Just this past August, I participated in Forgotten Films’ 1984-themed blog-a-thon, and I couldn’t resist picking Gremlins as a forgotten favorite of mine to write about. It’s a weird, quirky gem of a film that shouldn’t be as deviously fun as it is. For letting its freak flag fly, it goes down in pop culture history as a weird genre mash-up of creature-horror and crazy-comedy and defies easily definable demographics. In fact, it helped give rise to the PG-13 rating. But is it still as fun as it used to be?
Before I answer that, I have to bring up one important bit of news–last week, it was announced that the Gremlins remake–no one knew they needed–has found its writer. My response was: But why is this happening? Out of all the films that receive the makeover treatment of modernized special effects, raunchier humor, or gorier horror, not many are necessary and even fewer actually succeed, whether they were necessary or not. To me, it’s acceptable for a film to be remade only if it falls under very specific circumstances:
The original wasn’t very good to begin with (so a kind of ‘let’s try this again’ mentality is employed). Although, I can’t think of any examples of this theory in practice; we usually do remake things that are already beloved with the intention of marketing them to new generations of audiences and to incite nostalgia in fans of the original. But the original Gremlins easily satisfies both of these aims on its own merits, I would argue.
Or if it’s something within our culture that could benefit in some way from being reimagined and thereby supplementing our reverence for the original–maybe 21 Jump Street‘s movie incarnation is an example of this or even the Coen Brothers’ iteration of True Grit or the extra bloody but super fun Evil Dead reboot from 2013. These are all good-quality, successful remakes that can stand proudly in a kind of canon with their predecessors. But I don’t know that a Gremlins remake could ever supplement the original in quite the same way. Maybe that’s just the nostalgic, purist, skeptic in me talking. And even if this remake does happen and is miraculously, surprisingly good, my point still stands–Gremlins IS still fun, and it IS still great, and it does not need a remake. Here are the main reasons why:
Some film plots can transcend time period in the sense that their stories are universal and can be updated and redone to fit into any era. Sometimes, remakes can even manage to maintain the same feel and vibe as the original, and if not, they’ll update the feel and vibe into one more current. Gremlins, as a film text, is one that is so deeply rooted in the 1980s, at least to me, and yet it works today just as it is, kitschy and campy in a way that a do-over could never capture.
The mayhem of this movie begins when Billy is given a strange creature as a present, a little gremlin by the name of Gizmo. He is odd and adorable but comes with three random rules to abide by: don’t feed him after midnight, don’t get him wet, and no bright lights. Of course all three rules are broken, and that’s where the film gets simultaneously more hilarious and, in a way, more creepy. The green, reptilian, “evil” gremlins are mischievous trouble-makers that have an absolute blast wreaking havoc in Billy’s town (around Christmas-time, no less). Their antics are genuinely funny even by today’s standards–even if it is because they are so purely, unabashedly silly, and that silliness is precisely what I’m afraid the newer film might lose if it attempts to translate that spirit to today’s standards. These creatures are, as I said, quite creepy but in an over-the-top kind of way. I love the sort of crude puppetry of the gremlins, the fact that CGI wasn’t a thing yet. As funny or as scary as the creatures are, there’s a dual sense of them feeling real, palpable, and tangible as physical beings that can do harm. CGI would have actually made them seem too real, too polished, and the whole campy aesthetic would crumble and collapse.
Somehow the film works today even if just as an example of some kind of ’80s movie mystique in which campiness reigned in horror and silliness ruled in comedy. The film weaves the two tones together effortlessly and entertainingly, and it’s still a wild ride of a film experience today. The garishness of the scenario would seem too streamlined and seamless in an updated version when all we really want still is a hilarious hot mess of punk-rock puppets behaving badly. Again, this is an ’80s movie tried and true, but it is one that can certainly still be enjoyed today, if for no other reason than the outlandishness of the plot combined with the cheesy effects used to carry the plot. Even while we may notice those things and say, we can do that better now, it really doesn’t need to be improved upon if it works to tell the story and entertain us, which it does, time and time again. I still think this movie is unique, and I really can’t imagine it ever not being fun.