Santa Showdown: “GREMLINS” VS. “RARE EXPORTS”
Jingle the Bells! Hit the lights! In celebration of FANGORIA’s re-release of the remastered original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, we present to you SANTA SHOWDOWN, a battle between the more gruesome ghosts of Christmas Past. So sit down by the fire, enjoy some eggnog and pray neither of these Christmas killers make their way down your chimney…
SANTA SHOWDOWN: GREMLINS VS. RARE EXPORTS
And so this is Christmas, but what have they done?! The gods of chilling cinema have spread much more than holiday cheer throughout horror history, and for today’s Santa Showdown, we pit two of Santa’s most terrifying cohorts against one another.
Of course, if this article were nothing more than a popularity contest, I’m sure there’d be no contest. Joe Dante’s GREMLINS has the subversive appeal of a bonafide cult classic whilst also sincerely qualifying as a massively successful studio venture. Jalmari Helander’s RARE EXPORTS is a much lesser known, yet equally acclaimed, foreign darling. But what they both have in common, aside from a wicked sense of humor with the horror, is how essential Christmas is to their films without specifically relying on the minutia of the holiday.
GREMLINS, for instance, handles its satire with scares and a biting critique that’s rather open for interpretation in its direction, although often is correlated to consumerism (a concept that was rather glorified in its underrated sequel). In the cathartic and surprisingly endearing script by Chris Columbus, the mischievous destruction from the titular terrors is almost representing a rage against Christmas itself, or perhaps what Christmas had become in an age of toy store blowout sales and holiday season selfishness. One could only imagine what the creatures would do in the climate where Black Friday encroaches further and further on Thanksgiving and leads to tramplings, fistfights and outright theft.
Conversely, RARE EXPORTS is a film that digs into the roots of the Santa Claus legend and allows the innovative premise to lead to a commentary on the modernization of Christmas. It’s a much more complex film, one that relies on a brilliant bait-and-switch narrative structure, audience patience and a wealth of imagination. At the same time, it doesn’t nearly contain the amount of characterization and intrigue that GREMLINS may, and subsequently creates a divide between audience and art. It also is incredibly dark in its interpretation of the Christmas legend, and is decidedly more unsuitable for children than the PG-rated GREMLINS.
Technically speaking, this battle is very close as each project has specific places to excel. The GREMLINS score from Jerry Goldsmith is barely short of iconic, especially in the horror community, and no amount of digital FX can take away from the masterful practical work of Chris Walas. Meanwhile, RARE EXPORTS has a much more rich and captivating visual style and cinematography as per Helander and DP Mika Orasmaa, and the sound design of the film is nothing short of astounding, especially considering how imperative it is during the stretches of dialogue-free tension building throughout. Both directors were working with unforeseen budgets, so luckily, the production value of each film is apparent in each beautifully crafted frame.
In terms of performances, GREMLINS has the upper hand, as both the humans and the gremlins are injected with a defined sense of personality, whilst RARE EXPORTS treats certain characters with disregard, especially once the true horror kicks in. GREMLINS had the benefit of chemistry-heavy casting of character actors like Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Corey Feldman, Hoyt Axton, Dick Miller and Polly Holliday, each of whom excel in their respective roles. RARE EXPORTS meanwhile, includes a cast of lower-key Finnish actors including the wonderful Onni Tommila and Per Christian Ellefson, who all bring a respectable minimalist simplicity to their performances. For the more realistic film the latter triumphs, but with not nearly as much fun and playfulness as the former.
However, I think the dealbreaker between the films comes in the voice of the director. RARE EXPORTS is an incredibly excellent film, conceived so concisely that its hilarious ending feels justified, but at the same time, the film feels somewhat lost in its own intentions as both a comedy and a horror. If that’s just an aspect that’s lost in translation to English audiences, so be it, but I’ve seen humor from that side of the world connect on such a stronger playing field when the project decides where its heart is. Meanwhile, GREMLINS feels so ingratiated in the aesthetics of Dante’s work that the cartoonish surrealism compliments the horror so much more smoothly, and in turn, the Christmas element feels all the more ripe for the ruining.
When it comes down to which film you’d want to stock your stuffing, I think GREMLINS wins by an inch. Whereas RARE EXPORTS is definitely exciting and fun in its own right, the tonal imbalance feels more detrimental to the ridiculous satire on display, even if the concept of the film feels suitable for nothing less. GREMLINS is the overall better time, and every moment, whether it feels dramatic, hysterical or frightening, feels fluid and cohesive under the chaotic cranium of Joe Dante.
ROUND THREE: GREMLINS
For more information on FANGORIA Presents and Screenvision’s re-release of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, including theater listings, please visit FANGORIA On Screen.