Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gremlins: A Tribute To B-Movie Cinema

As die-hard readers of my blog will know, a long time ago I started a poll that asked readers to send in their favorite Dick Miller cameo. Not to my surprise, Gremlins won and I was supposed to do a Gremlins related post but never did. Well, after I got my hands on a VHS copy of Gremlins I can finally say that the poll/article must go on. So here is my reflection of the movie Gremlins.

I already knew that Gremlins pays tribute to the b-movie but I never knew the extent at which it does. Even though I’m sure most us know what the movie is about, I still feel as though I need to address it for the sake of this article. Simply, the film is about a teen named Billy who gets a Mogwai named Gizmo for a pet but accidentally feeds them after midnight, which is a big no-no. On top of that he got water on his Mogwai causing it to multiply. By feeding them after midnight he unwillingly turned them into demonic gremlins that wreck on the small town. Now it’s up to Billy, his girlfriend and Gizmo to stop the Gremlins from killing everybody in effort to have fun.

Right off the bat the plot is pretty much a tribute to every b-movie, sci-fi, horror flick of the early to late 1950s. A picture perfect, Norman Rockwell-like town is overrun by an unruly force and it’s up to the youths of the town to stop the evil. Pick any b-movie from the day and that’s essentially the plot. That’s why I found it funny that both Billy and Gizmo were watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because that’s how half of this movie feels like. Consider this, right after the night they got done watching the pods take over the world in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Mogwai slip into a cocoon like state that looks sort of like the pods in the movie. It’s almost a direct inspiration from the classic Don Siegel film.

Also, lets look at the rest of the plot. Once the shit starts hitting the fan, Billy and his girlfriend try to tell the police what’s going on but they don’t believe him because… well… he’s a kid and who would believe a kid? It sounds just like The Blob of 1958. Sure it also sounds like any other given b-movie from that decade but The Blob really popularized this aspect and made it more famous. I hate to quote Eight Legged Freaks but like Gremlins, it’s also a tribute to giant monster and bug movies.

“No one’s going to believe me, cause I’m a kid, and they never listen to the kid.”

In Gremlins, Billy takes one of the Mogwai that spawned from Gizmo to his science teacher so that he could perform tests on it to see what makes it tick. Although I am not absolutely sure of this but this scene just reminds me of Fiend Without A Face but that’s probably because I always associate a giant killer brain attacking a scientist with Iron Giant. In the movie Iron Giant, Hogarth is watching a sci-fi movie that is a brief little parody of the cheesy sci-fi films of the Atomic Age. Either way, this scene in Gremlins is a tribute.

There are also the little things scattered throughout this film that derives from b-movie cinema. Robbie The Robot from Forbidden Planet makes an appearance at Billy’s dad’s workplace. On the theater marquee the phrase, “Watch The Skies” is plastered to it, which is a direct quote from The Thing From Another World. Billy’s Dad narrates both the beginning and the end of the film, which can be seen as a little homage to War of the Worlds.

Even the actors in the film had there mark in b-movie history. The actor that played the ‘scientist’ in the film was Glynn Turman who made his first mark in Blaxploitation film. Special effects creator Chris Walas makes a cameo and designs the creature effects for the Mogwai and the Gremlins. Most horror fanatics would recognize the name because of his work on Dante’s Piranha. But the grand daddy of all these cameos is of course, Dick Miller, who began his career in b-movie cinema and Roger Corman films. If all these references weren’t enough to convince you, then let Dick Miller seal the deal that this film is the ultimate tribute to b-movie film.

I find it also funny that Joe Dante directed Piranha, which in itself was a rip off to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Then Gremlins came along and Spielberg collaborated with Dante to create one of the greatest ‘family’ movies of all time. Who’d a thunk it? Also, Dante will go on to direct Looney Tunes: Back In Action in which one of the sequences takes place in Area 51B. Here there are more b-movie references to Day of the Triffids, Robot Monster and This Island Earth. I guess when it really boils down to things, Gremlins is literally a tribute to what monster and alien movies once were. The entire cast, crew and production team of this film truly love b-movies and it’s easy to see their affection for it in Gremlins.


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