(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition: Matt reminds everyone that “Gremlins” bites back, and Ariel gets “The Gremlin Rag” stuck in her head for the umpteenth time.)
Last week, Ariel rightfully snatched “Krampus” before I could write about Michael Dougherty’s frightfully festive gift to the world. Part of me wanted to double-dip this week and talk about why I love the outro toy pop right before the credits, but that’s just not good SEO, now, is it? Instead, let’s add another title to the Scariest Scene Ever canon. Christmas horror boasts plenty of nightmares, so let’s relive another.
Joe Dante, whatcha got to scare our good readers with from “Gremlins”?
True, there’s far more zany creature comedy in “Gremlins” than anything ferocious or terrifying. Billy’s treatment of Gizmo as a hapless pet owner is honestly the scariest material. Then again, a delightful jump-scare brings one final gasp of adrenaline before Kingston Falls rids itself of its mischievous infestation. We like our horror comedies with twisted darkness, and Dante adds a final yelp to shatter the audience’s sense of safety one last time. There’s a sendoff squeal, a lingering smile, and one more practical puppet that, sure as Santa’s beard, looks better than computer animation.
Gizmo the Mogwai lives in an underground Chinatown antiquities shop, a prized possession under shopkeeper Mr. Wing’s (Keye Luke) care. In walks Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), who immediately makes an offer for the wide-eyed little creature — but Gizmo isn’t for sale. At least, not according to Mr. Wing. While leaving, Randall’s approached by Mr. Wing’s grandson who sells Gizmo to him because finances are tight. Mr. Wing has no idea … yet.
Randall gives Gizmo to son Billy (Zach Galligan) as an early Christmas present and outlines three simple rules for Mogwai owners: don’t allow them in sunlight, don’t feed them after midnight, and don’t get them wet.
The two become quick companions when Billy isn’t blinding Gizmo with mirror reflections until klutzy kiddo Pete Fountaine (Corey Feldman) splashes water on the adorable Mogwai. After that, the Mogwai’s back starts bubbling until furball projectiles start popping off of his back, revealing a strange surprise: Gizmo reproduces when he gets water on him.
The Story So Far
To make matters worse, Gizmo’s offspring — led by a mohawked little cretin named Stripe — trick Billy into an after-midnight snack. That’s the catalyst for a metamorphosis within slimy egg pouches that look like they contain facehuggers. Out of each cocoon bursts a reptilian-looking gremlin that no longer resembles an adorable Mogwai, all of whom descend upon the community of Kingston Falls. The idyllic town becomes a wicked wonderland where cackling beasties roam free, as Billy plays “hero” with crush Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) by his side.
Onward the gremlins terrorize, driving Murray Futterman’s (Dick Miller) tractor through his living room and rocketing Ruby Deagle (Polly Holliday) out her second-story window. Billy and Kate chase the zany horde to the local movie theater where “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” rolls on film, so Billy seizes opportunity while his foes are distracted; he sets the theater ablaze and decimates Stripe’s ranks, resulting in a department store boss battle. Gizmo saves the day by zipping by in his RC car to flood the shop’s garden center with light, presumably killing Stripe. That’s where my scare comes in, and Joe Dante scores one last howl.
Within the outdoorsy section of Kingston Falls’ Montgomery Ward, Billy and Kate rush to the aid of a Gizmo whose head is severely bonked. He’s just drenched Stripe in sunlight before the mean-streakin’ gremlin can dive into a gurgling fountain to reproduce. The deed is done; no little green men exist. Kate wraps Gizmo in Randall’s scarf to comfort the Mogwai’s noggin since Billy’s father is now present.
The water fixture where Stripe’s melted corpse plops still boils and steams like a witch’s cauldron. Billy starts to approach. An aquatic light show pops off fireworks underneath the billowing fog, like dry ice from a machine. Something isn’t right. Billy shuffles towards Stripe’s final resting place just to check.
As he stands over the fountain, Stripe’s skeleton jolts upright from the thick mist and Billy leaps back in shock. Stripe’s carcass looks like it’s gone through an acid bath as a high-pitched shriek fills the room. The pile of bones, cartilage, and maybe some leftover tissue leap from a ghastly stew onto the floor, deflating and dissolving into a mushy puddle.
Now it’s over and Billy can sleep easy. Now Stripe is laid to rest for good … until the sequel.
The Impact (Ariel’s Take)
I love this movie so much. It terrified me as a kid but it still feels like home, however strange that may sound. Like “Poltergeist” before it, there’s just something so familiar and comforting about it. It’s also low-key terrifying, though, especially for kids. And while this isn’t what I would pick as the scariest scene in the movie, it’s a very close second for me.
One of my favorite aspects of horror is how well it pairs with humor, where the release of tension after a fright can have you laughing with your friends. Such is true of this scene. Everything’s tense, it seems like all hope is lost as Stripe shoves his little gremlin finger into the top of that awful fountain. But little Gizmo comes to the rescue and opens the blinds, so you exhale. Gizmo is safe, Billy and Kate are safe, Billy’s dad is there for some reason. Everything’s fine. Until Stripe’s corpse lunges out of the fountain and scares the crap out of you.
OK, me, he scares the crap out of me. Or he used to, at least, when I was a kid. He still makes me jump, but I’m not left thinking about it for hours on end, unable to sleep. I am, however, “plagued” by “The Gremlin Rag,” which I tend to think of as one of the most memorable movie themes of all time.
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Source: Slash Film