One of the greatest Christmas classics of all-time is the 1980s hit horror film, Gremlins. Thanks to my impressionable young age at the time of its release and my mother’s repeat viewings of it every December, I grew up terrified of the song “Do You Hear What I Hear” and always thought there was something grisly about icing gingerbread men. That blender-microwave one-two shot really haunted me. In spite of the childhood trauma, it’s actually a fantastic movie chockful of yuletide spirit.
I was re-watching it again the other night and realized there is one major stand-out problem with this movie, though: The gremlins are not the bad guys. Not really. They’ve been totally misunderstood, marginalized, and murdered. Really, this film is little more than Christmas-themed anti-gremlin propaganda.
Don’t believe me? Read on as I lay out my case.
The writers of this hit-piece never really flesh out the origins of the mogwai or the gremlins. We don’t know how many there are, how long they live, and what the history is of the species.
However, it seems obvious that the admittedly adorable mogwai are merely larval gremlins that naturally advance into the pupal stage to reach their inevitable and natural evolution. By suppressing that metamorphosis, humans are deliberately working against nature’s will. Notice how the mogwai seem particularly hungry at night–ravenous, in fact. So hungry according to their natural biological cycles and cravings that they are willing to sabotage a perfectly good alarm clock in order to be fed. Their poor little bellies were aching and Billy tried to starve them.
Most likely, Gizmo can only resist because he was kept in a hellish box prison inside of a damp basement shop for who knows how many years, decades, or centuries. The mogwai and gremlins clearly have intelligence that can rival humans so Gizmo was effectively programmed to understand that his freedom was only based on the condition that he not give in to his natural late-night feeding urges. Poor little guy was traumatized. And that’s after he was accidentally water-raped.
Their Emergence From the Chrysalis
I’ll admit that their “hatching” was a little bit problematic.
Of course, the humans were already judging them harshly by the sight of their chrysalitic shells and ooze, presumably filled with protective bacteria and nutrition. Then, when they emerged–surely a bit dazed and feeling vulnerable, they discovered delicious cookies to fill their empty bellies when they were set upon by a deranged curly-haired woman in the kitchen. Yes they jumped out and scared her. Yes they should’ve kept their claws to themselves and not knocked over the tree. But this is all behavior that merely rivals a housecat. Only a monster would stick a cat in the blender. So what does that say about Mrs. Peltzer?
Now, there is the high school classroom gremlin who did, admittedly, cross a line by (presumably) killing the teacher. However, he was caged and had medical experiments performed on him against his will for motives that were unclear to him.
And did we even verify that the teacher died? Maybe he just got a bad bite and needed a bandage. Your presumption of his death signals anti-gremlin bias.
Their General Behavior
Once they escaped their captors and explored Kingston Falls, think on what the Gremlins chose to do. They went to a bar and got rowdy with drinks, card games, and art performances. Many try to don clothes to assimilate to their new home.
That sounds pretty great. It was a hatching party! But because their personalities are naturally boisterous and their skin is green and scaly, Kate breaks bottles over their heads instead of courteously serving them drinks. You’d think that she could handle bartending with a little more professionalism. To top it off, she runs off and leaves the bar untended so she can be with her boyfriend. So now the gremlins, second-class citizens that they are, must tend bar on their own.
Granted, the rate at which they commit theft (not paying their bar tab, taking candy and popcorn at the theatre, borrowing a snow plow, etc.) is troubling. They did just hatch, though, so they had no currency or understanding of society’s laws and norms. This was more of a cultural misunderstanding than anything else. Plus, they tried to make it up to everyone by learning and performing Christmas carols for the town’s enjoyment.
At the end of the night, where did they all end up? Watching Snow White and loving it. They ate candy and popcorn (“yum-yummm”) and sang along with the dwarves. Note how Billy seems to have a moment of dawning realization that maybe they aren’t demons but just some new creature looking for fun and food. Then he shakes it off and plots to murder them all–right in the middle of their Disney sing-along. That’s cold, Billy.
Their Alleged Victims
Before you start to argue that people were harmed, even killed by these nutty little dudes, think on what actually happened.
Barney – The feisty mogwai could have easily killed the dog (much like human Mrs. Deagle wanted to), but they merely decorated him and hung him safely where Billy could find him. Really, they may have thought it was a kind gift. A mere misunderstanding.
The Futtermans – The racist, cranky Mr. Futterman and his wife were understandably put out when a gremlin tried to learn how to drive and accidentally drove a snow plow into their home. Or maybe the green fella didn’t understand that snow plows aren’t supposed to take down buildings. He was just hatched. Either way, the Futtermans survived and probably got a nice insurance check out of it.
Mr. Hanson – Again, even if Mr. Hanson died, the gremlin’s case might hold up in court as self-defense. And he’s probably fine and retired in Florida.
Mom Peltzer – She brutally murdered their siblings and came at more of them with a huge knife. Out of this carnage she got a few scrapes on her face and a twisted arm. Boo-hoo. Those poor little guys were slaughtered.
Mrs. Deagle – I know murder is wrong, but, arguably, she had it coming. They surely chatted at the bar about how she threatened Barney at the bank and decided that she needed to learn a lesson. Consider how those clever guys even read her name and confirmed that she was the evil Mrs. Deagle they were looking for. They sought her out specifically–no one else, just her. It might’ve even been conceived as a harmless prank, though they did delight in the death almost as much as I did. Isn’t Kingston Falls a better place to live without her?
I know that Stripes was supposed to be the super villain of the movie, but the guy only avoided mass murder because he was out on a candy run. A. Candy. Run. That little guy did everything he could to keep his slaughtered species going and the humans just kept attacking him for it. They just couldn’t let him live because he was different.
I know Gizmo helped Billy with skylight out of loyalty and affection for his human friend, but if you don’t think that murdering his own son won’t traumatize Gizmo for a long time, you’re a monster.
This movie is clearly a story of how humans are truly the monsters. We are the monsters that destroy “others” and turn out families for not paying rent right before Christmas. We are the monsters who microwave other species and threaten to butcher dogs. We are the monsters who imprison and torture mogwai and try to sell people phony smokeless ash trays and defective bathroom buddies. We are the monsters who get drunk and try to crawl down an obviously dangerous chimney. And we are the monsters who shit on Christmas and make a new species emergence all about ourselves just because “dad got caught in the chimney”.
Poor, poor gremlins. Maybe someday they will find a place in a society that respects and cherishes them.
Until then, merry freakin’ Christmas, and stay away from chimneys, people.