There have been several Christmas horror movies. Most of them are bad. That’s largely because most horror movies are back, to be fair. If any genre is willing to churn out cheap garbage its horror, because gorehounds will lap it up. Christmas also is an easy, obvious choice for horror. It’s about the juxtaposition of the joyful holiday about family and presents and people getting murdered. They are almost all slasher films, of course, like Silent Night, Deadly Night. However, there is at least one Christmas horror movie I really enjoy. Obviously, I’m talking about Gremlins.
Sure, Gremlins is not going to satisfy people who love gore and nihilistic murder, but that’s not my bag anyway. I enjoy a fun horror comedy, and Gremlins is about the funniest horror comedy you will find, save for Gremlins 2: The New Batch, a movie I like even more than the original. Not to say there isn’t violence in Joe Dante’s 1984 classic. Most of it is visited upon gremlins, to be fair, but the movie was visceral enough to help usher in the PG-13 rating.
The premise is simple enough. A traveling salesman finds a mysterious creature called a mogwai and brings it home for his son Billy. He calls him Gizmo, and he’s a delight. Unfortunately, there are rules for taking care of mogwai. Inexplicable rules that are actually lampooned in the sequel. When Gizmo gets wet, more mogwai spawn from him, but they are all insane anarchists. If you feed a mogwai after midnight, they turn into gremlins, who are just straight-up monsters, but they are still anarchists. That’s the thing about the gremlins as they terrorize the town. Yes, they are messing with people and often trying to kill them, but they do it out of what is seemingly a love of chaos.
There is legit horror in the movie, though the fact the violence is being perpetrated largely by, and on, monsters helps cut the tension. Plus, the gremlins can be really funny. There is a scene where they take over a bar that is a strange delight. Of course, there’s also the iconic scene where the gremlins gather in a movie theater to watch Snow White, and they are transfixed by the movie.
I think part of what makes Gremlins work is that it is a Christmas movie, but it doesn’t have to be. The trappings of the holiday are used to gussy up the story. Well, and also to allow Phoebe Cates, who plays Kate, Billy’s friend and love interest who becomes part of the quest to take down the gremlins, to tell a truly dark story about why she hates Christmas. This too is parodied in the sequel. Gremlins 2 is the best.
Christmas helps fill out the world of the small town, and creates a great sense of place. It makes Gremlins, which is ultimately a monster movie, feel lived in and substantive. Also, again, it’s really funny. Plus, Dick Miller is in it! And Gizmo is awesome!
There are a lot of bad Christmas horror movies you could watch this year, but you shouldn’t. Instead, just stick to Gremlins. You can have some laughs with your scares and gore. Maybe while you eat after midnight.