Gremlins DVD Review

Every movie has rules. These are generally included to tell you what you need to believe in order to suspend disbelief and enjoy the movie. "Gremlins" probably has one of the more memorable rule sets in movie history and even though it doesn't really stick to them, it's still one of the best things to come out of the 80's.

Randall Peltezer (Hoyt Axton) doesn't know what to buy his son for Christmas until he stumble into a small shop in Chinatown. There he finds one of the most unique animals he's ever seen, a Mogwai. Even after he explains the conditions of owning the own pet, Billy (Zach Galligan) makes a few mistakes and soon the small town is overrun by beer drinking, cookie eating, chainsaw wielding little critters (with a knack for electrical equipment) hell bent on taking out every person who has made the city home.

"Gremlins" is split into two parts. At first the cute factor is almost nauseating and then, as if on cue, the film makes the foreshadowed turn into one of the most viscous PG-rated movies of all time. Still, it never forgets that it's a comedy, which offsets some of the more violent sequences.

A mix of puppetry and animatronics (with a brief scene of stop motion), the special effects are just superb. Their design is decent enough, but once they begin moving, each one of the little green guys takes on a personality. Gizmo, obviously the real star of the movie and the only mogwai not to morph into the deadly stage, gets a lot of screen time and his expressive face goes through every conceivable emotion. Some of the deaths are great as well. You'll never forget where you were the first time you seen a monster get chopped up in a blender or an old woman get thrown out of her house in a motorized chair.

This one does have a few stumbling points. I've never understood why Phoebe Cates tells the story of her father's death. Not only does it seem to come from nowhere (though it is touched upon earlier), but it's dark and depressing as well. Then of course the three rules are broken multiple times. If the gremlins multiply when they either drink water or get wet, why do they have no trouble with beer? Shouldn't the light of the movie theater playing "Snow White" be too bright? Finally and most obviously, if they can't eat after midnight, when can they eat?

Regardless, it's obvious in every frame that Joe Dante and his crew had lots of fun making this one. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot some cameos including producer Steven Spielberg and Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame. In the end, it's hard to ask for more than "Gremlins" hands out. (**** out of *****)

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, the film gets a so-so treatment on DVD. The print has sustained some heavy damage in a few scenes leading to some annoying scratches. The transfer over to DVD has some trouble with compression (especially early on) and grain is distracting in more scenes than it would be acceptable. Clear scenes are, well, just that. Black levels are solid and the color scheme shows through brilliantly. It's not enough to make up for the rest of the problems however. (***)

Remixed into 5.1 for this DVD, this track is almost entirely front-loaded. There is some excellent positional audio in the stereo channels (and it's used a lot) and a few isolated scenes where the rear speakers get some work. Dialogue is clear and you'll be able to make out every line. It's not the most aggressive sounding movie to ever land on the format, but considering the age (20 years now) this is a nice mix. (****)

Leading off the features department are two commentary tracks. First is Joe Dante along with actors Zach Galligan, Dick Miller (who to this day I still refer to as "the guy who got ran over by the snow plow in 'Gremlins'"), Phoebe Cates, and Howie Mandell. You'll learn stories from the set and any improvised scenes. The second focuses on the script and the technical side of things. Dante again takes the lead while Michael Finnell and Chris Walas lend some assistance.

Ten and a half minutes of deleted scenes are available with commentary from Dante along with an optional commentary explanation as to why they were cut. A brief 6-minute promotional featurette from 1984 has some nice behind the scenes footage, but that's the only highlight. The usual production photos along with some very hard to see storyboards (they're way too small) are the final decent feature. Those interested can also see some trailers including one for a theatrical re-release of the film (I don't remember the film ever getting a second run). (****)

Though it's set during Christmas, "Gremlins" is still a horror film making Halloween the best time to pull this one off the shelf. This is definitely a better film than the sequel (which is still a lot of fun), but either way you're getting a great movie. Films like this just don't come along often enough.

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