Secrets of the Mogwai: The most unhinged Gremlins from the movies
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai hits screens in May, a CGI prequel series to the movies. So with that launch in mind, we’re looking back at the most unhinged Gremlins of the past.
Audiences first met Gizmo and his Mogwai offspring and their Gremlin counterparts on the big screen in 1984’s Gremlins. Gizmo then returned for the 1990 sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which would prove to be a zanier take on the lore and introduced a bunch more deranged and inventive critters (with a small ‘c’). Many of which were altered of their own volition in Christopher Lee’s Splice of Life genetic engineering facility. Yes, Christopher Lee is in Gremlins 2.
The series is set to rewind to 1920s Shanghai exploring Gizmo as a young Mogwai and will inevitably bring some new Gremlin personalities into the fold. As we look forward to who – and what – we’re going to meet, let’s take a look back at the most memorably unhinged Gremlins from the movies. Starting with…
From the beginning, before he’s even in Gremlin form, Mogwai Stripe – so called for the “cute little stripe on his head”, a tuft of white fur like a mohawk – snaps at Billy’s neighbour Pete (Corey Feldman) when he strokes him. So far, so nasty.
Stripe is the ringleader, and Billy even points out early on that he seems to be in charge. There’s something especially sinister about him, even while playing Donkey Kong. He targets Gizmo as a recipient of some of his reprehensible behaviour, which includes spitting a gross yellow substance at him. You just know he’s the one to encourage stringing Gizmo up to the dartboard while they throw darts at him, before getting him down and throwing him down the laundry chute, with a “Gizmo ka-ka”.
When they’re tucked up in bed together, Stripe opens his eyes and clearly has serious mischief on his mind. He’s glaringly responsible for tying up family dog Barney in the Christmas lights outside, despite the odious Mrs Deagle having threatened to do something to Barney earlier.
Stripe is conspiratorial with the others – he will certainly have been the one to engineer chewing through the clock cord to ensure they get fed post-midnight. He knows what he’s doing. The others seem less calculated. He’s certainly the most malevolent, and the most intelligent. Stripe knows to head to the local swimming pool in order to multiply. After pouncing on Billy from a cupboard – stopping to slash at his chest – he plunges into the YMCA pool. All hell is about to be unleashed on the town of Kingston Falls.
Other particularly unhinged acts include pulling out a pistol and shooting a Gremlin that’s annoying him during the Dorry’s Tavern scene. Later, during the finale in the department store, he’ll also shoot at Billy – after first throwing deadly circular rip saw blades, aiming a ball-pitching machine, and even firing a crossbow at him. Thank goodness for Gizmo who ultimately kills Stripe with daylight.
Science Lab Gremlin
Billy’s biology teacher, Mr Hanson, is one of a small handful of presumed deaths across both films that we see on screen. And this is the first time we see exactly how deadly these creatures can be.
There’s a tense build-up to Mr Hanson’s demise, with the transformed Gremlin having broken free of its cage and hiding in the lab. As Mr Hanson tries to entice it out with a Snickers bar – not knowing it’s changed from the cute furry thing Billy first brought to the lab into a scaly monster – it grabs him and he screams. The next time we see Hanson, he’s face down and motionless beneath the desk, shot with a hypodermic needle in the butt. He’s said to have died originally with dozens of needles in his face but apparently executive producer Steven Spielberg stepped in to change it.
After Billy turns up and sees Mr Hanson sprawled on the floor, the Gremlin scratches Billy’s hand, grabs an apple off the desk then flees through an air vent. The creature turns up in a cupboard in the medical room where it bursts out through the door, and throws some stuff at Billy before breaking through the door and escaping.
Christmas Tree Gremlin
In the kitchen sequence in the Peltzer home, Mrs Peltzer proves herself to be the most unhinged of all involved in this skirmish. Hell hath no fury like a housewife whose kitchen comes under attack. She kills one hostile Gremlin in the mixer, and stabs another, before spraying one in the face with an aerosol (flea and tick treatment, if you will), then nuking it in the microwave. Mrs Peltzer is nothing if not resourceful. She even uses a folding table as a shield to block the plates being tossed at her.
“Get out of my kitchen!” she says before hearing a sound, grabbing two knives, and investigating. This is when the Christmas Tree Gremlin attacks.
Two red eyes appear, buried in the tree behind her. It lunges and the tree topples over as it’s biting and scratching at her. She’s flailing with the knives. It’s a flurry of pine needles, tinsel, teeth, and blades. The Gremlin attempts to throttle Billy’s mum with a Christmas rope decoration, but just then, Billy walks through the door, grabs a sword from the wall, and hits the creature into the fire. It screams. And dies.
We’ve got some pretty skew-whiff human characters amid the demented reptilian pests – Jonathan Banks’s Deputy Brent is definitely a bit off, as are the Futtermans – especially Sheila and her ever-so-slightly manic enthusiasm for Christmas. This helps craft the comedic tone amid the horror, and helps the audience accept that some of these victims might have it coming.
While the Futtermans are a little eccentric, however, they’re not malicious – and so when a group of Gremlins thinks it’s funny to commandeer a snowplough and drive it through the front room of the elderly couple, terrorising them but stopping short of killing them (they’re alive and well and back for Gremlins 2), it comes off more than just a little bit wild. They’re absolutely loving it.
Stair Lift Gremlin
Again, some Gremlins group together to terrorise a human – although this time, the human in question is actually targeted. Stripe seems to know exactly who Mrs Deagle is when he orchestrates an attack on the elderly but mean-spirited woman. The audience already doesn’t like her because of her run-in with Billy and Barney at the bank, and so enjoys the ordeal they’re about to put her through.
The Gremlin to make this list, however, is the one that sabotages Mrs Deagle’s stair lift. Because that’s the most heinous act that takes place in this sequence. While the Gremlins outside distract Mrs Deagle with carol singing, another sneaks inside and tinkers with the wiring of her chair.
Thinking they’re demons from Hell come to take her – “I’m not ready yet” she says – she flees upstairs, sitting on her stair lift. She presses the button but little does she know, it’s been Gremlin-ed and promptly launches her at top speed up those stairs and out through the window. We didn’t like her but still, this is a bit much. Who’s going to take care of her cats now?
Dorry’s Tavern Gremlins
Phoebe Cates’s Kate is working in the bar when legions of Gremlins descend. Amid those enjoying the thrills of the ceiling fan, others guzzling booze, and another smoking three cigarettes at once, are three that stand out as particularly unhinged.
One, the Flasher Gremlin, is dressed in a mac and dark glasses and delights in flashing at her. He shows up again in Gremlins 2, presumably a reincarnation of the original. Kate kicks him this time, getting her revenge and working through any residual trauma she feels after the first incident.
Another is having immense fun playing with hand puppets and amid everything else going on, it’s incongruous. It somehow, therefore, feels more unhinged than a green guy spinning on a ceiling fan. Hand Puppet Gremlin performs a show for the cool Film Noir-Vibes Gremlin, who whips out a mallet and smashes him on the head.
Then there’s the Electrical Conductor Gremlin. This guy removes a lightbulb from a lamp and sticks his finger in the fitting while holding the bulb. He has great fun allowing the electricity pass through one hand to the other to make the bulb light up. Truly nuts.
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Now we’re into sequel territory in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The Brain Gremlin is, as you would expect, intelligent. But this only magnifies his unhinged nature despite appearances. One of the Gremlins affected by the DNA and potions from the Splice of Life lab, Brain Gremlin ingests a serum that enhances his mental functioning. His vocabulary is vast and he can hold a conversation, and seems almost reasonable. But beware, he is not.
When chat show host Grandpa Fred (Robert Prosky) asks him, “What is it that you want?”, Brain Gremlin replies: “What we want is, I think, what everyone wants and what you and your viewers have – civilisation.”
He expands on this. “The niceties, the fine points – diplomacy, compassion, standards, manners, traditions. That’s what we’re reaching toward. Oh, we may stumble along the way but civilization, yes. The Geneva Convention, chamber music, Susan Sontag. Everything your society has worked so hard to accomplish over the centuries, that’s what we aspire to. We want to be civilised. I mean, take a look at this fellow here…”.
There’s a Gremlin next to him wearing a propeller hat. Brain Gremlin pulls out a gun and shoots him.
“Now, was that civilised?” he says. “No, clearly not. Fun, but in no sense civilised. Now bear in mind that none of us has been in New York before. There’s the Broadway shows, we’ll have to find out how to get tickets. There’s also a lot of street crime, but I believe we can watch that for free. We want the essentials – dinettes, complete bedroom groups, convenient credit even if we’ve been turned down in the past.”
He’s clearly absolutely bonkers even if he can string a sentence together.
Daffy the Dentist Gremlin
This guy will strike fear into the hearts of all those who have ever dreaded the dentist’s chair (not England’s Euro ’96 squad, then). Dentist Gremlin has crazy eyes moving independently of one another and approaches a strapped-down Billy with a whirring drill, laughing maniacally and asking “Is it safe?”. It’s a reference to Marathon Man and the chilling torture scene featuring Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman.
Luckily for Billy, Murray Futterman turns up just in time and shines a bright light in the Gremlin’s eyes to get Billy the heck outta there.
Mohawk Gremlin/Spider Gremlin
Thought to be the reincarnation of Stripe from the first film, the Mohawk Gremlin is a little bit smarter than the rest, a little bit more conniving, and a little bit more distasteful. Before he even changes into Gremlin form in The New Batch, we see him perving over women’s legs under the table.
We see him fire a gun at Billy, too – which is something Stripe did. After he drinks the spider DNA, it’s a while before we see him again. But when we do… he has Billy’s boss Marla caught in a web, and as Kate arrives, Spider Gremlin appears. He’s hunting, and he’s growling baring hideous spiked teeth, coming at them with slimy skin and spiky legs. Nobody likes spiders, least of all massive Gremlinny ones that can eat you. Terrifying.
At one point in the film, we see one Gremlin toss acid in the face of another, who instantly reaches for a Phantom of the Opera-style mask to hide his disfigurement.
Later, we see the same Gremlin playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on an organ. Another Gremlin dressed as a bride approaches and whips his mask off. The Phantom Gremlin gives an evil, menacing laugh and, with a witchy finger ominously outstretched, he walks towards the camera, cackling.
This Gremlin is injected by Brain Gremlin with a serum that’s actually a genetic sunblock allowing him to go out into the world in daylight. He does, and comes across the Futtermans from the first film in the streets of New York.
This Gremlin flies down and attacks – he scratches Murray on the head, drawing blood. But Mr Futterman gets the better of him. He pours cement over him which quickly starts to solidify – but not before the Bat Gremlin has flown up to perch on a building, setting like a gargoyle.
Shout-out for the moment when Dracula actor Christopher Lee has a moment of recognition as he looks at Bat Gremlin.
Fourth-Wall Breaking Gremlins
The goal is to make it appear as if the Gremlins make the film stop for the watching audience (apparently, execs were worried that audiences would think the film had really malfunctioned), and therefore showcase these Gremlins as particularly mischievous, ramping up the unhinged a notch.
But actually, the most frightening thing about this whole experiment is Hulk Hogan appearing to get the situation sorted by threatening the Gremlins to make them turn the film back on. He then apologises to us, and tells us it won’t happen again.
Actually, you know what? Greta is actually fine in the great scheme of things. Just a red-blooded woman. Okay, so she’s a little obsessive and predatory.
But the most unhinged thing of all across both movies could just be the moment that the object of her affection, Forster (Robert Picardo), acquiesces to Greta Gremlin’s advances at the very end of the film. She walks towards him to the strains of the Wedding March, dressed as a bride, and puckers up. Let’s leave it there. We’re pretty sure he didn’t.
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai launches on Max on May 23, 2023, while for more TV and Movies coverage head here.