Tag Archives: The Howling

The Gremlins Gag Reel

Directors love an in-joke. There are an awful lot of movies out there that contain the odd knowing reference, cameo or other visual gag. For some filmmakers they are as much a part of cinema’s language as dollying and panning. More often than not they are references to other movies from the work of the star/director/producer of the movie you are watching, or signature moments which recur throughout that particular director’s filmography. Much of the time these gags will go unnoticed by the majority of the audience, but for the movie geek they are little golden nuggets, a secret code which only those in the know can decipher. It’s all pretty sad, perhaps, but we geeks will take any opportunity to feel special. And, yes, mildly superior.

Hitchcock was famous for giving himself cameos in his own movies, appearing in 39 of his 52 pictures. Almost every John Landis movie includes the line ‘See you next Wednesday’ somewhere within. And Sam Raimi will always get his Oldsmobile into his films if he can. But few directors have crammed as many of these little gags into a single movie as Joe Dante did in 1984′s Gremlins.

So, because it’s Christmas and watching Gremlins is one of my yuletide rituals, I present to you my visual list of the great movie’s many in-jokes. I’ve time-indexed each one, both to help you watch out for them and because I’m a big, anal geek.

Now, I don’t claim this to be a comprehensive list, although I hope it’s close. You’d have to be a fool to say you’d spotted every gag in a movie by a director who confesses he likes to ‘doodle in the margins’ of each frame. These are just the ones I know. If I’ve missed any out, please let me know. I’ll be your geek friend forever.

05:13 – Speaks for itself, this one. Kingston Falls resident DJ Rocking Ricky Rialto bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain famous adventurer. And that logo looks just as familiar, too. This is the first of many nods to Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg.

05:45 – The name of the store in the background is Doctor Fantasy’s, a name which Billy mentions later on. Doctor Fantasy was producer Frank Marshall’s nickname.

08:22 – Billy passes a cinema showing two movies with titles which will be familiar to informed Spielberg fans. A Boy’s Life was the original title of E.T. and Watch the Skies was the original title of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

08:49 – Billy’s walk to work is highly reminiscent of George Bailey’s run home at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, which was a big influence on the look of Gremlins. The town is called Kingston Falls, after the classic movie’s Bedford Falls. Look, there’s even an Emporium. Merry Christmas, Emporium!

13:31 – Billy’s friend at the bar is none other than the late, great Chuck Jones, legendary animator for Looney Tunes. Director Joe Dante is a huge fan of the Warner cartoons, and there are several references to the characters throughout Gremlins, including a later scene in the same bar where a PepĂ© Le Pew cartoon is playing on the TV in the background.

15:15 – Look what Billy’s mum is watching on the TV. It’s a Wonderful Life! Specifically the George Bailey scene which Dante imitated earlier. Cheeky old Joe.

23:55 – If you look closely at the back wall of Billy’s bedroom, you’ll see a rolled up poster for Twilight Zone: The Movie, which Gremlins producer Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante both directed sequences for.

38:07 – The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is showing on the TV, paying homage to another Dante favourite and another movie featuring creatures born in pods. Also, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starred Kevin McCarthy, a regular in Joe Dante’s movies.

38:59 – The smiley face on the fridge door is a recurring motif from Dante’s previous movie The Howling.

43:23 – Multiple gags in this single frame. Billy’s dad calls home from the Inventor’s Convention. Behind him, in the cowboy hat, is composer Jerry Goldsmith and behind Goldsmith is the machine from the 1960 movie, The Time Machine. In the foreground, zooming around in a weird cart, is none other than Spielberg.

58:35 – We cut back to the same place later and now Robby the Robot from sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet is using the phone. Wearing Indiana Jones’ hat.

1:13:42 – Anyone who played arcade games in the 80s will recognise the Star Wars game being played by this gremlin. We used to think that game was so cool.

1:23:24 – Billy and Kate find the gremlins in the cinema. What movie is in the Coming Attractions? Yep, it’s The Howling.

1:23:38 – While the gremlins sit watching Snow White, one of them appears to have a pair of very familiar ears.

1:29:35 – Billy hunts down Stripe in the department store, but Stripe is hiding among some well-known cuddly characters, including E.T..

1:38:11 – At the end of the movie, we see a reporter on the TV. This is Jim McKrell playing Lew Landers, exactly the same character he played in The Howling.



Review: The Hole

The Hole

Starring: Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern

Director: Joe Dante

Newly arrived in the small town of Bensonville, brothers Dane and Lucas discover a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement of their new house. Shortly after opening the trapdoor which covers the hole, strange things begin to creep out, playing on the fears of whoever stares down into the darkness.

Welcome back, Mr Dante. Where on earth have you been? It’s been seven years since the cinema last saw a Joe Dante movie, and twelve years since it saw a Joe Dante movie that was any good (we’ll just pretend Looney Tunes: Back in Action never happened, okay). Now, at last, one of the 1980s most anarchic filmmakers, who brought us Gremlins, The Howling and Innerspace, has finally returned with something a little more like the Dante of old. The Hole marks a tentative return to form for the director. Sadly, it is only a tentative return.

Dante’s movies were almost always family fare, but with a trademark touch of darkness and insanity. Gremlins is the perfect example. With The Hole, the director returns to this template, fashioning another tale where the kids have all the fun and the adults are largely clueless as to what is going on around them. This set-up and Dante’s recognisable flourishes leave The Hole looking and feeling like a movie from the 80s. No bad thing for those of us who grew up on a diet of films from Dante and his contemporaries, like Spielberg, Landis and Carpenter. The first hour of The Hole is by far the strongest but it is ultimately let down by a weak and sentimental third act which undermines the creepy atmosphere and chills it built up along the way. Also letting the side down is lead actor Chris Massoglia, who delivers a performance worthy of the great Master of Wood, Keanu Reeves. Still there are reliable, if brief, turns from Dante regulars Bruce Dern and Dick Miller to lend class to proceedings.

You can come out now, Joe. We've forgiven you for Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

The modern teenage audience, fed on a stable diet of torture porn and dreary slasher movies, will probably find little to engage them in Joe Dante’s welcome return. This is a film that harkens back to a time when horror movies were more fairy tale than fetish. Dante fans, however, will relish in his trademark, if slightly restrained, mischievousness. Look out for the psychotic clown doll for old school laughs. Flawed but fun, The Hole is like welcoming back an old, childhood friend you haven’t seen in too long. Too bad it falls so completely at the final hurdle.

Rating - 3 Stars