“Evolved” From: Mogwai (Mandarin for “Monster”)
Featured In: Gremlins (1984)
Notable Specimens Found In: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Voiced By: Frank Welker (Stripe/Mohawk the “Leaders”)
To speak of the Gremlins, as I know them, is to first speak of an element of my childhood that can only really pertain to those who had a Warner Bros. Store located in their neighborhood or somewhat close by. In my case, I had the one at the Mall of America where I first laid sight on the Gremlins. Though nothing more than statues littered about the rafters and often caught in the midst of some chaotic scheme, i.e. tearing out some loose wiring, I distinctly remember seeing how each and every Gremlin was unique. One was green another brown and I even recall one barring a finned Mohawk upon his scaly brow.
It wasn’t until my early teen years that I happened upon the original film playing on the then SciFi Channel and was at last introduced to the Gremlins properly and boy, what an introduction it was. While I had seen a fair share of movies by that time, Gremlins was the first to constitute as a true “black comedy” never mind one that made a horror story out of the Christmas season. Still, it’s not the film or its satirical sequel that I’ll discuss but the creatures themselves that play host in both.
To start with, the Gremlins are not strictly Gremlins as we recognize them. Originally, they start out as a rather adorable creature known simply as a “mogwai.” These mogwai resemble… well, to put it frankly, a lot like furbies but with actual arms and legs. In fact, I remember them even making a specifically designed furby based on Gizmo, the one and only true mogwai throughout both films. There are only three rules when dealing/raising a mogwai.
Rule 1) They don’t like bright light and sunlight can kill them within moments via horrendous melting leaving nothing but disgusting piles of ick.
Rule 2) Do not get them wet. A single glass of water is enough for a mogwai to produce five more with said “offspring” often being radically different from their parent in personality and appearance.
Rule 3) Do not let them eat after midnight. While this rule is never explained in further details and is even mocked in the sequel, it can at least be assumed that the timeframe is within the first quarter of the midnight hour. Should a mogwai eat in that time, it will enter into a cocooned stage where it will eventually hatch out into a Gremlin.
The difference between a mogwai and a Gremlin is quite drastic despite the many similarities that they share. To start with, both mogwai and Gremlins adhere to the first two rules with the Gremlins actively seeking out sources of water to increase their numbers whereas more mild mannered, or simply benign, mogwai actively try to avoid it and breaking the third rule at all costs. Both mogwai and Gremlins also sport rather large ears though given their ability to see in the dark, I don’t know if it’s a cosmetic thing or if they also possess a form of echolocation.
As to the difference between them, a mogwai is mammalian whereas a Gremlin is wholy reptilian in that a mogwai has fur and soft skin while a Gremlin will have scales or an almost amphibious membrane. A mogwai’s limbs are all quite short and compact but a Gremlin’s arms are quite long, nearly longer than it is tall, which is somewhere about three feet to a mogwai’s solid foot.
What’s incredibly odd about the Gremlins, at least in the film, is their… well to put it simply, their degree of insanity. It is without a doubt that the Gremlins and the mogwai are intelligent with both easily capable of understanding English and being able to speak a few choice words. Yet the Gremlins are rather deranged in what they can and can’t do. If it means destruction and havoc on a massive scale, a Gremlin can accomplish it but if the ever use a machine for its original purpose… Well, it’s hardly intentional on their part.
Another rather odd trait shared between the mogwai and the Gremlins is their love of music. In the first film, the entire Gremlin hoard had made their way into the town theater and were not only enraptured by the film they managed to get playing but were all actively singing along with it.
That film in question happened to be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with the song being “Heigh Ho” by the way.
Lastly, and something that I still question about in concerns to the reproduction of the mogwai, is the sheer animosity Gremlins show to their mogwai brethren. It is without a doubt that Gizmo is the last of his kind but the question remains if that was through human hands or the claws of his own kin. In the first film, the mogwai and later Gremlin known as Stripe for his distinctive hair was antagonistic towards Gizmo and was ultimately killed by the little fellow in the film’s climax. In the second film, another like-haired mogwai named Mohawk was born from Gizmo and he actively tortured Gizmo through various means that were either incredibly painful or demeaning. Sometimes even both.
Given how utterly distinct the mogwai that were born from Gizmo in that particular film, I can’t help but wonder if, as mogwai at least, the creatures are each supposed to be a literal embodiment of a certain psyche. It’d explain the creation of the “striped” mogwai who is almost always evil and/or malevolent whence compared to the other Gremlins.
All in all, I like the Gremlins not for their potential in horror though they have that in spades. I like them for their diversity both in the original film and especially so in its satirical sequel. I swear it was like the production crew was given a challenge to create as many distinctive Gremlins as they possibly could through any conceivable means. Those means were achieved via a science lab secreted near the top floor of the most advanced (at the time) building in the world where a good majority of Gremlins were mutated.
The most notable mutations that I found especially interesting were what Mohawk turned himself into, the gargoyle AKA “Bat” Gremlin, the Female Gremlin AKA Lady Gremlina according to the production crew, and last but certainly not least: The Brain Gremlin.