I only remember one thing about being in the fourth grade. The sheer torture of having to wait until the June 8 for Gremlins to come to the theater. That last half of the school year was not easy for my parents, because I was consumed with Gremlins. It was all I talked about. It was all I thought about. I would sit in church, dreaming of how the movie would play out, because the trailers were so fucking amazing at not showing the monsters. All I knew was that it was going to be scary and it was rated PG and there wasn't a thing my parents could do to stop me from seeing it. And the best part was that they also knew it. My mom actually went out and bought me a GREMLINS tee shirt, which i promptly wore for two solid months and is well documented in tons of photos from the era. I do believe that once I wore it three days in a row, but I realized my obsession was on the brink of mass hysteria, so I changed clothes. As June 8Th grew near, the pressure started building. Would it be as awesome as my daydreams and nightmares were making me think it was going to be, or would I be another victim in the Hollywood hype machine? There was only one way to find out.
What transpired the evening of June 8, 1984 would go down in the history books of my cinematic adventures and I consider it the grandest night out to a movie EVER! Having prepped myself by reading the kiddie movie novelization (missing tons of scares and the infamous Phoebe Cates Santa story) AND having read the official movie tie-in book (including all the scares and the horrible Santa story), I was well prepared for the movie on opening night. But I could not have even asked for the drama and real life scares that would happen the night I went to see it. This was the first night at PICAYUNE CINEMA FOUR would be opening it's doors and GREMLINS was to be one of the first films to play there. I was PUMPED!!! No more shitty Mississippi Mall theater, which always played a PG movie and a rated R movie and limited my movie going experience on the weekends when films would run for longer than a week. Luckily, TEMPLE OF DOOM was playing, so it satisfied my weekend viewings there. If you were from Picayune, Ms you know all about Mississippi Mall. It consisted of a dirty old department store called Murphy Mart, a greasy spoon diner (where my grandmother worked for years!), a pet store that usually had dead animals in it and a creepy shoe store that my mother refused to go in. It was a lovely place to drop you kids off for two hours, unsupervised. But with the construction of Picayune Cinema Four, old Mississippi Mall was done! This was brand spanking new and cleaned up! It was like movie heaven! Four movies at one time instead of two! Heaven I tell ya!
The film started at 7pm and I was already hounding my mother about our time frame. I wanted to arrive early so I could stare at the marquee for a little while, then get my popcorn and coke and get a seat. Around four o clock that afternoon, the sun disappeared and it started to rain like crazy! Thunder was rolling and lightening was striking all around! I immediately panicked because I just envisioned getting situated and the lights going out. Or worse, a flood! My mother knew she had no way out of taking me to the movies and picking me up, hell or high water. Once we got there, it was madness. The parking lot had not be paved with cement yet and the entire place was a mud hole. People were everywhere! Kids falling down in the mud, cars getting stuck and lots of tears! My mom refused to pull into the mud trap and dropped me off on the road, telling me she would pick me up at later that evening at nine o clock at the same spot. I was not to leave the theater lobby until I saw her car. I climbed out, with rain pelting my face and started my journey through the mud. It was exciting! A grand adventure for sure. I safely made to the box office with mud covering my shoes and ankles. Everyone was in the same condition as I and the once inside the theater it was total chaos. I had never been to a movie that was this busy before. Once I had gone to see ET and it was crazy, but I was with my grandmother. This was something totally different. I had been going to the movies by myself for about a year now, but this was the SHIT!!!
Armed with my concessions, i managed to grab an aisle seat and just waited. Nervously, trying not to eat all my popcorn I scanned the crowd. It was a mixture of little kids with their parents and tons of my school friends older siblings. One stopped by and asked me if I was alone. I replied, "Yes" and she asked me if I wanted to come sit with her friends. I mulled it over and thought why the fuck not? She sat me down right between her and her best friend. Both remarked on my Gremlins shirt. I was the only one with one. I smiled and tried really hard not to be nervous and act like a fresh out of fourth grader. It was not a simple task. Thankfully, the movie started......and my life changed forever.
With thunder booming outside and everyone packed into their seats, I totally forgot that the movie was set during Christmas. Reading it is one thing, but actually seeing snow and Christmas everywhere during the summer made GREMLINS even more fun! Why wait til the holiday season, just release it as a summer movie! No Problem. Then it happened. I fell in love. Pure and simple. Sandwiched between two teen girls, I sat there in awe of Zach Galligan, the hunkiest dreamboat I had ever laid my eyes on.
He instantly became one of my style icons and firmly remains one to this day. From his cut off sweatshirts to his big red puffy winter coat, he looks good the entire length of the movie. Let's not forgot the HOT shirtless scene! WOW! I wish I worked at a bank like Billy Peltzer. I wish I had a VW bug that wouldn't start in the snow! I wish I had a dog that I could take to work with me! What a wonderful life indeed! And if the movie wasn't good enough, we fucking get FLO from Alice. The moment, Miss Deagle graces the screen, you instantly hate her. She yells cars, threatens to kill dogs and openly mocks the poor. What an evil bitch! You know her days are numbered. She is a great villain!
Later that night, Billy is given the gift of the Mogwai and instantly sets out to break all the instructions his father has given him. Like all kids with a new toy, it is only a matter of time before it is damaged. Everything you ever loved or hated about Christmas flashes before the scene, as Joe Dante sets in motion a timeless tale of responsibility and mass consumerism. On a grand level, GREMLINS is a scathing social look at the effects of giving into greed and black Friday sales. On a not so grand scale, it is just a fun movie that sets out to overload you on cuteness then scare the shit out of you. The entire film is painted in overdone holiday decorations. From the poorest side of town to the main street of Kingston Falls, blinking colored lights set the night ablaze in a wash of candy coated, sugar plum fairy dreams, but with brilliant use of product placement (I love Burger King more than McDonald's simply because of this film). The movie is a love letter to monsters, comic books, boy adventurers and Phoebe Cates.
There are so many things to love about GREMLINS, but I am going to stick to just two of my favorite parts. One of my many, many outstanding moments in the film is the monologue by Cates character, Kate Beringer. Billy's co-worker at the bank and main love interest, Kate seems like an angel and she looks like one too!
But she uses her beauty and sweetness as a mask to hide all the pain she feels during Christmas. She hints at it earlier in the movie when she exclaims, "While people are opening their presents, others are opening their wrist. Say you hate Washington's Birthday or Thanksgiving and nobody cares, but say you hate Christmas and you get treated like a leper!" Billy's reaction to this is like most people, he smiles and nods and ask her out on a date! SO ROMANTIC!! She, naturally, agrees! Later in the film when she has been forced to serve the evil gremlins beer and peanuts, she escapes with Billy and Gizmo to the ransacked bank and spill her horrible Christmas secret. What is amazing about this scene, is that it is played completely serious. the first time I saw it, I cried and so did the teen girls I was sandwiched in between at the movies. Later, on repeat viewing, I discovered the magic of this film and became a full on Phoebe Cates lifer! And let's not forget her amazing turn in LACE! And any reason to talk about LACE is fine with me.
Next up, is the scene that changes every one's life when they see it. I like to call it YOUR MOM BATTLES GREMLINS! There are many,many great moms in the movies. JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist, Dee Wallace Stone in Cujo and The Lost Boys, but no one even compares to Frances Lee McCain's portrayal of Lynn Peltzer. See cries while watching It's A Wonderful Life, makes crappy Christmas cookies and will do anything to protect her family and her kitchen! A veteran actor of the stage and screen, Frances makes us believe for five minutes that our mom could take on Gremlins if it came down to it. She embodies every single woman who has had to put up with a nutty husband and a "should be living on his own" son. She went deep with her character and as you watch the sequence of her battling the Gremlins, you feel like it is your own MOM doing it. Seriously, wouldn't it be awesome of your mom fought off Gremlins? This is also the point, when Dante takes it to the next level and shows you just how far he can extend the PG rating. The suspense is overwhelming. You cannot help but cheer as she takes them down one by one and she almost single handily stops the spread of the Gremlins, but that darn STRIPE!!! Let it be stated that Frances Lee McCain should be placed in movie history as BEST MOVIE MOM EVER! She demands applause and rebel rousing as she screams, "GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!!"
Of course the real star of the film is Gizmo. With all of his cooing and singing, there isn't a moment that you just don't want one yourself. Everything that is sweet and wonderful about life and the universe at large is Gizmo. He will be your best friend, you confidant and when push come to shove, he will protect you at any cost. But as with most wonderful things, sometimes you have to be weary of such wonder. It always has a price. A price that is worth it, if you can only follow the rules. But it's hard.
Accidents happen. Water gets spilt. Food eaten after midnight and bright lights shone in their faces. It is bound to happen. The rules are too simple to NOT break. And Gizmo in a Barbie car is TOO SWEET! The scene when he drives past Barney the dog and honks the horn is one of the funniest movie moments in a monster movie.
After the film was over, I was completely spent. The opening night audience was cheering and yelling at the end. I remember the girls I was sitting with, asking me if I liked it and I kept saying, "I loved it! I loved it!" TRUE STORY. As we were leaving, I was caught up in buzz of the exiting crowd. It ranging from "DISGUSTING!" to "BEST MOVIE EVER!" to tears of horror. As I waited in the lobby for the sight of my mother's car to come bounding up through the STILL pouring rain, I thought about how I would spend the rest of the weekend at Picayune Cinema Four. Matinees started tomorrow and they were pretty cheap and I had enough money saved up to do that. And then I started thinking about how to get my hands on my own Gizmo. I finally saw my mom pull up on the side of the street and I have to trample through the mud once again to get to her car. Once inside and on the road home, my Gremlins high was starting to wear off and she asked me did I like it. I instantly started crying and told her it was one of the scariest movies I had ever seen!!! I didn't sleep for two days and I never got to see GREMLINS in the theater again. Thank god for home video!
Decades later I still hold GREMLINS near and dear to my heart. It truly is a timeless masterpiece that captures a moment in American cinema where kids were getting exposed to films that really should have been geared toward adults. I feel so fortunate to be alive and at the right age for Joe Dante's message to actually mean something to me. And as I grew older I realized that many of his interest that he used as reference points in GREMLINS would become fabrics in my life. But Gremlins isn't all fun and games. Gremlins teaches kids some hard truths. But it also teaches you some valuable lessons. Like if you want to get something done, you better be willing to do it yourself or it won't get done. Always be brave. Always be kind. Always listen to others. And always get yourself a Gremlin of some sort! All my life I wanted a little critter to go on adventures with, but my parents refused me this joy.
But now I have my own Gremlin!