Gremlins was Joe Dante's first mainstream movie after gaining recognition for The Howling and the memorable 3rd segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Gremlins itself is not easy to pigeon-hole as a movie; it's mostly fun family fare but with elements of horror which meant that young family members would be excluded from seeing the movie at the cinema. Nevertheless the on-screen anarchy of the gremlins was a hit with teenagers of all ages, and financially the film was a big success. Equally anarchic was the music score by a versatile veteran, the composer Jerry Goldsmith. By some strange twist of fate (or was it?...), Goldsmith had also scored "Twilight Zone: The Movie", and the 3th segment of this compendium movie also featured a gremlin-like creature attacking the engine of a plane.
For the Gremlins' score Goldsmith conjured up what on paper seems like a weird concoction. The core of Goldsmith's score is a traditional orchestral one but it has substantial support in many places from synthesiser sounds. Its mood swings between comfortable family fare (with a cute animal theme, a sprinkling of comedy and a dash of Christmas Carols) on the one hand, towards something horribly demonic on the other (manic hints of ragtime, a devilish violin and strangely disturbing electronic sounds). Yes it's a strange mix, but it suits the movie perfectly, and hearing the music in isolation will easily conjure up scenes from the movie.
Gremlins is one of those movies where the background and foreground music blend together at times. Gizmo and the Gremlins sing their own themes on screen, but mostly their themes are simply part of the background score. Gizmo's theme is often heard on a synth - it's a cute theme suitable for a cuddly creature, slightly alien but its vibrato has warmth. The first few tracks of the album quote most of the main themes. After a brief hint of the Gremlins Rag, "Late for Work" is the busy theme which establishes the town and its snowy landscape as people go about their business. Then "Mrs. Deagle" with her dog establishes a major comedy element of the score. It's played using another synth sound but its a buzzy synth brass supported by some low solo strings. We're left in no doubt that she is a nasty figure of fun, so we will later side with the Gremlins when she gets her comeuppance.
The next few tracks are full of Gizmo's theme as Billy gets to know his new friend, but then things take a new turn in "Spilt Water". Although the track ends with a version of the gremlins rag, there is a new sound effect like an angry cat. It's something feral and animalistic, and we are to hear this sound effect more and more as the movie progresses. Although there are some moments of light relief, the next several tracks gradually take a darker turn, building lots of tension as we begin to understand how strange the creatures are, but not knowing what exactly is around the next corner. The composer uses some chimes to help us anticipate more rule-breaking in "Snack Time/The Wrong Time" but then, as things begin to get out of hand, Goldsmith brings a demonic theme on solo violin to the fore. There are little touches of the gremlins rag underlined by beating timpani as the newly hatched gremlins cause mayhem in the kitchen, but its when the creatures visit Mrs Deagle that we hear more of the rag. Their carol singing is not the traditional Christmas scene that Mrs. Deagle was expecting, and soon their intentions become clear as the demonic violin takes over and she meets a nasty but comic end.
From that point onwards the rag gets more demonic as the Gremlins go on the rampage. Meanwhile Kate tells her story about why she doesn't like Christmas and we hear a sad but disturbing version of Silent Night. For "Theater Escape" Goldsmith lets rip with some Stravinsky-like irregular beats, followed by pizzicato strings and then more electronic menace building up to the final confrontation. A new heroic theme enters the mix when Gizmo's steely determination becomes apparent. The cute bundle now takes the lead in dealing with Stripe, whose rag theme dies away with comic sound effects as he meets his gooey end. In the aftermath the chimes return as Billy must face up to his lack of responsibility and Gizmo's theme is picked up by the strings as he says goodbye to his new friend. It's not until the End Titles that we hear the full rendition of the Gremlins Rag complete with synth toms and the feral sound effects. The only thing that's missing is the Gremlins' laughter at the end, which would have been a nice touch on the soundtrack.
The complete version of Jerry Goldsmith's Gremlins comes on 2 CDs. The bonus tracks on CD1 and the 7 tracks on CD2 are a worthwhile addition to the package, and the 28-page booklet provides lots of additional information about every track. This complete version is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. The soundtrack for the second film builds on many of the features of the original's score, but is a fun listen in its own right. It is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. A twin set of both movies on DVD is always good value. You will be able to see cameos of Jerry Goldsmith in both movies (see below) and the DVD pack can be found at Amazon.co.uk (Region 2 PAL format for Europe) and Amazon.com (Region 1 NTSC format for the US and Canada).
CD1 contains 25 tracks as per the original single-CD soundtrack release, plus 9 bonus tracks.
CD1 - Bonus Tracks:
CD2 contains 3 song tracks used in the movie during the Tavern sequences, together with edits of certain Goldsmith tracks all of which featured on a 7-track mini-album released in 1984.
The following 2 youtube video clips show the Jerry Goldsmith cameo appearances in the 2 Gremlins movies: