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.

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1. Ghoulies*

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. 

2. Critters*

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.

3. Spookies

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!

5. Munchies

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!

9. Hobgoblins

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!

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20 Comments

Grandma22 9 months ago
Huh. Turns out Rand Peltzer was wrong then, in quoting, “Nobody’s got a story like this one. NOBODY.” Or was he…
lbwilmoth 9 months ago
Please me tv, don't show all of these crappy movies on svengoolie. Gouley's one and two were almost unwatchable.
cperrynaples 9 months ago
6 isn't really a horror movie, it's just gross! My niece loved both Garbage Pail & Cabbage Patch! Fun Fact: the young star was MacKenzie Astin AKA Patty Duke's OTHER son! He did The Facts Of Life and was recently on The Blacklist!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 9 months ago
Although some of the films listed include horror in their genre description, they also include comedy. Most of them struggle to fit into either category. Maybe a different genre description.
Well, they at least are good for a chuckle. LOL !
abbycat13 9 months ago
I had to walk away last week, just not what I was looking for. It says this week's isn't related to the story of the first one so I'll give it a chance...




Matsui 9 months ago
I like Critters from 1986, in some ways is better than Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2 is better than the first one.
tjritter79 9 months ago
Yeah, I don't know if I agree that ALL these "follow-ups" were knock-offs of Gremlins, especially "The gate" which in my opinion was the best one on this list. Sure they had small, shape-shifting demons, but they were barely used in the film. Possession and the demon at the end were the main attraction and all this was started by the practice of playing a heavy metal album backwards. Not exactly a "Gremlins" move there. If "The Gate" knocked off anything, it was the comradery of "The Goonies" another Spielberg classic.
Zip 9 months ago
I liked Critters. They were kind of like nasty little Sonic The Hedgehog(s)(the game). Loved the space bounty hunters. "We're here for the Crites!"

I find Gremlins rather boring, much like I do about another well-thought-of Spielberg film, ET.
Charrellpayton63 9 months ago
Yeah, I'm gonna pass on Svengooli again this weekend. The goodies are a little too disgusting 🫣 🤢for me and the family. This will make two weekends of not watching. Hope next week is much better!
Andybandit 9 months ago
I never saw any of these movies, except to one last week on Svengoolie, Ghoulies. These movies look like they would be cheesy, and the actors and actresses in them too.
geatornez82 9 months ago
Truthfully, the only reason I looked up "Munchies" was because Harvey Korman was in it.
daDoctah 9 months ago
My best memories of any of these are of Critters 2. That's the one where one of the alien Critter-hunters happens to be looking at a magazine centerfold when he transforms into an earthly form, and has to pull the staple out of the middle of his (now her) chest before marching off to do battle.
Bapa1 9 months ago
I've only seen the Critters films.
harlow1313 9 months ago
Proud Mistie here. I very much dig the MST3K treatment of Hobgoblins.
Bapa1 harlow1313 9 months ago
MST3K was hilarious.
BenSobeleone harlow1313 9 months ago
How about Pod People? That had just one alien creature who befriends a kid. Kind of a rip-off of ET. Dr. Clayton Forrester describes this movie as "it has nothing to do with pods and nothing to do with people but it has everything to do with hurting!"
Runeshaper 9 months ago
You gotta love Gremlins! I remember Critters, but none of the others.
Rob Runeshaper 9 months ago
I don’t recall ever seeing any of these movies.
Moverfan Rob 9 months ago
I've only seen the TV ads for some of them (yes, I am that old)..and that's how it's going to stay, thank you very much...
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