When I was a kid, family movies were traumatic. It seemed movie-makers took macabre delight in cramming their films with grisly scenes guaranteed to leave lasting psychological damage on the young minds watching them.
Just a few examples; Return of the Jedi's gargantuan Rancor monster chomping down a guard in Jabba's palace, Dorothy learning the horrifying truth behind Princess Mombi's hall of disembodied heads in Return to Oz and Judge Doom's screams of pain as acid burned him away in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
As an adult, it's hard to see where the horror lies, but as a wide-eyed impressionable kid each and every one of those scenes scared the bejezus out of me. These films always had happy endings, but boy, did directors make you sweat to get there.
I think it was Gremlins that was the scariest. It's also the one I loved the most.
Like the best family movies Gremlins carries a valuable message for kids. It highlights the importance of following the rules and horrifically demonstrates the consequences of breaking them. Sure, it's unlikely that any rule a child breaks will directly lead to a ghastly end but nevertheless it's still a good lesson for children to learn.
But I didn't love Gremlins for its moralising. I loved Gremlins for the adorable cuteness of its fluffy star Gizmo, the sheer bad-assery of the evil Gremlin leader Stripe and for the twisted dark comedy that lightens even the darkest moments of the film.
I also really dug its anarchic streak. Gremlins felt crazy and wild in a way other movies didn't. Qualities impossible for any kid to resist.
Some say Gremlins is inappropriate for kids and the Motion Picture Association of America would agree. The movie was instrumental in the PG-13 advisory rating being created. But this happened too late for me. I saw it on the big screen aged 7 and I turned out (mostly) okay.
Basically, Gremlins is a cuddly horror flick, full of disturbing imagery and violent death that'll likely cause a few nightmares. But it's also a Christmas film that's full of festive spirit. And as such I recommend you screen it for your kids this holiday season.
It'll scare them, but it will also delight them. And they may even learn a thing or two about respecting the rules.