JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Gremlins (1984)

Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke

Written by Cameron Frew

Twisted, scary and unorthodox: Gremlins is the ultimate festive palate cleanser.

“Yeah, I know, who hasn’t got a story to tell?” says Randall Peltzer (the charming Hoyt Axton), coming in at both the beginning and end of the feature to offer a warm narration. He’s right though – why should we partake in this tale amidst the wonted seasonal efforts? Well, Joe Dante’s film (with executive producer Steven Spielberg) isn’t like the rest. It’s definitely a Christmas effort, but unlike the family-friendly aura so common around the holidays, Gremlins is dark, twisted and downright scary at times, even 34 years after its release. Fall in love with Gizmo, cower from Stripe; this is a timeless, idiosyncratic bedtime story.

Randall wanders around the murky, red-lit world of Chinatown, his towering stature sticking out amidst the busy scene (a little bit of juxtaposition for the impending thrills in suburban America). He’s ushered down into a cobweb-ridden antique shop, greeted by owner Mr. Wing (the presence-absorbing Keye Luke). He’s looking for a present to take home to his son, but he’s also trying to sell something himself – he’s a bit of an inventor, you see. His “illogical, logical” product is the “Bathroom Buddy”, which speaks for itself. This is the first in long line of references to the capitalist-conquering nature of the west, but his sales spiel isn’t eye-rolling – there’s a gentle dose of slapstick and self-aware goofiness consistent with all of Randall’s inventions in the movie.

“What is that?” he asks, upon hearing mysterious sounds in the background. We catch our first glimpse of the “Mogwai”, its silhouetted ears moving with its swooning whistle. Of course Randall wants him, but “Mogwai not for sale”, Mr. Wing says. It wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t somehow get the cute little bugger. But before Dante really gets down to business, writer Chris Columbus delivers the three of the greatest Chekhov Guns in cinema: “Keep him out of bright light, don’t get him wet, and whatever you do, never feed him after midnight.”

These three conceits are a delicious time-bomb (best not to think of how Mogwai wash or how their bodies actually know it’s midnight). Before they explode, we need to be acquainted with the playground; there’s the townsfolk you would expect, such as the sneering, pantomimic old woman, the subtly racist but kind-hearted neighbour (“God damn foreign cars!”), and the boyish lead (Zach Galligan as Billy) with a girl down the street to win over (Phoebe Cates as Kate). In this regard Gremlins is both a ingeniously original work and a tribute to well-established traits of other stories, wearing them with pride as it subverts its genre.

Billy is bowled over by Gizmo immediately, as is anyone with a heart. The puppetry and technical know-how behind him is extraordinary, seemingly managing to make him appear to be a real, breathing, living creature. Dante and other members of the crew have famously said how much they actually hated the little guy due to the frustration of operating him, but the result was an 80s icon (I still have the same Gizmo toy I bought when I was eight-years-old).

Billy goes through the careless motions and eventually, there’s a litter of Mogwai running around, led by the ferocious Stripe (because of the mohawk). Gizmo remains unaffected, but his relatives are entirely different beasts; simply, they’re monsters. Dante, who displayed a real B-movie streak in the original Piranha which continued right through to 1998’s underrated Small Soldiers, has nasty, devilish fun with his new beings. Billy’s mum memorably fights off a bunch of them, shoving them in blenders and microwaves and whatnot in a hilariously gory flurry of kills. It is at this point, Gremlins switches genre, from child-friendly fare to frightening horror flick.

The craft behind the film is deserving of praise; Dante’s direction is impassioned and rambunctious, aided by the wacky eye of cinematographer John Hora (watch out for the fluorescent pool scene). Jerry Goldsmith’s score is a not-often mentioned work, which is criminal, as his Gremlins theme is the stuff classic compositions are made of. Columbus’ script taps into coming-of-age tropes, but at one point, in the most fantastic, off-kilter moment of dramedy you’re likely to experience, gives Kate a harrowing story to recount for Billy – no spoilers, but you’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it.

The final stretch of the film is a full-on descent into monster-mayhem. We watch in awe as they completely wreck a bar, enjoying an extravagant night of boozing and playing cards, before heading to the cinema for an impromptu, feisty performance of Snow White. They could be interpreted as many things, a representation of the hysteria of capitalism, perhaps? Or, if nothing else, uproarious, riotous, murderous villains that you’ll find even more captivating with every croaky “yum yum”.

By the rather poignant end, Gremlins is guaranteed to have left a mark. It was criticized for its violence back in the day, alongside similarly uncharacteristically extreme Indiana Jones prequel, Temple of Doom. Consider whether your children will be able to handle it before putting it on perhaps. If they can, they’re in for a wicked treat. Just remember, check all the cupboards and under the beds, “you never can tell – there might just be a Gremlin in your house”.

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Grimmfest 2018: 10 Must-Sees!

Written by Sasha Hornby

GRIMMFEST, Manchester’s Festival of Horror, Cult and Fantastic Film, scheduled to take place from Thursday 4th October to Sunday 7th October at the ODEON Manchester, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The line-up was announced on Monday 3rd September, and this year promises “the darkest, deadliest line-up yet of wild, weird, witty, thrilling, chilling, blood-spilling movies.” Each film shown is a premiere (of some sort) or cult classic, many with cast and crew in attendance.

To honour 10 years of it being Grimm Up North, we pick our 10 must-sees from the wicked roster:

 

AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS

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Northern Premiere showing Thursday 4th October at 8:45pm
UK / English / 2018 / 91 mins

Director: Johnny Kevorkian 
Cast: Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, Grant Masters, Abigail Cruttenden, Kris Saddler, Holly Weston, David Bradley

It’s Christmas day, and one family wakes up to discover they’re sealed in their house by a mysterious black substance. On the television reads a single line of text: “Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions.” The dysfunctional family, described as “the university-educated son and his Asian girlfriend, the horrible racist Grandad, the control freak father, the simpering doormat of a mother, the chav sister and her meathead boyfriend” are tense and confrontational around each other, not at all prepared for the strangeness of their situation. Shot in Yorkshire, and featuring mostly practical effects, this biting satire promises an unforgettable festive flick.

 

PLEDGE

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European Premiere showing Sunday 7th October at 12:25pm
USA / English / 2018 / 75 mins

Director: Daniel Robbins
Cast: Zack Weiner, Phillip Andre Botello, Zachary Byrd, Cameron Cowperthwaite, Aaron Dalla Villa, Jesse Pimentel, Erica Boozer

American films set in or around University Fraternities and Sororities are hardly new. PLEDGE takes the “geeky social misfits vs. privileged jocks and preppies” set-up and presents a no-holds-barred, cranked-up-to-eleven, savage look at arcane hazing rituals.

 

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (VUELVEN)

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Northern Premiere showing Friday 5th October at 9:15pm
Mexico / Spanish with English subtitles / 2017 / 83 mins

Director: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Tenoch Huerta

11-year-old Estrella has one desperate wish: for her missing mother to return home. As she joins a Lost Boys (Peter Pan) style gang of orphaned children in the violent, drug-war-torn, Mexican town where she lives, she learns some ghosts can’t be left behind, and the hardest battle is with bereavement. Brutal reality is given a whimsical twist through a child’s imaginative eye. Guillermo del Toro called Issa López’s haunting, artistic, urban fairy tale one of the finest films of the year – the highest of fantastical endorsements.

 

RE-ANIMATOR

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Cult Classic showing Thursday 4th October at 6:30pm
USA / English / 1985 / 86 mins

Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, Robert Sampson, David Gale

With an introduction by Grimmfest 2018’s guest of honour, star Barbara Crampton, this screening of the original unrated version of the cult comedy classic is a ghoulish and gory start to the festival. A re-imagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s weird pulp novella, Stuart Gordon’s blackly comic tale of a medical student and his girlfriend experimenting with reanimating the dead is a masterwork of the macabre.

 

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

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Greater Manchester Premiere showing Sunday 7th October at 8:30pm
UK / English / 2017 / 109 mins

Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu

Described as “Shaun of the Dead meets La La Land”, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is a Scottish Christmas high school zombie musical. Bloody, festive, delightfully charming – watch Anna and her friends slash and sing their way to survival in the zombie apocalypse.

 

NIGHTMARE CINEMA

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UK Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 4:30pm
USA / English / 2018 / 119 mins

Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Elizabeth Reaser, Richard Chamberlain, Annabeth Gish

In this twisted horror anthology, five strangers are drawn into an abandoned theatre and forced watch their deepest and darkest fears play out before them. Each film introduced by creepy projectionist, Mickey Rourke, all 5 grim moral tales represent the style of their director. From Joe Dante’s ‘plastic surgery gone sideways’ fable to Alejandro Brugués’ sly take on the cabin-in-the-woods trope, there’s something horrifying for everyone.

 

THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW

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Northern Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 7:00pm
USA / English / 2018 / 77 mins

Director: Andy Mitton
Cast: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Greg Naughton, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione

An estranged father and son visit a rural gothic farmhouse in Vermont that has been purchased to flip. As renovations begin, the malicious spirit of the deceased previous owner makes it clear she doesn’t want them there, but also never wants them to leave. Part subtle ghost story, part emotional family drama, THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW plays on the hardships and fears of raising a child in 2018, and includes the supernatural to stress the situation to a “nightmarish and genuinely heart-breaking” conclusion.

 

PIERCING

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Greater Manchester Premiere showing Saturday 6th October at 12:30pm
USA / English / 2018 / 81 mins

Director: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Wendell Piece, Laia Costa, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Bond

Adapted from the cult novel by Ryū Murakami, PIERCING spins the source material into a satirical, body-horror, rom-com. Deriving it’s aesthetic and aural influences from Italian giallo films of the 1970s, a man with a sinister plan, to commit the perfect murder, checks in to a hotel to meet a call girl. He meticulously rehearses every detail, but is unprepared for the disturbed blonde who walks through the door.

 

SUMMER OF ‘84

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Northern Premiere showing Friday 5th October at 11:00pm
USA, Canada / English / 2017 / 105 mins

Directors: Fran­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­çois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Cast: Graham Vercher, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Grüter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer

From the directors or TURBO KID comes this 80s-set teen adventure with slasher-movie instincts. Echoing the structure of IT and STRANGER THINGS, four 15-year-old boys spend their summer investigating the policeman next door, who they suspect is a serial killer – because all serial killers have to be somebody’s neighbour, right? Featuring a synth score to ramp up the pastiche, SUMMER OF ’84 is more than just a re-tread of familiar themes, it’s actually scary.

 

GIRLS WITH BALLS

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European Premiere showing Thursday 4th October at 11:00pm
France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain / French with English subtitles / 2018 / 77 mins

 

Director: Olivier Afonso
Cast: Denis Lavant, Manon Azem, Dany Verissimo-Petit, Anne-Solenne Hatte, Camille Razat, Louise Blachére, Victor Artus Solaro, Tiphaine Daviot, Margot Dufrene

The Falcons, an all-girls volleyball team, find themselves stranded in the middle of cannibal hillbilly territory when their mini-van breaks down. Described as a “slyly feminist reinvention of the “Cheerleaders in Peril” scenario”, GIRLS WITH BALLS is a blood-soaked black comedy about the hunted becoming the hunters.