VultureHound