Past Presence
The title screen for the movie Gremlins. The word "Gremlins" is superimposed in red over the the snowy idyll of Kingston Falls, Pennsylvania.

Enter the Gremlins

The cover art for Unwinnable Monthly #158, featuring several gremlins from the movie Gremlins grinning at the viewer and breaking out of the magazine's "frame."

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #158. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


What’s left when we’ve moved on.


For someone who writes a column focused on the past, there’s a lot of classic movies I haven’t seen. I didn’t have good internet or cable growing up, so even music and cult YouTube videos from my own generation I mostly got to see in college (I think I heard Eminem and knew who he was for the first time at, like, nineteen?) But it’s the older millennial stuff that people get really incredulous about. One of my most told stories is about a guy who found out that I hadn’t watched Space Jam, and then spent 20 minutes (I am not kidding) describing the plot to me in intricate detail.

Stuff like that. Or, uh, Gremlins.

Below are my (live) reactions to the movie, time stamped if you want to watch along.

Pre-Mortem: What I know about the movie Gremlins

  • Gremlins are little creatures that are the embodiment of chaos. They are what make things go missing and other mischievous stuff. Someone told me they were invented during World War II (?)
  • I think it’s a Steven Spielberg movie
  • Brain emoji

What are my feelings about watching Gremlins? I don’t really know. I am nervous that HBO describes it as a “horror comedy”. I don’t like that the little dude on the preview looks like a Furby. So I would say “lukewarm negative” – but hey, let’s change my mind.

0:31: I am in love with everyone’s costumes already, especially the two nuns who are in this scene for some reason. I respect that this guy is an inventor but, having just seen Back to the Future this summer this information makes me nervous.

2:03: Ok never mind, this man has invented a toiletry Rubik’s cube and, it seems like, zero other things. Respect taken back.

6:41: The kid in the Yankees hat and the kid in a tree costume are better entrepreneurs than the inventor 100%. Also, the old man in this scene is an anti-corruption king.

9:27: Another costume-based comment but this teenager having a suit on under his winter clothes is the biggest jump scare of the movie so far.

A still from Gremlins shows Billy, in a smart cashmere sweater, accepting a large Christmas present from his father.

22:45: I’m turning around on the inventions, really just on the orange juice machine. I like that you can see the actor cracking up as it explodes.

23:17: Every child in this movie has the voice and responsibilities of a 45-year-old. Let Christmas tree kid go on break.

25:18: This glass of water has the tension of Chekhov’s gun.

25:28: Wow, I understand narrative structure.

31:30: The parents really have chemistry and I love that for them. Also, the dad definitely looks like William Shatner.

32:20: Did they base this film off the tribbles episode of Star Trek? (Post movie note: I don’t know but I did find this forum post in which someone says “tribbles would crush gremlins any day,” which, yes.)

33:43: Explicit WWII reference from the man about to drunk drive a tractor. I thought this might be an attempt to connect with veterans but “doubleyou doubleyou aye aye” kind of undermines the tone. I am legitimately curious about the grievances everyone in this town seems to have towards centralized government and the appeal to the prosperity of the past.

36:56: “We can talk about it… you know, on the phone.”

38:02: This is my opinion of gremlins: I do not like them. They have bad vibes. If I had a gremlin in my house, I would call pest control. I still wouldn’t do what everyone in this movie is doing, though, which is violating animal rights and/or the Geneva Conventions.

In a still from Gremlins, main character Billy wears a sleeveless muscle shirt, holds the frayed end of a wire and generally looks confused.

42:00: The main character, whose name I still don’t know, is the biggest himbo in human history. He does not know what seasonal depression is. He’s confused about the basics of how the gremlins operate halfway into the film. I do appreciate that everyone in this movie jumps to the correct conclusions about situations almost immediately, a very non-80s movie response and something that I predict is going to serve them well in the gremlins zombie apocalypse that is coming in the next 20 minutes.

53:17: Ok, even I have to admit: the little gremlin footprints in dust on the record player are great.

55:30: I am really taken aback by how much the tone has shifted in the middle here, and I’m having trouble deciding how much of it is supposed to be a comedy about horror movies. I think the movie thinks I am more unambiguously on the side of the people in this movie than I am (see above point about rights violations). Also, unsure how I am supposed to feel about microwaving a gremlin.

56:16: Boggle set confirmed.

1:09:00: I appreciate the whimsy of the mailbox gremlin. It occurs to me that they are the dark version of the inventions, things that add an unnecessary plop of joy/horror to an otherwise normal situation. I can say that the one-off environmental gags are 100% the best part of this movie. Evil gremlin chorus singers really are the spirit of Christmas.

1:15:27: At this point, I am not enjoying myself. However, I would watch an entire movie about the gremlins living their lives and doing people stuff. I am on team gremlin. I think they should destroy this town and make it gremlin city. I cannot believe I still have half an hour of this movie.

1:20:38: What. what. What. What!!!!????

The gremlin Stripe, the main antagonist in Gremlins, points a revolver at someone or something just offscreen.

1:23:45: Gremlins can mirror human activity without ever having seen it. Are they a hive mind? Do they all share the knowledge of every gremlin, and if so, does that mean gremlins have been to the movies before? Or are they actually capable of human intelligence but limited by their gremlin bodies? Can we separate human and gremlin intelligence from each other or is it more of a spectrum?

1:32:59: So, we’ve gone from horror comedy to bizarro horror. Main dude just got hit with a crossbow. It’s actually a bit scary. But now there’s a chainsaw parody. I can’t figure this one out, folks.

1:43.00:  Well, it’s over.

In retrospect, my main feeling is perplexed exhaustion. I think Gremlins thinks it’s doing a horror parody but is too disinterested in making any points about horror (beyond “it’s ridiculous!”) to actually make it a good one. Whenever I thought too hard about what was going on, I snapped back to the reality that it probably didn’t matter, and Joe Dante just thought it would be funny to see a gremlin chain-smoking. I think that part of the point of the movie is to evade normal emotional registers and make you laugh from a line no one on earth should have ever said. Gremlins got laughs out of me, but they were the laughs you give when you can’t believe someone just said what they said with their real mouth.

I do admire this movie’s sheer ability to make me totally unsure what I should be feeling at any given time. What is the effect of Gremlins? Is the emotional beat about this girl’s dad supposed to be sincere, or funny, or just weird? Am I supposed to be afraid of the gremlins? Why do I feel like the connection between them and veterans is more than just an origin story and is trying to be (totally unsuccessfully) respectful? In summary, what am I supposed to feel?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, and reader, I’m guessing you don’t either. But the one good thing I can say for Gremlins unequivocally is that it was nice to watch a Christmas movie that isn’t good vibes only, that in fact insists on having the most rancid vibes available the vast majority of the time. Stay safe everyone, and don’t unplug your microwave.


Emily Price is a freelance writer and PhD candidate in literature based in Brooklyn, NY.


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