In defense of the ''Gremlins'' rip-off
There's something to like in each of these knock-offs.
Scary little guys causing mayhem. That's it. That's the genre. And for many years in the 1980s, the idea was enough to sustain a cottage industry of low-budget mini-monster movies. Some were good, some weren't. But there was something to like — or at least laugh at — in each of them.
The original Gremlins was the perfect balance of Steven Spielberg's wide-appeal Amblin heart and Joe Dante's Looney Tunes-style gag-centric violence. All of the rip-offs that followed had their own special blend, as well. Here's a look back at those movies, and the tiny, spooky dudes that infested them.
The first creepy lil' creatures movie released following Gremlins' success was Ghoulies, from 1985. Whereas the earlier picture was rooted in family-friendly Christmas vibes, Ghoulies takes place in the world of the occult!
*According to first-time director Luca Bercovici, while Ghoulies was released a year later, it was actually in production at the same time as Gremlins. Producer Charles Band allegedly ran out of money halfway through, allowing Gremlins to beat them to the theater.
Critters is absolutely a Gremlins rip-off. But it is at least an inventive Gremlins rip-off. It begins in space, aboard a prison asteroid, where we're introduced to the galaxy's most heinous knee-high hairballs. These dinky demons are nothing but fur and teeth... and fun.
*This is another movie where the creators cited a script that predated Gremlins.
The Gremlins connection was built right into the marketing strategy for this one (at least for the home video release). "GREMLINS chased you/GHOULIES terrified you/Now beg for your life..." The freaky lil' fellas in this movie were but a few of many different monster designs. There was also a grim reaper. Look out for the Muckmen! They make fart noises.
4. Ghoulies II
The Godfather Part II. The Empire Strikes Back. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
This, the second movie in the illustrious Ghoulies franchise, lives up to and is worthy of the pantheon of great cinematic sequels. In it, the producer's father, Albert Band, directs the Ghoulies in an adventure unrelated to the first one. This one's got a funhouse! Neat!
Munchies was directed by the editor of Gremlins, Tina Hirsch. Joe Dante had this to say in an interview on Comicbook.com: "Talk about a low-budget movie. I mean, they couldn't afford really any monsters. So the monsters are like clothing remnants. It's just a bunch of clothing wrapped up and thrown at people." Hey, look! There's Harvey Korman!
6. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is a feature film adaptation of the trading card set that is a parody of the popular dolls, the Cabbage Patch Kids. If that seems convoluted, wait until you hear the plot! There are all sorts of baddies who are also kind of heroes; there's Greaser Greg (violent leather guy), Messy Tessie (she's got a runny nose), Windy Winston (Hawaiian shirt, farts), Valerie Vomit (self-explanatory), Foul Phily (whiny, hungry baby), Nat Nerd (acne, pees his pants), and Ali Gator (an alligator).
7. The Gate
The Gate is Stephen Dorff's film debut. It grossed about twice its budget at the box office and garnered better-than-average reviews. Especially within the canon of (supposed) Gremlins knock-offs, The Gate is a pleasant diversion that's well worth a revisit.
8. Critters 2
Okay, Critters 2 is great fun and probably the best executed in this cycle of movies. That's because Master of Horror Mick Garris is at the helm. He'd go on to direct Hocus Pocus as well, and that same madcap fun is definitely in the bones of Critters 2. The Chiodo Brothers, who do the special effects here, are at the top of their form with the giant Critters ball. It's like the boulder that chases Indiana Jones, but it'll eat your dog, too!
While Critters 2 might be the high point in the wave of post-Gremlins creature features, Hobgoblins... does not share that distinction. It was made infamous, though, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 mocked the pants off of the picture in episode #907. But hey, it's still better than any movie that doesn't have scary little guys running around trying to get ya!