This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here
Unless you’ve seen Joe Dante’s classic horror/comedy Gremlins as many times as I have, you probably don’t think of it as a Christmas movie. You’d be wrong, but I’m not really interested in discussing exactly why Gremlins as a whole is a near perfect Christmas film. No, what I want to talk about today is one scene in particular. A scene placed in the middle of Gremlins that truly defines the spirit of Christmas.
Early in the film, before all Gremlin-related hell has broken loose, our main character Billy Peltzer (Zack Galligan) is walking his love interest Kate (Phoebe Cates) home. Kate, ever the humbug, mentions how much she hates Christmas. When Billy questions her on it, Kate goes on a rant on how no one cares when you say you don’t like Thanksgiving, but everyone freaks out when you mention you don’t like Christmas. Besides being an awkward moment because who the fuck hates Thanksgiving, there’s obviously more to Kate’s story. But what?
Fast forward to midway through the film. Gremlins are rampaging through town, destroying buildings, killing indiscriminately, and…flashing people (Gremlins is a weird movie).
Billy rescues Kate from the town bar and the two flee across the street into the nearby bank where they both work. The bank is trashed, but momentarily empty. Both characters finally have a moment of respite to calm down and plan their next movie. And it is here that Kate decides to reveal the secret that everyone (read: no one) has been wondering about.
“Now I have another reason to hate Christmas” Kate utters, completely out of the blue. Billy gives her a “there are thousands of little green men straight up murdering half the town right now, we don’t have time for this shit” look and goes back to being useful. Undeterred, Kate continues. And what follows is… Look I can’t even explain it. It’s better if you watch:
In the middle of movie about a bunch of cute animals who turn evil because they eat food after midnight we have a tragic and ridiculous Christmas death story thrown in. This story doesn’t even make sense! The chimney was big enough to fit a full grown man in it? How did he break his neck, was he going down head first!? Did he win the Darwin Award for this? Why would she conclude this story with a statement about there not being a Santa Clause? Is that the real tragedy of the story, Kate?
But even better than this story, is the reaction to it. We see a couple reaction shots from both Billy and Gizmo and while Giz is noticeably disturbed, Billy is just dumbfounded. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t rush to comfort her. He just stares at her with the same expression we all have. “What the actual fuck?” Billy’s eyes say.
AND THEN THE SCENE JUST ENDS.
The next time we see Billy and Kate, they’re leaving the bank and heading back out on the streets. This story will never be mentioned again. It won’t be part of Kate’s arch to conquer her fear of Christmas. There’s no scene with a Gremlin Santa or a chimney. Which begs the obvious question, why was this scene included in the movie?
The clear answer is because both Gremlins and Joe Dante are insane and the movie, at any given moment, does whatever it feels like (for confirmation, see all of Gremlins 2). But more than that, I believe this ridiculous scene represents the movie as a whole. The scene, like the movie is both dark and funny, jumping between these two tones at a moment’s notice. You’re not even sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or horrified at what’s unfolding. I don’t think we would remember Gremlins as fondly without these expertly handled tonal shifts. And I know I wouldn’t love this movie nearly as much without the single greatest Christmas story in the history of film.
With Gremlins, now I have another reason to love Christmas.