June 8, 1984 was quite a day to be alive. Two classic comedies with twisted sensibilities were released that day, and though Ghostbusters was the bigger hit, and the more revered of the two, Gremlins is still one of the best horror-comedies ever made.
Credited with being one of two catalysts, along with Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, for the creation of the PG-13 rating, Gremlins was something of a phenomenon that summer. Grossing $148 million dollars on a budget of just $11 million, the film was a legitimate four quadrant hit.
Though it’s thought of today as more of a cult hit than the much more popular Ghostbusters, there are a number of reasons it’s actually the better film. Here are just five of those reasons…
1. It’s Much Darker. MUCH Darker
While both films are undeniably comedic, Gremlins is rooted in the tropes of the horror genre. It shows the small town of Kingston Falls as a sunny suburban landscape early in the film, the very picture of Americana, but once the Gremlins attack, we see the town obliterated. It’s a subtle jab at the idealized world of the 1950s, and it hits home because it leaves the audience feeling as though they’re not safe anywhere. There’s also Kate’s horrifying description of her dad’s Santa Claus prank that goes tragically wrong, the laboratory sequence that introduces the Gremlins themselves, and of course, that famous kitchen fight between Mrs. Peltzer and a gluttonous gremlin, all of which add up to make one of the darkest blockbusters of all time.
2. Phoebe Cates Is WAY Hotter Than Sigourney Weaver
This is not a slight against Sigourney, she is still one of the sexiest women on the planet, but we’re talking about Phoebe Cates here. The ultimate dream girl, Phoebe perfectly balances girl next door good looks with unrivaled sexiness. It’s also a quasi-reunion for Cates and her Fast Times at Ridgemont High co-star Judge Reinhold, which helps to remind us that she was at the center of one of the best nude scenes in movie history. The only downside is that the winter setting keeps her covered up for most of the film. What we wouldn’t give to combine Phoebe with Sigourney’s Zuul costume.
3. Joe Dante Is a Better Director Than Ivan Reitman.
Ivan Reitman is a legend, that’s an undeniable fact, but Joe Dante is a much better filmmaker. There’s never any doubt that Ghostbusters is a comedy, but Gremlins deftly walks the line between horror and comedy, and plays on conventions of both genres to further confuse the audience. The fact that all of his work prior to Gremlins had been on horror films such as Piranha and The Howling made him the perfect choice to balance the comedy in Chris Columbus’ script with horrifying and hilarious imagery. Though both men have had shoddy track records of late, it’s hard to deny that, purely from a technical standpoint, Dante’s the much more skilled director.
4. It’s One Of The Most Film-Literate Films Ever Made.
That’s executive producer Steven Spielberg riding through a shot in a wheelchair early in the film, in a scene that also includes a reference to HG Welles’ The Time Machine (you can see it in the background there). These are but two of the dozens of references to other films or film ephemera sprinkled throughout the film. Add in references to E.T., Indiana Jones, It’s a Wonderful Life, Forbidden Planet, and even Dante’s own The Howling, and you’ve got the makings of one of the most referential, yet still original, films of all time.
5. It’s Got The Better Sequel
In the annals of sequeldom, Ghostbusters 2 is rightly considered one of the worst. It’s basically just the first movie all over again, just without the jokes. Gremlins 2: The New Batch, on the other hand, is a scathing satire of sequels, corporations, and even its predecessor. Director Joe Dante was given carte blanche to make whatever film he wanted, and he made a film that is brilliantly subversive. He takes down corporations, but also has a sympathetic corporate overlord character. He got Leonard Maltin to appear in the film, trashing the first one, and then being eating by Gremlins. He had Gizmo get “pushed too far,” and become a Rambo-esque action hero. It’s a truly brilliant film that improves upon the original in every way, and continues to be one of the most sadly misunderstood sequels of all time.