A Kentucky Harvester

Ms. Deagle is awful. She threatens to kill a family dog, ignores the cries of starving children, cuts in lines, and hates Christmas carolers. Deagle (Polly Holiday) is alone and bitter, with only her money – and cats.

In Gremlins’ idyllic small town, Deagle owns everything. Residents fear her wrath, yet also want to be her; they want her financial freedom (if not her boorish attitude), and do what they can to measure up to her cushioned life. Randall Peltzer’s (Hoyt Axton) urge to give his son the best Christmas gift means he brings home a mythical Mogwai. Chaos ensues. That need for things over people manifests into a physical form.

Everything in Gremlins is about money. It’s a film undervalued for its parable about greed and want, mostly because the entertainment value is so outrageously high. Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) senses his family’s financial struggles; Randall’s eccentric inventions clearly doesn’t cover the bills. When Peltzer’s mom is first introduced, she’s holding back tears over the financial strain. Note she’s watching It’s a Wonderful Life, as if Gremlins needed to spell out the meaning-of-the-holidays theme any further.

It’s at the best with Dick Miller, playing Murray Futterman. Rather than blame the selfish rich for his troubles, he mutters blame toward foreign machines full of “gremlin parts” for his economic woes. Futterman’s American-made Kentucky Harvester still works, after all. Then, it kills him because it’s literally overtaken by gremlins. Genius comedy, imagery, and metaphor.

Gremlin’s (hilarious) monsters represent the stresses and selfishness of Christmas

Galligan’s love interest is played by Phoebe Cates, who infamously recalls a horrifying story of her father dying at Christmas. Out of place as it initially seems, instead her recounting fits into the grander theme. Holidays differ person-to-person. For her, it’s traumatic. For others, a time for family. Still more, a time to bury themselves in wrapping paper.

In that, the (hilarious) monsters represent the stresses and selfishness of Christmas, spreading like a virus to everyone. At a time intended to be about helping each other, the cops roll up their car window on Santa as he’s mauled by critters. The local priest doesn’t mention growling coming from a mailbox, letting a friend stick his hand in first; that hand is eaten. Axton’s Randall spends Christmas Eve at an out-of-town inventor’s convention (odd time for a convention, but whatever) trying to sell his wares to pay for gifts, instead of being with family. Then the gift he did get attacks his wife and son.

The finale takes place in a department store, this after gremlins gorge on beer, Milk Duds, and popcorn (ignore the three rules – don’t get them wet, but gremlins trounce through snow and splash booze on themselves). There, a litany of gifts begin their assault on Peltzer, in the hands of gremlin leader Stripe. In restoring control, the family comes back together – dog included – as they sit down in the final moments of Christmas Eve. What matters is the togetherness, not things. Especially gremlin-like things.

Video

Warner debuts Gremlins to 4K in an accurate presentation. Expecting generous contrast and pop is misguided. Gremlins softens black levels for a majority of its runtime; it’s not a dynamic, charged aesthetic. There’s more to see in shadows now, particularly during the dimly lit store finale. The deep green/black gremlins no longer become victims to crushing. Mostly, contrast follows with pockets of intense brightness (sparks, flames, occasional Christmas lights) and remains naturally sedate for the rest. Timid best describes the HDR pass.

Also note the inherently soft, even fuzzy cinematography, especially true of Gizmo’s close-ups. That’s intent too. Where allowed by the source, detail jumps from previous disc incarnations. Facial texture shows in places where it didn’t prior. Images of gremlin puppets bring out their marvelous artistry. This is better by way of compression, improved greatly over the Blu-ray. Not only does grain maintain an organic look, artifacting disappears. What’s left is something wholly organic and pure to this ‘80s film stock.

Another boost comes by way of color, saturated densely with more authentic reproduction. During early pans in town, the camera passes by gorgeous store fronts. Look for the hats worn by the kids approaching Deagle, or the density of green in the pine trees. In the bar, the red lights and neons draw out added power.

Audio

Same as before – DTS-HD 5.1. There’s room to boost Gremlins to Atmos, especially as the critters rampage above Mrs. Peltzer before the kitchen rampage. That aside, with an exception for thin dialog, fidelity produces modern-esque output. Dynamics don’t come anywhere near contemporary tracks, but stretch when the theater goes up in flames or after Spike jumps into the pool.

Positionals activate frequently, from the wide stereo spread to footsteps creeping around. Higher level chaos like the bar or theater floods every speaker with movement. It’s a good time, as it was before.

Extras

Extras begin with two commentaries, carried on the UHD and Blu-ray. The first has director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, and special effects artist Chris Walas diving into the technical details. Notably, there is discussion on how the film would be handled today.

A second commentary brings back Dante to chat with his cast, including Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel. A featurette from 1983 follows with some limited behind-the-scenes footage, while 10-minutes of deleted scenes have an optional commentary. A photo gallery and trailers remain. None of this is new, FYI.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Gremlins
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

An absolute ’80s era gem, Gremlins shatters the commercialization of Christmas with a fantastic parable and hilarious comedy.

Sending
User Review
5 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 60 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: