The Beautiful Christmas Lesson Hidden in ‘Gremlins’

It's about how to be a good dad without being a complete moron.

Sunset Boulevard

Make no mistake. Gremlins is a Christmas movie. It’s not like Die Hard which is an action movie that people feel clever calling a Christmas movie. No, Gremlins is a Christmas movie with a comic-horror soul. The premise is simple: a teenager gets a weird creature with very clear care instructions for Christmas, proceeds to run afoul of those care instructions and nearly eradicates the residents of his hometown. But look a little bit deeper there’s a profound Christmas message for dads: There’s nothing more damaging on Christmas than a misguided father.

To watch Gremlins, which orbits around the carelessness of absentee-dad and shitty inventor Randall Peltzer, is to be reminded of the pressures dads face on Christmas. Dads are often responsible for putting lights on the house and cutting down the tree. They build the bike on Christmas Eve and agonize over being able to get their kid what they want regardless of cost. For Peltzer, who struggles to provide for his family by selling borderline fraudulent products, desperation creeps in. Sometimes you end up in Chinatown “buying” a creature you know nothing about in an attempt to convince your teen son you’re a hero.

Of course, attempting to buy your kid’s love is always worse than just giving love. Kneejerk consumerism always backfires. And while Peltzer’s son Billy does genuinely seem to like the gift of the cute-as-hell, fuzzy Mogwai named Gizmo, his ultimate indifference and lack of responsibility turns the gift into a nightmare. The thing about the gift is that it’s poorly considered. It’s supposed to be cool, but it’s incredibly poorly considered. Rand Peltzer is every crappy dad whoever bought their kid a fancy bike to make up for other failures only to realize, after the broken wrist, that they should have waited.

To be out of touch on Christmas is to endanger your children.

And while Rand’s thoughtless gift creates mayhem — including the attack of the town Santa, a Gremlin dive-bar party complete with breakdancing, and the attempted murder of Billy’s mom — he is by far not the dumbest dad driving the plot. That prize goes to Kate’s dad, who, we learn, broke his neck while trying to come down the family chimney dressed as Santa Claus. He wasn’t found until he began rotting. “When some people are opening up their presents other are opening up their wrists,” Kate explains mournfully.

The moral of that particular story? Being dumb and being selfish are often effectively the same thing. And the holidays are stupid season.

In the end, after the evil Gremlin Stripe is reduced to a mass of bubbling ooze and the old Chinese man (yep, racist) returns to relieve Billy of his pet, Rand appears to have little remorse. In fact, we’re left with very little assurance that he’ll change his ways and buy his son more appropriate presents going forward.

So, take it from Gremlins, you don’t need to buy your child the most mind-blowing gift to be a good dad. You just have to be present in some capacity for the rest of the year and give them all the love you possibly can. Overcompensating leads to chaos. Perhaps someday, you will be ready. Until then, Mogwai waits.