One of the joys in being a film critic of a certain age is to watch movies beloved as a child grow leisurely into classic status, a few particular titles doing so against incredible odds. “Gremlins” is near the top of that list, moving from a box office surprise to Gen X novelty to a critical puzzle piece of ‘80’s cinema during its 24 years of life.
The picture is sensational (as is the carefree, zany sequel), delivering one of the last breaths of PG-rated menace before everything changed with the introduction of the now-infamous menace, the PG-13. Suddenly kid flicks with a little teeth on ‘em were lost in a ratings smog that made screen mischief slightly less exciting and, for some like me, flat-out permissible. The devil’s candy was now being advertised for all to see.
“Gremlins” has a profusion of grisly horror and Christmas-approved comedy within its bag of tricks, and composer Jerry Goldsmith shadows director Joe Dante’s juggling of tones with his own orchestral marvels. Perhaps best known for “The Gremlins Rag,” the musical representation of a wide devilish grin, Goldsmith’s work here is best appreciated when it slides between pure syrup and a body count, pinging back and forth between visceral cinema speeds with typical Goldsmith accuracy. It saddles up beautifully on the finished film, perhaps even selling the monkey business and the wonder more successfully than Dante.
I’ve included two tracks here to listen to. The first is from my old pals, The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Covering the entire sweep of the “Gremlins” score, the track isn’t close to the sound of Goldsmith’s original recording, but I’m fond of its warmth and studio quality.
The second selection is taken from the original score.
Here’s “The Gremlins Suite.”
Here’s “The Gremlins Rag.”
And the film’s trailer.