11 holiday movie tropes Gremlins turns on their heads

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Dec 23, 2017

An avalanche of lavishly wrapped gifts, overly emotional conversations, and sparkling everything are just about mandatory in every holiday movie and TV episode you so desperately flip through the channels to avoid this time of year. Gremlins is the antidote.

Even though it was originally released in the summer of 1984, Joe Dante's cult creepfest Gremlins is very obviously a holiday movie, otherwise it wouldn’t take so many tired that-time-of-year clichés and eat them, smash them, or catapult them off a stairlift. Soft furry mogwai might sort of go with the whole puppy or kitten for Christmas thing, but not when they morph into gnarly alien creatures that go on a rampage, which only starts with devouring all the gingerbread cookies. Just wait until you hear them sing what is at least supposed to be “Jingle Bells.”

If heartwarming holiday classics just aren’t your thing, then turn on Gremlins for the 57th time and realize how it takes 11 eye-rolling scenes you see way too often in these seasonal specials and puts them through a blender.

The quest to get the perfect gift

Holiday movies often revolve around finding that elusive gift which will make angels sing so long it’s wrapped by 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Call it consumerism wrapped in shiny paper. 1984 is the era of elbowing Toys ‘R Us crowds in a desperate attempt to grab the last Cabbage Patch Kid or Teddy Ruxpin in time to shove it under the tree, but say you want something a little more exotic. When your kid is too old for talking animatronic stuffed animals, you end up in a shady underground lair of an antique store—and taking home something even creepier.

The unwrapping of that life-changing gift

You know those scenes that show the almost otherworldly unwrapping of “the perfect gift”, with the everyone glowing from holiday joy and electric string lights? This is like that. Sort of. Weird noises coming from the box mean said gift is either alive or battery-powered, so you’re going to want to investigate. Just imagine a thing with bulging eyes, bat ears and the ability to mimic human speech emerging from that box in one of those Lifetime specials. Whoever was on the receiving end of that would be running straight into the manufactured snow outside. 

Unwrapping (more) presents early

Just as common and contagious in mainstream holiday entertainment as the obligatory gift reveal is the alternate version, or the scene where all the kids tear into the wrapping paper way before Santa is supposed to shimmy down the chimney. Gizmo arrives before Christmas Eve, and so do the mischievous creatures that spawn from the mogwai after some forbidden drops of water spill on his back, but those aren’t enough presents. The real magic starts when those grotesque slime-covered cocoons break open and release a swarm of homicidal lizard-things.

Holiday baking

Visions of sugarplums or at least gingerbread cookies fresh out of the oven are appear in just about every holiday feature on film or TV because it’s almost mandatory. Gremlins is no exception, except for the creatures ruthlessly devouring those gingerbread cookies Billy’s mother so painstakingly baked and decorated earlier. She decides to do some more baking when she discovers them, as in shoving one in the mixer until it turns into a vile green ooze that splatters on the kitchen walls, and baking another one in the oven until it literally explodes.

But before those cookies…the holiday feast

What would the holidays be without a huge glorious feast in which the turkey is never burnt? You could say Billy comes close enough when he throws the mogwai a cold chicken leg without knowing they purposely chewed the electrical cord of his digital clock to trick him into feeding them after midnight. After they Gremlin-ize, there’s nothing they won’t eat. Because raiding the kitchen is hardly enough, and apparently raiding the bar of every last peanut isn’t either, the popcorn binge they go on at the local movie theater while watching Snow White is legendary.

Decking the halls

If the halls aren’t already decked to the last strand of tinsel when a holiday movie opens, then they usually will be sometime in the next 30 minutes. Obviously, a bunch of creatures who go insane over glittery things don’t think the Peltzer house is fancy enough. They upgrade the light display outside by wrapping up the dog and hanging the poor pooch upside down until he almost freezes into a dogsicle. In full Gremlin mode, one of them tangles itself up in the tree and then in Mrs. Peltzer’s hair when she risks an electrical fire performing a Gremlin-ectomy.  

Carolers

You either love them or hate them so much you pretend you’re not home, but carolers are a Festivus movie mainstay, whether in the background or right in your face. Gremlins don’t do anything in the background. They show up at the already doomed Ms. Deagle’s door in stolen earmuffs and other holiday finery singing something vaguely reminiscent of a Christmas carol (whatever it is, it’s off-key). It’s one of those situations where you’re frozen in sick fascination at these things acting even remotely human before you come to your senses and bolt the door.  

That silhouette flying through the sky

In a typical holiday movie, on a typical Christmas eve, you almost always see the silhouette of a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer flying over the moon. Let’s just say the Gremlins decided to modify that by screwing around with Ms. Deagle’s stairlift, as if she hadn’t been traumatized enough already by their hideous caroling. She thinks she’s going to go upstairs but ends up way past upstairs when the thing shoots to the top and sends her flying through the air like that jolly old elf. Except the poor woman’s final destination isn’t the North Pole but a nearby trash can. 

The obligatory holiday party

There is always at least one of these in every holiday anything that you’ll find on TV right about now, but Gremlins make merry to the extreme. Bartender Kate has no idea how to handle an impromptu bash thrown by a horde of creatures that are ravenously thirsty and soon roaringly drunk. There isn’t much you can do about strange reptilian life-forms swinging from the light fixtures, singing obnoxious and hardly decipherable songs, smashing everything that can be smashed, and draining the bar of every drop of alcohol on tap or otherwise. They have teeth.

The just as obligatory heart-to-heart

You can’t have a smarmy holiday feature without one of those really involved conversations set to overwhelmingly saccharine music. Telling your would-be boyfriend about that time your dad tried to play Santa Claus and ended up stuck in the chimney instead, only his rotting corpse to be extracted months later, isn’t exactly traditional. Neither is spending the night either hunting or hiding from rampaging Gremlins and calling it a date. Then again, that’s probably the closest you’ll ever get to a Hallmark holiday romance when you’ve got slimy green evil to obliterate. 

Holiday entertainment

Everywhere else, and in every other movie, the holidays are usually spangled with light shows, Rockettes kicking up their heels, and floats with waving Santas parading through the streets. In the Gremlins-verse, it’s more like Gremlins break-dancing and having a puppet show right in the middle of the bar, Gremlins putting on a red and green spectacular by switching the traffic lights on on and off until they finally send sparks flying into the night, and the Gremlin horde marching through the street led by a rogue snow plow as their twisted version of a Santa float.