Features and Columns · Movies

The Trailblazing Tonal Shift of ‘Gremlins’

The words “blender” and “murder” shouldn’t be this funny, and yet here we are.
Gremlins Holiday Horror
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 25th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video on how Gremlins set a precedent for tonal shifts in horror-comedy.

There are few films that can walk the tightrope of being a horror-comedy, let alone a horror-comedy that’s actually horrifying. Which is to say nothing of the niche cool kids club of grisly genre blends that see fit to throw Christmas into the mix. Among which, it goes without saying, Joe Dante‘s Gremlins reigns supreme.

In case this devious festive classic has missed you, here’s the gist: Billy, our intrepid teen hero, receives a somewhat unconventional pet, which he names Gizmo, as an early Christmas present. Gizmo comes with several specific, albeit simple rules. Namely: don’t get him wet and don’t feed them after midnight. Naturally, Gizmo gets wet, spawning progeny who then trick Billy into feeding them after midnight, transforming them into murderous, mayhem-loving monsters.

As the video essay below explains, Gremlins‘ yuletide setting is no accident. It provides some darkly humorous context for the gremlins’ gluttony and celebratory gait. But, more importantly, the holiday spirit helps the film walk the line of its mid-point tonal shift from family fare to outright horror. In the warm glow of Christmas lights, Gremlins manages to frame its festive frights as joyful rather than sinister. A delightful perversion that, to be honest, probably upset parents a lot more than the second act horror elements themselves.

Ultimately, it’s a lesson other horror-comedies could stand to learn from: If you’re going pull a tonal one-eighty, you have to have a good reason for doing so.

Watch “The Art of GREMLINS: How Comedy & Horror Work Together“:

Who made this?

This video is by Ryan Hollinger, a Northern Irish video essayist who specializes in horror films. Hollinger’s analysis usually takes the shape of a personal retrospective. Indulging in a healthy dose of nostalgia, Hollinger’s videos are contagiously endearing, entertaining, and informative. You can also check out Hollinger’s podcast The Carryout on SoundCloud here. And you can subscribe to Hollinger’s YouTube account here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).