Eccentric inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is selling his wares when he finds a curious shop run by an elderly Chinese man. Randall is taken with the old man's pet, a Mogwai, and buys it as a present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). But there are three things to remember about a Mogwai: they can't stand bright light, they must never go near water, and most importantly of all, they must never be fed after midnight. So guess what happens?
Gremlins turned out to be a surprise hit in 1984, and is still recalled fondly by those who saw it at the time it was released. It was written by Chris Columbus, whose streak of nastiness and crass humour found its ideal outlet in this tale of, not the traditional one big monster, but lots of little horrors. Director Joe Dante, as usual, peppers the film with references to the movies, comics and pop culture of his youth, and the creatures featured here fit alongside these allusions perfectly.
As the chaos hits small town America, it is clear that what makes the Gremlins so appalling is actually their complete lack of respect for anything decent, summed up by their attitude to the festive season: Santa is ambushed, carols are ruined, Christmas trees become traps - not even Johnny Mathis is sacred. Add this to their bad habits - heavy drinking, heavy smoking, gambling, murdering innocent people - and it's mainly their sick sense of humour that makes them oddly appealling. Their leader even blows his nose on the curtains.
Chris Walas' excellent effects and puppets make believable both the Mogwai and their wicked alter egos, even if the film has ended up like some kind of evil Muppet show by the end, as the monsters enjoy Snow White on the big screen. But the gleeful Gremlins' bad taste is nothing compared to the reason Phoebe Cates gives for hating Christmas - John Waters would be proud.
All in all, a perfect antidote to all the Yuletide sentimentality that usually infests movies set during the season to be jolly. And if there's one thing the Gremlins are, it's jolly. Music by Jerry Goldsmith, including the very catchy theme. But how does Randall earn a living if none of his inventions work properly? Watch for: Chuck Jones in the bar. Followed by a barmy sequel; and Dante revisited much the same territory with the pleasing Small Soldiers.
American director of science fiction and horror, a former critic who got his big break from Roger Corman directing Hollywood Boulevard. Piranha was next, and he had big hits with The Howling and Gremlins. But his less successful films can be as interesting: Explorers didn't do as well as he had hoped, but illustrated the love of pop culture that is apparent in all his work.