Jacob's Favorite Christmas Films: #6. "Gremlins" (1984)
Yes, it counts. Barely.
Gremlins is a step away from not making it on this list. Not because it's bad (it's great), but because it just barely qualifies as a Christmas film. Its Christmas connection is even looser than Krampus in some ways and appears to mock the spirit of most of the films on the list. But just like Krampus, it has just enough genuine holiday spirit to keep it on the list, but if it had an increment less, Gremlins would be in the same category as Die Hard or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The film is madman's hybrid of influences, feeling like a Spielberg Amblin production (which it was), but rendered as a live-action cartoon with a Christmas special backdrop. A father tries to get his son a pet for Christmas, an adorable but strange creature named Gizmo. However, the Christmas gift horrifically backfires when the son breaks important rules about taking care of the creature that descends his entire town into a maelstrom of chaos.
It's worth mentioning that Gremlins was one of two films that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating in the United States (the other being Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom) and that Gremlins is absolutely the spiritual predecessor to a film like Krampus. Gremlins is super fun and super messed up once the titular monsters begin to appear, literally wielding guns and chainsaws at various points in the movie.
So... Where does Christmas come into beyond being a backdrop? Well, it actually factors into the moral center of the movie in a twisted way. One of the main characters tells a heartbreaking story about how her father died during the holiday trying to impersonate Santa Claus while coming down the chimney, accidentally breaking his neck. It sounds like a nasty joke from something like Black Christmas, but it's played completely straight.
Gremlins is anarchic madness, but it's secret is the sincerity at the core of its main characters, a Christmas film tradition. Almost every entry on this list up to this point has balanced the optimism and cynicism of the holiday spirit and Gremlins taps into that just enough to stay on the list. Add in some of the most ambitious creature effects of the 1980s and you have an absolute winner of a film.
I might come back and write a longer more detailed review of Gremlins as a creature feature in the future, but I don't have a ton to say about its connection to Christmas. Of all the films on this list, this is the farthest away from a Christmas movie that you can get. But I'm halfway through my list, and from here on out, the final entries are going to be absolutely tied to the holiday. In fact, there's only one more genre hybrid left on the list, but I'm getting ahead of myself...