Cinema: Creature Comforts and Discomforts

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Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante make Gremlins a scary summer hit

The parade of celluloid soldiers begins marshaling just before Memorial Day and swells to battalion proportions by the Fourth of July. Their mission: to storm the U.S. box office. Leading this year's assault is that renowned soldier of fortune Indiana Jones; he and his hyperthyroid sequel, Temple of Doom, mounted an early attack on 1,685 movie theaters last week, and in the first two days managed to push up the beach and top the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He is followed by the crew of the starship Enterprise (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) and by a hardy, ragtag company of mercenaries: punk rockers (Streets of Fire), Jewish gangsters (Once Upon a Time in America), breakdancing dervishes (Beat Street), comic exorcists (Ghostbusters), bumbling spies (Top Secret!) and sci-fi sorcerers (The Last Star fighter). The down-home marching band is led by Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone (Rhinestone), and at the rear of the pack, Burt Reynolds guns his battered Trans Am tank (Cannonball II). By Independence Day, if past form holds, half of these troops will have seized the imagination and the discretionary income of every American below draft age. The other half will have shot themselves in the foot.

What's that rustling in the bushes? Who are those tiny green figures scurrying through the twilight? Why did they bite that nice old lady in the kneecap? When did they start multiplying like rabid rabbits? Where will it all end? In movie theaters throughout North America, where these monster-pranksters have every intention of overrunning the opposition and leaving the Hollywood army of would-be summer smashes dazed in their wake. Ugh! Good Lord! Eek! Gasp! Aaarrrgh!. Gremlins is coming!

And on June 8, Gremlins will arrive, looking to scare you silly. This is no idle threat. Spooky as a slumber party in a graveyard, the picture is buoyed by a hip, good-timey sense of humor and buttressed by a marketing campaign that means to get a furry doll into every child's birthday bundle. But Gremlins has enough style and savvy to stand on its own as the summer's most original Hollywood picture. Like so many other recent works produced by the film-school generation, this is at heart a movie about movies, and about the innocent thrills a sophisticated team of craftsmen can elicit; it should give pleasure to stouthearted children, as well as to Ph.D.s in cinema studies, and in the bargain share the laurels of summer box-office smash with the inevitable Indiana Jones. This is what superior popular moviemaking is all about: using high technology and a cheerfully bonkers creativity to reach, and elevate, the lowest common denominator. A one-film movie festival that is blessedly its own unique self, Gremlins is perhaps best characterized by Co-Star Hoyt Axton's suggestive phrase: "E. T. with teeth."

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