Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gremlins [movies]

There have been two movies in the Gremlins series.

1. Gremlins US movie (1984). Warner/Amblin. Pr Michael Finnell. Exec pr Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg. Dir Joe Dante. Spfx sv Bob MacDonald Sr. Gremlins created by Chris Walas. Screenplay Chris Columbus. Novelization Gremlins * (1984) by George Gipe. Starring Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), Corey Feldman (Pete), Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Polly Holliday (Ruby Deagle), Keye Luke (Chinese Shopkeeper), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Glynn Turman (Roy Hanson). 106 mins. Colour.

Crank inventor Rand Peltzer buys in a Chinese junkstore a cute (and highly intelligent) little animal, a Mogwai, as a Christmas present for son Billy; he is instructed not to expose the creature to bright light, give it water or feed it after midnight. Billy's schoolboy friend Pete spills water on the creature (christened Gizmo) and it buds, producing five offspring just like itself but nasty. By accident, Billy feeds them after midnight, and they pupate, metamorphosing into much larger scaly versions with voracious appetites and destructive humours. Further accidents lead to hundreds of monsters rampaging all over town. Billy and girlfriend Kate destroy the mob; as they relax afterwards, the old shopkeeper comes to reclaim Gizmo: US culture, he declaims, is too immature to be permitted Mogwais. In fact, the monstrous but childlike Mogwais are collectively an unsubtle and quite savage Satire of one facet of that culture: intelligent enough to meddle with things they do not understand, they thereby cause immense destruction; their greed must be satisfied instantly without thought for consequences.

G is laden with Recursive references. Among the several films briefly seen on tv are It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the latter in particular commenting on G's plot, and there are visual allusions also to Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist (1982) and E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982); local skinflint Ruby Deagle first appears like Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and threatens Billy's dog just as Miss Gulch threatened Toto, and her death, later on, is depicted much like the Wicked Witch of the West's; Deagle has a pre-Christmas exchange with a debtor that seems drawn almost word for word from any of the versions of A Christmas Carol/Scrooge; in their pre-metamorphosis state the Mogwais owe considerable debts visually to E.T. and conceptually to the furry, cute but threateningly fecund creatures in the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967) by David Gerrold (the Gremlins were themselves "homaged" in the two movie series beginning with Ghoulies [1985] and Critters [1986]); and, of course, their name is taken from the World War II myth of the Gremlin. Their monstrous form seems consciously derived from the Hopkinsville Goblins, UFO creatures reported as having terrorized a Kentucky farmhouse in 1955; indeed, the rampaging Mogwais trash a farmhouse using an appropriated snowplough of the Kentucky Harvester marque. These and other allusions are perhaps of greater interest than G's story, which leaves loose ends dangling and seems designed merely as an excuse for all concerned to have pyrotechnic fun. [JG]

2. Gremlins 2 – The New Batch US movie (1990). Warner/Amblin. Pr Michael Finnell. Exec pr Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg. Dir Joe Dante. Spfx Ken Pepiot. Vfx Dennis Michelson. Gremlin and Mogwai fx Rick Baker. Title anim written/dir Chuck Jones. Screenplay Charlie Haas. Novelization Gremlins 2: The New Batch * (1990) by David F Bischoff. Starring Phoebe Cates (Kate), Zach Galligan (Billy), John Glover (Daniel Clamp), Christopher Lee (Dr Catheter), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Haviland Morris (Marla Bloodstone), Keye Luke (Mr Wing), Robert Picardo (Forster), Robert Prosky (Grandpa Fred), Gedde Watanabe (Katsuji). Voice actors Jeff Bergman (Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck), Howie Mandel (Gizmo), Tony Randall ("Brain"). 105 mins. Colour.

A direct sequel to 1. Millionaire Daniel Clamp is buying up all New York's Chinatown for development. Gizmo, the original little Mogwai from Gremlins, is seized by staffers from Splice of Life Inc, a genetic-research organization based in Clamp's premier block. Working for Clamp are 1's Billy and Kate. Billy saves Gizmo from the knife of Splice of Life's soulless boss Dr Catheter, but inevitably the Mogwai is accidentally wetted and the building becomes infested with Gremlins – multiplying to such numbers, and mutating thanks to Splice of Life's stocks, that they will threaten New York as a whole if freed. Our heroes destroy the threat.

More is not necessarily better, and this movie collapses under the weight of its own in-jokes. There are clips from and allusions to Phantom of the Opera, the Rambo cycle (starting with First Blood [1982]), E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Fly (1986), Batman (1989) (see Batman Movies) and others, while Prosky, as late-night horror presenter Grandpa Fred, duplicates a role from tv's The Munsters; the animated prologue and epilogue feature Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. At one point the Gremlins even interrupt the course of the movie itself, invading other movies and tv shows before being banished (by John Wayne) back into this one. Overall the constant deployment of excess in the pursuit of Humour voids G2 of all power to affect. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.