Written by Jonathan Wojcik

Mutant Gremlins!



I've shared several times how squeamish and easily frightened I was as a child, and for those reasons, I was never exposed to even "horror" as lighthearted as Gremlins until at least my pre-teens, though I still had a number of toys, played the NES game and even read the novelizations of both movies, which I recall being remarkably good and fleshing out additional backstory from the perspective of Gizmo himself.

Now that I recall though, my mother actually took some other, slightly older child she was babysitting to see Gremlins when I was just a baby, thinking it was more of an innocent kiddie film, and that kid was horrified to tears, so I guess that's another reason she expected me to be so sensitive. It's also famously the kind of reason why the PG-13 film rating was invented. Yes, specifically for Gremlins!

Eventually however, I saw Gremlins II on TV, and I was just enthralled. Many prefer the subtler, darker original film, and perhaps I would have too if I'd seen it first, but my first exposure wound up being the Looney-Tunes-esque zaniness of "The New Batch," from its goofy fourth-wall metahumor to just that amazing and unforgettable main theme. It's honestly still one of my favorite movies of all time, and not only am I already reviewing "mainstream monsters" this season, but this is a movie taking place around this same time of year! Bonus relevancy!

I shouldn't have to explain the basics of what gremlins is about even to those who've never seen it, but what we're here to review are the results of a scene about mid-way through the second movie, in which a band of gremlins break into a genetic engineering lab and just drink a bunch of "genetic samples" the staff were inexplicably keeping in big, clearly labeled glass bottles. As it turns out, gremlins are so biologically unstable that they can transform almost instantly upon the introduction of foreign DNA, with much hilarity and even a little horror ensuing from there...



Vegetable Gremlin

This poor guy got the short end of the stick here. I'm not sure why a single vial contained the DNA of a dozen different plants or why the gremlin would subsequently only develop the edible portions of those plants, but it's a reasonably cool design, even if it's nowhere near as dramatic as some of the others. Multiple scenes focusing on veggie were cut from the final movie for time, leaving only a brief moment where the creature emerges from a salad bar and another in which other gremlins are plucking pieces from the mutant to use in cocktails. Deserved better.



Rhinoceros Gremlin

Speaking of cut content, there was originally going to be a huge gremlin-rhinoceros hybrid, and it's really a shame we lost this one, because the way it diverges so far from standard gremlin anatomy would have added SO much to their potential. Had this many-horned monstrosity been in Gremlins II, I imagine there might have been a really varied and imaginative variety of fan-gremlins, maybe even an implication that gremlins were responsible for a number of other mythological monster sightings if we are to assume they had a means of splicing themselves before our own technological advances.



Elephant Gremlin

Just like Rhino, the presumably massive-sized elephant gremlin was cut either for time or for the fact that it might have been too "out there." It could have been a lot of fun, though, to have an exceptionally huge and beastly gremlin with a prehensile trunk!



Greta

A fan favorite that I only heard referred to as "Girl Gremlin" back in the day, Greta is a gremlin who drank some sort of concoction with gender symbols on it. I guess the idea was that this gremlin "changed sex," but...do gremlins even have gender or sex to begin with? We already saw that they essentially reproduce by budding. I guess they do tend to answer to male pronouns, but in any case, I think it's obvious that there's a little more than a change in gender or "addition" of gender going on here. Gremlins don't typically have mammary glands and as of the second film they never have fur or hair, so couldn't it also be that Greta is a genetic hybrid like the other gremlins here? If the hormones she drank were derived from humans, then her physical characteristics would be because she is a human-gremlin chimera. Oh no.

Maybe I'm just over-analyzing a character concocted for a bad joke, but at least it resulted in a gremlin with killer fashion sense and swampy green hair. SPOILERS, but she's also a gremlin that actually survives to the end of the movie. This, too, was arguably just for a joke scene, but as a kid I thought for sure it was setting up a sequel in which she'd be a more major character.



Bat Gremlin

The bat gremlin is such a cool design, isn't it? It would have been easy to just slap batty wings on a regular gremlin, but its entire facial structure is actually modified to be slightly closer to an actual bat than it looked as a pure-blooded gremlin. With the red eyes, second set of vestigial wings and beautiful spot pattern, it's easily one of the most striking designs in either of the two movies, its scene is highly memorable and it even gets its own spooky organ music!

SPOILER, but bat gremlin is further injected with a serum that protects it from sunlight, ironically making a bat-hybrid the only gremlin that can come out in the daylight. It ends up getting covered in quick-drying cement, but goes out of its way to strike a pose and harden into a decorative gargoyle, exactly what a gremlin would do in that situation.



Spider Gremlin

This is initially the gremlin known as "mohawk," an exceptionally colorful and wicked looking gremlin with a membranous frill down its back. It's basically presented as Gizmo's archest rival, and the books imply that it's even a reincarnation of the vicious "stripe" gremlin from the first movie, because that's apparently just how gremlins naturally work.

Of course this one goes straight for the black widow genes, though unlike the bat gremlin, they kind of wasted an opportunity to modify the base gremlin design and simply plopped Mohawk's head and torso onto an arachnid body. It's certainly still fairly badass, though we never get an especially clear look at it. This is a photo of the action figure, but it's pretty much movie quality.



Electric Gremlin

I don't know what the heck was supposed to be in the bottle it drank or how that can "mutant" a gremlin into being made out of electricity, but this is SUCH a fun one, especially the way it's depicted using hand-drawn animation! It also ends up being the most important gremlin in the movie, sort of, since SPOILERS AGAIN, they use it to electrocute the entire gremlin horde at once. This does make the electric gremlin the only one that can't multiply on contact with water, instead seemingly "shorting out" as it fries its brethren.



Brain Gremlin

Of every gremlin ever depicted, Brain feels like the one that completely steals the show. It drinks some sort of intelligence-enhancing concoction and hilariously takes on a sophisticated college professor sort of persona with a highly expanded vocabulary, offering a lot of entertaining narration from a gremlin perspective.

What's interesting about Brain is that despite the intelligence, it still has a seemingly hard-wired love of violence and mayhem, even shooting another gremlin dead just for kicks at one point. As much as I love the dumb antics of Gremlins II, it really is its darker moments that left a stronger impression on me, kind of just enhanced by the surrounding silliness...little reminders that no matter how fun-loving they seem to be, the gremlins are still monsters whose idea of fun often involves killing you dead.

There have been a lot of rumors lately of a major revival to the franchise, including a new movie, but what interests me more is that we're supposed to be getting an animated series...in which Gizmo faces mythological monsters other than gremlins alone.


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