Tag Archives: The Goonies

Gremlins

To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in a Time Machine

It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 8o’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness and evococativeness.

The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Wallas are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical and scary in equal measure.

It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future again in many respects, remember when that happened?

Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

Back in Time: Celebrating 25 years of Back to the Future

Seeing the 25th anniversary re-release of Back to the Future (BTTF) on the big screen is not unlike time travel itself as it took me right back to my childhood.

I had never seen the original at the cinema, only catching the sequels on the big screen first time round, although I had seen it more times than I cared to mention on TV and DVD. This mattered not as I approached the screening with the same excitement as if it were a brand new release.

And it can more than hold its own in today’s world of everything being released in 3D thanks to its simple but winning story. As a film it held up not just magnificently but majestically, both against those films touted as family friendly fair today and even those from ‘whence it came, circa 1985, such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters. They are both classic films but BTTF just raises the quality bar and actually, even today doesn’t look to have aged in the slightest in its pacing or any aspect of its unfolding story.

It was a delight to watch the familiar story unfold with characters we have got to know and love every nuance and line of and see them giant on the big screen. It’s of great testament to the writers, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, that the story, a modern day Wizard of Oz of sorts, still holds true and is practically timeless, which is perhaps as much to do with its setting as much as its writing.

Script wise it is practically faultless and doesn’t miss a beat, the perfect movie script, nothing is wasted no plot thread is left hanging and each piece of dialogue dovetails into the next and has real meaning and consequence. It’s piece of storytelling without an ounce of fat. Everything occurs and happens for a reason, right down to the tiniest of nuances and should be high on anyone’s list wanting to study the craft.

It’s almost as if the film was not made in 1985 but set in 1985, new audiences scoffing as much about Marty McFly’s bulky walkman as much as we did first time round about there being no Diet Pepsi!

The film itself bounds along at a fair old pace, another sign of its unflabby script and it not out staying its welcome, and at 1 hour 40-something is practically short by today’s standards where we have become used to the somewhat ponderous unfolding of the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and one Captain Jack Sparrow, part 2 of the Pirates trilogy even having an interval in many cinemas!

It’s also refreshing to see a film where everything looks real and doesn’t have that muted CGI feel to it, everything in both time periods look and feel real and solid, almost as if you can touch them. Sure, we know the Hill Valley of the 1950s is a film set on the Universal backlot but we know that it was all recreated for us to see up on the big screen and not rendered in some computer.

The cinema that we went to see it in was busy and jostling with people and although everyone else was familiar with how the film unfolded there were still laughs to be heard when it came to Doc Brown and his constant questioning of the use of the word ‘heavy’, guffawing at the really rather more excellent than you ever remember Crispin Glover as the hopeless George McFly and the feeling of excitement building in those key action sequences.

The viewing experience was almost akin to watching someone you know do well on the sports field or on stage. You know they were good last time you saw them and are pleased that they’ve given a barn storming performance this time round. Often favourite films or programmes viewed when growing up tend to lose their charm or appeal, but with this one it only grows. It’s as if you know the film intimately.

But the film also has its melancholy side as well, not so much in the feeling that this is a period that we are so far removed from – even when referring to the 1980s – and is almost unrecognisable but also in the shape of Michael J Fox. He’s never been more breezy and likable, well okay I’ve got a soft spot for The Secret of my Success as well, but with his absence from our screens due to his Parkinson’s it’s a reminder of the loss of such an effortlessly comically gifted actor.

He will forever be Marty, much like Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller. He is stuck, quite fittingly, in a time capsule for us to enjoy again and again.

The whole trilogy is being released on Bluray for the first time on October 25th. It’s an essential purchase of course, the sequel neatly inverting and adding a new dimension to the original and third and final instalment heading way out west. But before you buy Back to the Future on Bluray do yourself a favour and go Back to the Cinema to see the original as it was always meant to be seen.

Seeing Red: Remembering The Red Hand Gang

It was almost as if it had never left. I had remembered the titles with the gang members jumping up and down in the air in slow mo and the fantastically named James Bond III, but that was about it, until I popped in the DVD of the complete ‘The Red Hand Gang’.

It also reminded me of how my younger self was confused by the very being of James Bond III as, besides him being a young black kid with an afro, he couldn’t possibly be James Bond III as even I knew at that age that the third James Bond was of course Roger Moore! Today he, that’s James Bond III and not Sir Rog, sounds more like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost!

In truth there were only ever 12 episodes – and only two cases – of this Hardy Boys meets The Famous Five (dog included of course) late 70s programme, that, for some reason, seems to be more memorable to British viewers of a certain age than their American counterparts.

I may have only remembered scant details of the show but once those episodes started playing out those dormant memories of how the series thrilled came back in an instant.

Needless to say I was hooked and after only intending to watch one episode to see how it held up I soon found myself watching all the first six episodes and was as gripped today as I was when I was little as each episode seemingly peeled away the years.

The story focusses around the Gang stumbling across a young boy who has been kidnapped and spy him and his captors. Unable to convince the police they follow and set about foiling the kidnappers themselves, one of the delights of which includes Anthony Zerbe, as seen in the likes of The Omega Man and Licence To Kill. Okay, so it’s not exactly award winning television but as a youngster it was probably one of my first examples of ‘mild peril’ next to things like Scooby Doo, and this was bonafide live action.

Viewed today it is simple but solid storytelling and harks back to a bygone age of television that lingered a little and took its time to unfold, like another programme of that time, The Littlest Hobo.

One of the elements that struck my most was the evocative music featured in the episodes, it really helped rack of the tension and even had a Lalo Schifrin Dirty Harryesque feel about it. The title music wasn’t as effective in those stakes but was insanely memorable and seemed to share a thing or two with the Banana Splits theme.

I’m already looking forward to my second marathon which promises lots more intrigue, men in bandages and plastic surgery. I’ve not enjoyed being part of a gang so much since The Goonies and this deserves to be discovered by a whole new generation. There could be worse things then than a remake for today’s audience, the only question is should it be updated for today or stay in its original 7os setting?