Study Guide

Gremlins Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates)

Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates)

Girl Next Door

If Billy is your typical '80s boy, then Kate is the ideal girl for the typical '80s boy. She's the cute girl-next-door, like Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. But Kate has a dark secret.

When she reveals it, Billy is presented with the perfect opportunity to show his sensitive side. He wins his way into her pants…er, her heart. Her heart. We meant heart.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

When we meet Kate, her first lines show us that she's a girl with her heart in the right place.

KATE: Billy, will you sign this petition? […] We're trying to have Dorry's pub declared a landmark. Mrs. Deagle's trying to take is lease away.

She's trying to preserve local heritage and keep the town drunks from having to look for a new place to call home. What's not to love?

But Kate's actually very much like the season this film is set in: Christmas. It seems sparkly and pretty on the surface, but it can get pretty grim. Our first glimpse at Kate's inner darkness is when she talks about what a depressing time the holidays can be here.

KATE: Well most people are, but some aren't. While everybody else is opening up their presents, they're opening up their wrists.

If they had emojis back in the '80s, Billy would never use a frowny face. He thinks it's a crime to be sad, and he can't believe Kate hates Christmas. She responds like anyone who's sick of hearing "Jingle Bells" every five minutes would:

KATE: God! Say you hate Washington's birthday or Thanksgiving, and nobody cares. But say you hate Christmas, everybody makes you feel like you're a leper or something.

This is when Billy asks Kate out, and she says yes. We often don't give Billy enough credit, but many boys would be scared away by a girl who actually lets her feelings show.

Deck the Halls

Other than be cute, Kate doesn't have much to do. We give her props for fending off a bar full of Gremlins with nothing more than a Polaroid camera. She bravely uses its flash to disarm them and make a path for her own escape. Plus, she fearlessly tags along with Billy at the end as they get closer and closer to danger.

Why is Kate so brave? She has nerves of steel because of a trauma she went through when she was nine. Her speech is one of the best things in movies, so we've reproduced it here in its entirety.

KATE: The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was nine years old. Me and Mom were… were decorating the tree... ...waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney on Christmas Eve, his arms loaded with presents. And he was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

Thank goodness this is just a movie…

In a way, Gremlins is about the end of innocence. At some point, we all learn there's no Santa Claus. We don't always have to battle bloodthirsty creatures on Christmas, but we all have a few bad Christmas memories. The holiday isn't the snowy white perfection that popular culture makes it out to be.

If you found your dad in the chimney, nothing would be scary after that. Not even gremlins with chainsaws.

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