Gremlins

Gremlins. Amblin Entertainment 1984.

Before watching the movie:

So, here’s one of those 80s classics I missed. I know the rules of the gremlins, I’ve heard an argument that the change the gremlins undergo is a metaphor for puberty, but I really don’t know all that much about what’s actually in the movie.

Apparently it’s one of the things Spielberg was involved in at least to the point of having his name on it opened doors, but the fact that it’s written by Chris Columbus probably tells me a lot about what to expect.

After watching the movie:

Randall Peltzer, an inventor trying to sell his comically disappointing inventions, visits an antique shop in Chinatown to try to sell something or at least get his son a Christmas present. Finding an adorable furry creature the shopkeeper calls a “Mogwai”, Randall insists on buying it and is refused on the grounds that one is too much responsibility, but the shopkeeper’s grandson secretly sells it to him with the instructions to keep him away from bright light, never get him wet, and never feed him after midnight. Randall takes “Gizmo” home to his son Billy, who cares for him well, until a friend spills a glass of water on him and five new, more mischievous Mogwai spawn off Gizmo’s back. Not long after, the younger Mogwai trick Billy into feeding them late by stopping his clock, and they metamorphose into vicious monsters bent on killing anyone they see, wrecking the town, and generally having a lot of fun.

I never realized Billy would be so old. I expected a child protagonist, and Billy is in his late teens or early 20s, and moreover the principal breadwinner for his family through his job as a low-level peon at the bank thanks to his father being a full-time crackpot inventrepreneur. He is in fact, old enough to have a love interest subplot with his principal companion for the final act, though the nature of his relationship with Kate doesn’t really add much.

What’s really odd though is the inclusion Billy’s dog Barney. Barney is in a position to be a major player in the plot and he’s just kind of there, except for the large chunks of the movie when he’s not even present. I’d say Barney mainly exists for Mrs. Deagle to be awful about, but that doesn’t really go anywhere either. She complains about and makes threats toward Barney until she exits the movie as a casualty of the gremlins’ mayhem. I guess they wanted to show the gremlins kill someone, but really wanted it to be okay for that person to get killed. But it’s not even a kind of poetic justice, so establishing her as being vile enough to deserve to die could’ve been done in much less time.

Orientalism is never a value add, but it’s a fact of older movies. So I’m not exceptionally bothered by the way “they’re from China” explains these fantastical creatures or the stereotypes depicted in the shopkeeper Gizmo came from. What bothers me more is the guy in town who goes on rants about how “foreigners” started putting literal gremlins in our equipment as sabotage in WWII (a superstition that was probably mostly in jest) and are still doing it… for reasons. Which could just be giving voice to prejudice for the sake of local color and setting up another unlikeable victim, except the ending narration lends credence to the rants by specifically tying the Mogwai to those foreigner sabotage gremlins. Sure, the movie calls them gremlins by title and by dialogue, but without that narration, they could just be “mischievous creatures wrecking everything” without any connection to malice from foreign enemies.

A lot of horror movies have comic relief, and aside from the prop comedy of the failed inventions, the humor here is very low-key. It’s called a horror-comedy, but to me it’s just a horror with cute fuzzies. It seems a little confused throughout, but it’s probably just me not getting it.

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Supergirl

Supergirl. Artistry Limited 1989.
Supergirl. Cantharus Productions 1984.

Before watching the movie:

Similar to how the Batman franchise spun off Catwoman, after three Christopher Reeve movies, the Superman franchise spun off Supergirl. However, while Catwoman was basically made because the next proper Batman movie was in development hell, my understanding is that Supergirl was a pure spinoff attempt riding on the success of Superman. While Catwoman is generally considered awful, it was followed by the acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, and I get the sense Supergirl is considered okay but forgettable, and it was followed by Superman IV.

I know exactly what to expect from the plot because this is the introductory movie of a superhero, which has been required to be the rote origin story for around 40 years, if not longer. As for a villain to slot in, I’m not sure what to expect, since I don’t know of Supergirl having any villains that are “hers”. I’m really not that familiar with her at all besides the basics of her relationship with Superman, so maybe I won’t have lore bogging down my enjoyment.

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Red Dawn

Red Dawn. Valkyrie Films 1984.
Red Dawn. Valkyrie Films 1984.

Before watching the movie:

Even in the 80s, as the cold war thawed, open warfare between the US and Soviet Union seemed likely. However, apparently it seemed plausible that a Soviet invasion could be resisted by guerrilla teens, so fear of the red menace was probably eroding.

I’m finding it interesting to track depictions of the Enemy over the decades. I know the 90s had trouble giving up the Soviets as stock villains, but I haven’t previously noticed a shift in how Russia was treated before the breakup. It’s often just a looming shadow of calamity, like an anvil held over one’s head with a fraying rope. Here, however, is a take on what happens when the rope snaps.

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The Woman in Red

The Woman in Red. Orion Pictures Corporation 1984.
The Woman in Red. Orion Pictures Corporation 1984.

Before watching the movie:

This is billed as a comedy, but it sounds like it could be more serious. How many moody dramas follow the dissolution of a marriage because the man had his head turned by a beautiful woman? The summaries point out that he’s happily married at the start, which makes it sound sadder.

On the other hand, a lot of comedies track the beginning of a relationship at the expense of another, and Wilder would do well at the flustered sort of unfaithful man like the type in The Seven Year Itch.

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Top Secret!

Top Secret!. Paramount Pictures 1984.
Top Secret!. Paramount Pictures 1984.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not quite sure what this is. The synopsis I’ve seen about a rock star getting involved in a counter-operation on a Nazi attack on submarines is simply confusing, and I have a hard time picturing Val Kilmer and not someone like Brendan Fraser, but its cult reputation that I’ve very recently stumbled upon is that it’s a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedy of the same caliber as Airplane!. That’s a tall order to fill, since Scary Movie 4 tried and failed to live up to it, and even The Naked Gun franchise eventually let me down (the first one is good, and I look forward to the short-lived TV show it was based on).

Also the presence of cows in boots on all the posters baffles me, but that’s probably intentional.

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Beverly Hills Cop

Beverly Hills Cop. Paramount Pictures 1984.
Beverly Hills Cop. Paramount Pictures 1984.

Before watching the movie:

I’m sure I’ve seen Eddie Murphy in an action movie, but I can’t remember one. Unless Harlem Nights counts as action, and I wouldn’t. So as far as I can recall, this is the first time I’ll really see Eddie Murphy doing “action hero”. It doesn’t seem like a good fit, but I know there were at least two sequels. I could see him doing a straight-up parody, but that’s not what comes to mind here.

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Splash

Splash. Touchstone Pictures 1984.

Before watching the movie:

It’s easy to forget that Tom Hanks is in this movie because he’s overshadowed by two big stories: “Disney creates the Touchstone label to distance its core brand from edgier stuff like Splash“, and “Daryl Hannah is gorgeous”.

I think that before The Little Mermaid, it was a common assumption that mermaids were blonde, but I understand that there was a point when this movie owned the image of what a mermaid looked like to the extent that mermaids were blondes because Madison was a blonde, instead of the other way around.

I expect that 28 years later, this movie will look like a soft PG that you might see on Nickelodeon in the afternoon.

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