Robots vs. Unicorns presents: GREMLINS at The Royal Cinema

GREMLINS shouldn't work.

It's a unruly collision of competing agendas and contradictory tones. Written by a then-unknown Chris Columbus, it began as a straight-faced horror film about ravenous beasts literally consuming a small town (its wittiest scene was a massacre at the local McDonald's, where the titular monsters devour the patrons but leave their processed fast food untouched). Soft-filtered through the nostalgic lens of producer Steven Spielberg (still basking in the saccharine glow of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL) and reflected in the funhouse mirror of director Joe Dante's gleefully chaotic vision, it mutated into... well... GREMLINS.

It's a fully-committed Christmas movie that hates Christmas. It's sincerely cutesy and at the same time deeply cynical. It's aimed squarely at kids, but also features several grisly murders (spurring the creation of the PG-13 rating in the process). It wants bumbling inventor (and plot-instigator) Rand Peltzer to be likeable and charming, then casts glum, mumbly Hoyt Axton in the part instead of Pat Hingle.

In the film's most screechingly atonal moment, the blossoming, doe-eyed romance between hapless Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) hits Peak Awkward as Kate recounts the death-by-misadventure of her father, who broke his neck coming down the chimney in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve (they discovered his body days later, alerted by the smell of his rotting corpse). Good times.

And yet, somehow, it does work. Like gangbusters.

Why it works makes no more sense than the three inviolable rules of Mogwai ownership. But it's entirely possible that GREMLINS' improbable cohesion is the result of its contradictions as much as it's in spite of them. In a way, it's really about them, and the contradictions of the holidays as well. Sure, a tiny adorable creature giving birth to an army of reptilian anarchists doesn't, on the face of it, seem like a particularly Christmassy metaphor. Then again, Kate's not wrong when she says suicide rates spike during "the most wonderful time of the year".

Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth. Goodwill towards all.

And the Toronto Distress Centre help line is 416-408-HELP.

Robots vs. Unicorns presents: GREMLINS at The Royal Cinema

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