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Caution: potential spoilers.
This came out in June 1984, and I'm sure I saw it sometime in the 80s. I finally got it on DVD and watched it again in December 2017. (The previous year I had watched Krampus on December 5, which is Krampusnacht. Thereafter, I decided that every year I should try to watch a Christmas horror movie on that night, and this is what I chose for this year.) For a long time, I assumed that whenever I got around to rewatching this movie and writing a review, I'd put it under "supernatural" instead of "scary movies," because I didn't remember it being a horror movie so much as a comedy. But some time before I did see it, I broke up my "scary movies" section into subsections for different horror subgenres, one of them being comedy horror. So that's where I ended up putting my review... although I'll also link to it from my holiday horror subsection. (I could also list it in my plain old "holiday movies" section, as I did with "Krampus," but I reckon Christmas is somewhat less integral to the plot here than it was in that movie, so whatever.)
Anyway, there's this "inventor" named Rand Peltzer, who travels a lot, trying to sell his inventions (which don't work very well, and aren't really useful in the first place). At the start of the movie, he's in a Chinatown (the city isn't specified), where a young Chinese boy leads leads him into his grandfather's store. Rand tries to sell one of his gadgets, unsuccessfully. But he does notice a cute little creature called a mogwai (which is voiced by Howie Mandel), and offers to buy it; he wants to give it to his son, Billy, as a Christmas present. (Incidentally, I found it kind of weird that a creature that can talk would be considered a pet. Not that it talks much... and I know things like parrots can talk, but it's pretty obvious to me that this isn't just mimicry, it really understands what it's saying.) Anyway, the old man refuses, but the grandson secretly sells the mogwai against his grandfather's wishes, because they need the money. He tells Rand that there are three rules: 1, don't expose the mogwai to bright light (which it doesn't like), especially sunlight (which will kill it); 2, don't get it wet; and 3, never feed it after midnight. The boy doesn't explain the latter two rules, but of course we eventually find out the reasons for them.
When Rand gets home to Kingston Falls, he gives Billy the mogwai, which Rand has already named "Gizmo." (Billy, btw, is probably about 20 years old, but he still lives with his parents. He has a job at the local bank, and apparently he's largely supporting his parents, though it's not a very good job. (He does have dreams of becoming a comic strip artist, though this is barely touched on, in the movie.) He has a coworker at the bank named Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), who also works nights at a bar. The two of them seem to be friends, and he'll eventually ask her out on a date (though they don't really get a chance to do that, because of later events). Anyway, there is a patron of the bar named Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller, one of those actors who looks familiar but I can never think where I might have seen them), who is also Billy's neighbor. He's the one who first mentions the term "gremlins," which were (presumably imaginary) creatures that caused mechanical failures in airplanes, during World War II. But it's hard to tell if he really believed in them, himself. Either way, it's because of a drunken rant of his one night that Billy will later use the term for the real creatures that eventually wreak havoc on the whole town.
But I get ahead of myself. Um... one day, a kid named Pete (Corey Feldman) delivers a Christmas tree to Billy's house, and Billy shows him Gizmo. Pete accidentally knocks over a glass of water on Gizmo, which is how we learn what happens when a mogwai gets wet: little furballs pop out of its back, and quickly grow into more mogwai. There are five new ones that are produced from Gizmo, one of which has a stripe of fur on his head, so Billy names him Stripe (voiced by Frank Welker). Later, Billy takes one of them to Pete's elementary school science teacher, Mr. Hanson, to study. Billy puts just a drop of water on that one, and it produces one more mogwai. He leaves one of the two with Hanson (I don't know if it was the new one or the old one, but it doesn't really matter). It's not until around 2 AM that Hanson goes home, and he leaves behind some food that the mogwai eats. (He was just careless to leave food out, though I don't know if Billy had even mentioned the rule about feeding, and the mogwai was in a cage.) Meanwhile, Stripe and the other mogwai at Billy's house ate some leftover chicken, but the next day Billy discovers that his clock at stopped before midnight, because it had been tampered with. (It was a digital clock, so I'm not sure why it was displaying the time at all, even the wrong time, without any power, but whatever.) Anyway, both at the school and at Billy's house, the mogwai who had eaten after midnight go into creepy cocoons (that look like Alien eggs). Later, they emerge after having metamorphosed into not-so-cute creatures, which as I said before, Billy will come to call "gremlins."
Hanson calls Billy to tell him the cocoon had hatched, so Billy goes there, and finds Hanson dead, having been killed by the gremlin. He calls his mom to warn her to get out of the house. Before she can do so, she kills a few gremlins, herself, before Billy gets home and rescues her from another one. He then takes her to a doctor's house, while he goes out looking for Stripe, the last remaining gremlin. (He also takes Gizmo with him in his backpack.) He tracks Stripe to a YMCA, where the gremlin jumps into a swimming pool to reproduce, and Billy hightails it out of there, to warn the police. Of course they don't believe him, but they soon get a call they have to respond to, which we know was caused by gremlins. And soon the town is overrun by the creatures. They cause a lot of destruction, and presumably a lot of deaths, but they also seem to just have a lot of fun. And they can be pretty funny, in their own chaotic way. A bunch of them start hanging out at the bar where Kate works, and as funny as the gremlins' antics are, I also found it rather amusing that she was just staying there trying to serve them beer and whatnot, instead of running away. Eventually Billy shows up, and the two of them (plus Gizmo) will have to try to save the town from all the gremlins.
And... I feel like I've said too much about the plot already, but I've left a lot of details out, and I won't say how it all ends. But it really is a fun movie. Maybe there was less humor and more horror than I remembered from when I was a kid, but it's still more funny than it is scary. There's also a bit of real drama, mainly in the form of a story Kate tells about when she was a kid, and why she hates Christmas. (The story is based on an urban legend, but it supposedly actually happened to her. Looking at Wikipedia, I see that there was some confusion over whether it was meant to be funny or sad, but my take on it was definitely sad. Maybe that's because I really found Cates's performance of the scene believable, and it's something I can't imagine finding funny if you believe what she's saying.) And I dunno what else to say. I'm just really glad to have seen it again.
Followed by Gremlins 2: The New Batch. You may also want to check out the 2017 fan film Gremlins: Recall.