This time, it’s personal. A oft uttered phrase in trailers selling a movie sequel. I can’t remember how many 80’s movies used that tagline somewhere in their sequel marketing. The words ring in your ear when the deep voiced announcer utters it, usually imposed over the top of a frame of the film signalling the anger and frustration the protagonist is going to experience in the film.
The Gremlins franchise is one of those are iconic 80’s movies that almost became a full on franchise, yet somehow stopped after just two films. All the ingredients were there. They had video games, toys, the premise was perfect it could have easily spawned a Saturday morning cartoon and comic book. Instead we got more Killer Tomatoes the world could ever need and were left with just two entries in the Gremlins saga. Even Ghostbusters managed to get two Saturday morning cartoons in the form of The Real Ghostbusters and later Extreme Ghostbusters. Then, why were the Gremlins unable to follow suit? Much like Ghostbusters the movies blended horror and comedy perfectly in such a way they appealed to horror fans but were accessible to children and general audiences. It worked well enough but never took off. Then you have hard R rated gore fests like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street or even Hellraiser continue on for decades after.
I contend the downfall of the Gremlins was two fold. The first attack on the franchise came in the aforementioned R rated horror genres. Critters satisfied the needs of sci-fi and horror fans looking to get their fix of cute monsters running amok. This didn’t leave much room in the hearts of cinema goers as the countless knock offs abounded, most did take the premise to deep into the R rated territory Gremlins was careful to avoid.
A darker, scarier Gremlins might have had a chance of sticking around in the world as Horror fans are notoriously more loyal than the fickle minded children who’s attention spans drag them unwittingly into the very next fad. This takes me to the second reason Gremlins failed to catch on as a long term franchise. It wasn’t that it was too much of a kids movie, it just wasn’t kid-friendly enough to keep the interests of the young fans. Unlike horror films, whose audience is built in as teenagers don’t have care when a movie was made they go out of their way to consume all the media their watchful guardians protest, or better still, forbid. Gremlins never had that taboo of being forbidden, so teenagers didn’t see it as nearly ideal as Friday the 13th or Child’s Play.
The other issue is once it was on the scene you had Goonies, Monster Squad and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids filling the niche Gremlins would have. It wasn’t entirely the same as an ensemble cast of misfit kids, which is part of the problem. By the time Gremlins his the scene the misfit class was ruling the world and kids identified with it. We wanted to see more freaks like us, less boring old traditionalists like the ultra-conservative characters portrayed in the Gremlins films. Not conservative in the political sense mind you just, you know old fashioned and boring.
Monster Squad and Goonies had kids swearing. The hinted at, but shied away from, teenage sexuality. The Gremlins were too adult for kids and too kiddie for adults. As such teenagers had no use for the safe horror movie their parents watched with them at Christmas time and thus it was relegated to a holiday themed oddity more than elevated into the status of cultural icon it deserved.
It was a shame because a harder, grittier and even gory Gremlins franchise would have been enjoyable in the long run to horror fans, but a more kid friendly franchise would have fizzled out probably quicker than what we ended up with anyways.
The problem was, the horror market was overly saturated. Could it have sustained another long running gore centered franchise? If you look at the Child’s Play series you get a sense of the type of movie fans would have accepted in a gory Gremlins. Especially once you get to The Bride of Chucky, you see vestiges of the template a R rated horror Gremlins franchise would have sustained. The problem is the filmmakers took it to the wrong extreme at the wrong time. By watering the sequel down you had a more kid friendly movie parents could safely use to babysit their kids. But this watering down killed off the franchises hope for longevity. Sure, they could have bolstered it with a goofy Saturday morning cartoon, hell even Teen Wolf got this treatment, but it would have died in the 80’s like so many of those other one off cartoons based on adult movies targeted towards children.
The movie I picture is divorced from the Christmas setting. It has the same premise, a boy gets a cute, exotic pet for a birthday present or some other such occasion. Then it slowly begins to devolve into the mischief we see in the film, before the green monsters take it to the horror extreme. Death. Mayhem, decapitations and gore ensure. The movie has a similar tone and iconic imagery but it’s gorier, it’s scarier and there is a sense of immediacy, the Gremlins will go into hiding during, probably into the sewers, during the day to fester and wait for their opportunity to rise up and begin the killing spree again.
I picture a movie rebooting the franchise with a Hard R, plenty of gore and a character who doesn’t have a safe, boring job as a bank teller but is a comic artist who is struggling to pay bills working at some nothing job like the real people in that situation would have been, making him more relatable.
Here is the problem. It’s too late to reboot it as a gory, R rated franchise as too much time has passed. Nostalgia will dictate a movie that goes out of it’s way to recapture the magic of the 80’s while trying to appeal to a wider audience. In a world filled with super hero movies and special effects outings the stakes are much higher and this presents the problem of how to you make the Gremlins scary in today’s world? We have even more opportunities to shine bright light on the little creatures. Nevermind the fact the Critters franchise is, yet again, getting a new entry long after the vastly superior and far more entertaining Gremlins franchise has been put to rest.