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Favorite Movie Series: Ryan Thompson on Gremlins

Today’s guest poster Ryan Thompson is an old friend of The Movie Advocate. He's operations administrator and and occasional on-air contributor at NPR member station KUNC, and our go-to guy for pop culture ephemera. Ryan knows more about reality television than is appropriate for one single human being. Here's Ryan...

I hate Christmas movies. From Christmas Vacation to A Christmas Story; Miracle on 34th Street to, yes, even A Muppet Christmas Carol - the schmaltz inherent to the holiday season infects even the darkest filmic tidings. I’m a pessimist at heart, and if Bill Murray, the acerbic savant par excellence could not avoid the sickness at the end of the otherwise pitch-black Christmas Carol riff Scrooged, what chance do the rest of us have? This is why, lo these 26 years after its release, Gremlins has remained the most gleefully mean-spirited Christmas movie of all time. It is the finest example of a genre that was born and died in the mid-1980s: the family horror movie.

There’s no need for me to recount the plot of Gremlins here – you’ve either seen it a million trillion times or you have no interest in it at all – but everything you need to know about it can be summed up in this brilliant clip.

Coming near the end of the movie, Phoebe Cates’ (as Kate, the apple-cheeked girl-next-door) rightly infamous “why I hate Christmas” monologue is a tour-de-force that stops the movie dead in its tracks. It is the sickest joke in a movie full of sick jokes, and captures the silly-queasy-horrifying-heartfelt tone in just a few clipped sentences. It’s important to note who she’s talking to – not Billy, her idiotic, mystical rule-breaking coworker and love interest who is responsible for this whole mess to begin with; but Gizmo, the Chinese guinea pig demon (which is, I believe, the correct translation for “Mogwai”) that’s riding around in her backpack. Gizmo’s reaction shot after Kate says “…and instead they pulled out my father” sets a standard by which all other movie puppets should be judged. Notice how that clip didn’t even have any gremlins in it? My very favorite moment in my very favorite movie is perhaps the quietest moment in the entire film. This was perhaps my first big Bus Stop Moment – the childhood equivalent to the Water Cooler Moment – and Gremlins is full of ‘em. Billy’s mom getting attacked in her kitchen, a theater full of gremlins singing along to “Hi-Ho” from Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, the prima-gremlin Spike using a chainsaw to try and kill Billy during the department store climax… Seriously, I could go on all day.

Gremlins is one of the few “nostalgia films”, (defined as films beloved by me as a child that I will always stop for when they air on cable), that still holds up to my adult critiques. The special effects are always better than I think they are going to be, the jokes funnier, the scares scarier. I was a skinny, nerdy, Queer-with-a-capitol-Q, Spielberg enthusiast with less than zero friends to my name as a kid, and my VHS copy of Gremlins that my dad gave me for my tenth birthday became, over the years, my default Friday night. I distinctly remember my first day of fifth grade, when each student had to introduce ourselves using our name and a fact about ourselves – I said “My name is Ryan Thompson, and my favorite actress is Phoebe Cates.” – in retrospect this was not the best way to go.

In the new age of social networking, choosing your “favorite movie” is kind of a big deal – exactly what does it say about me if my favorite movie is Amelie? Or The Royal Tennenbaums? Or, God forbid, Fight Club? But I feel comfortable with Gremlins. I feel like it sends the right message – that while I may secretly long for anarchy and chaos to reign, it’s sometimes nicer just to curl up next to the Christmas tree with your pet mogwai that your dad stole from an old Chinese guy, and watch TV while the whole town goes to hell.


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