Gremlins is one of my favorite movies ever, and that's been a fact since the first time I saw it, on a cassette rental from a long-closed Mom & Pop video store. The dichotomy was to die for: Gremlins boasted the cutest thing I'd ever seen in a movie and the most terrifying things I'd ever seen in a movie. Hell, I was only five.
The film's world firmly seeped into mine. I was completely obsessed with Gizmo, and dreamt of owning my own mogwai on a nearly nightly basis. And the gremlins? I totally heeded Rand Peltzer's voiceover warning from the end of the movie, becoming unnaturally wary of washing machines in dark rooms, kitchen cabinets...the whole nine yards.
I clamored for anything and everything Gremlins. I had a Gizmo plush doll, plastic figure, the cereal, the books, the audio books, the sticker books, every other possible version of "the books," and even posters. Anything I could get my hands on. The film didn't pave way for an incredible heap of toys, but there was enough out there to bring Gremlins into my life in ways far more tangible than those frequent daydreams about covering my new pet mogwai with bandages.
It's likely my love all things Gremlins that's made me unable to forget what I'm about to show you, but make no mistake: Running horrific shots of marauding gremlins during children's television was going to leave a mark even if the particular kid wasn't a Gizmo nut.
Yes, after years of talking about it, a reader sent me the famous Gremlins drunk driving public service announcement. (Probably yanked from YouTube, but hey, there's plenty on YouTube yanked from here.) Like that skeleton-themed drunk driving PSA I wrote about some time back, this one was aired super often and burned permanent scars into every organ of my body capable of being affected by it.
While the aforementioned "skeleton spot" made me afraid to drink any liquids period while inside of an automobile, the Gremlins version was just flat out scary. In it, Mr. Wing and Gizmo (happily reunited despite my eternal protests that Billy should've kept the damn thing) are hanging out in Wing's dank antique shop, and Gizmo's in for a lecture about teen drinking and drunk driving. Man. I could think of plenty of decent target demos for a lecture like that, but I just cannot count mogwais among them. Still, Gizmo seems interested enough, offering cute yelps to let his mutant grandfather know that he totally gets what he's saying.
As Mr. Wing talks about teens drinking and driving, we cut to several scenes from Gremlins, which coincidentally featured a few sequences where the gremmies drink, drive, crash and die. It seems impossible that I was ever afraid of these guys, but I was. Especially when they popped onto the television from out of nowhere while I was watching weekday afternoon cartoons. When it came to Gremlins, I needed time to prepare myself.
The old man decides to up the ante with a declaration against teen drug use, and to footnote that, we get the scariest shot from the whole movie: Stripe, post-sunlight attack, flopping out of the fountain with his flesh melted and his eyes transformed into picked eggs. Whatever courage that old blanket of ours provided when I first watched Gremlins on video was completely eradicated by that shot. I hated that shot. And I really hated it having it thrown at me during commercial breaks for Bugs Bunny or whatever the fuck I was watching.
The PSA ran fairly frequently and, to a five-year-old, it was a complete mindfuck. Even by today's standards, it wouldn't be typical to see gremlin-related gooey carnage on afternoon children's television. I can only imagine how much scarier this must've been for kids who hadn't seen the movie, and thus had no way of knowing that the little monsters' destructive outbursts generally led to violence of a more off-screen kind.
As was the case with many of the PSAs I watched as a kid, the message got lost. Drunk driving and drugs were bad, sure, but all I really came away from this with was the reaffirmation that Stripe was scary and that Gizmo had to be mine.
Gremlins-era Gizmo was so much more adorable than Gremlins 2-era Gizmo.
Click here to watch it!Posted by Matt on 07/18/2008. E-mail me!