Unless you come from a large and unusually close-knit family, there probably aren't a lot of people in the world that you really, truly love. Which is fine; it makes life easier because there aren't enough hours in the day as it is. But now imagine that you're at the mercy of a bizarre, seemingly unstoppable creature that is determined to kill those same loved ones in gruesome ways before your eyes. That's what the Thatcher family faces in Gremlin, when they run afoul of a cursed item that no GM in their right mind would ever allow in a D&D game because it's just too mean.

Things aren't going great for the family as it is. Teen daughter Anna (Katie Burgess) has a secret, besides being in a rebellious phase. Young Charlie (Catcher Stair) is still traumatized from the death of middle child Henry two years ago. And Adam (Adam Hampton) is cheating on his wife Julie (Kristy K. Boone) with his beautiful co-worker Natalie (Connie Franklin). They've just moved into the huge old house where Adam's grandmother Mary lives.

Things get infinitely worse when Uncle Jim (Mike Waugh) shows up to give Mary (Vicki Wilcox) a present, a strange metal box with a clock face made up of glowing symbols on the top. It's a game, Jim says, and she needs to give it to someone she loves. She promptly presents it to grandson Adam, in a sweet gesture that quickly dooms her and subjects her entire family to several days of increasing horror and a mounting death toll. And she was just trying to be nice.

To add to these already unbearable problems, the police are suspicious -- and you can't blame them, when first the Thatchers' (presumably wealthy) grandmother is brutally killed and others from the Thatchers' circle start disappearing. Detective Patterson (Michael Page) is after all far too sensible to listen to Charlie's claims of a "little monster" when the rest of the evidence suggests a sordid but entirely non-supernatural family tragedy in the making.

The box does come with certain rules, though of course the family doesn't know this. All they know is that the creature inside is periodically released to claim the life of someone Adam loves, and all the while the timer on the top is also ticking down, the lighted symbols steadily going dark. When the time runs out, will it be the end of the nightmare or the beginning of something even more horrifying?

It's a somewhat more realistic take on the usual monster thriller -- for one thing, the police aren't there solely to become victims and actually get to do some investigating. The special effects are a bit inconsistent, but the characters are all well-drawn and the acting is solid, even from the kids. And alongside the terror, the family still has to deal with the same problems they had before.

Unfortunately, this realism only makes the fact that the entire family seems incapable of taking even the most basic safety precautions that much more painful. Once they realized what they were dealing with, I expected them to make more of an effort to take advantage of its weaknesses, but there's precious little of that. Adam tries to shake things up a little, but never seems to follow up on what works. So the gremlin wreaks its havoc without a lot of interference from the family, and the body count gets pretty high, which is occasionally frustrating.

But overall it was a four out of five star creature feature, with plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments as you wonder who's going to survive the next scene. It's a wild and sometimes improbable story, but suspension of disbelief has never been quite so much fun. Pop up some popcorn and settle back to watch it with someone you love.

The gremlin climbing out. Now would be the time to try to kill it!


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