Netflix’s Stranger Things has brought back the look and feel of the classic 1980s style storytelling. From ET to Goonies, and everything in between, this chapter of ORIGINS looks deeper into those iconic 80s monsters, the Gremlins.
In preparation to binge watch season two of Stranger Things, I binge watched season one for a second time. I love the 80s classic feel this show has captured from the loose almost oblivious parents to the alien creature sharing the main character’s bike while the government chases them. From the feel of ET to Goonies to the Breakfast Club, my childhood is in full swing again. In this chapter, I thought I’d take a look at the ORIGINS of those adorable 1980s creatures who shouldn’t eat after midnight. You know what I’m talking about: the Gremlins.
Gremlins were made famous by the 1984 film of the same title. Gizmo and his crew of cuddly monsters found their way into our hearts until they discovered the kitchen after midnight. Then, they became crazed killers in this horror/comedy that helped shape the iconic 80s film genre.
Here’s the pitch from IMDB.com: A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
And here’s a longer description from Google. A gadget salesman is looking for a special gift for his son and finds one at a store in Chinatown. The shopkeeper is reluctant to sell him the “mogwai” but sells it to him with the warning to never expose him to bright light, water, or to feed him after midnight. All of this happens and the result is a gang of gremlins that decide to tear up the town on Christmas Eve.
While they became popular in pop culture through Chris Columbus’s script, they are actually related loosely to goblins. Their name is rooted in meaning as “to vex and annoy” which pretty much sums them up. They are like adorable children or pot-belly pigs that seem like the perfect addition to your family until you break their cardinal rules. Truthfully, they were only recently inducted into the “wee folk community”, like World War II recently. Sabotaging the machinery and hiding in the craft or under the wings, gremlins appeared with wide smiling mouths, hairless gray skin, and stood only three feet tall hellbent on crashing planes during World War II. The crew of a British Royal Bomber Command blamed multiple mishaps and malfunctions on their plane due to “Gremlins” believed to be a mesh of the only available beer called Fremlin’s with the title of the only book in the Officer’s Mess, Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
And boy are we glad!
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire V.C. was flying his plane in 1923. He’d been up all night, tormented by three creatures who came out of his beer bottle, so he claims. The creatures wouldn’t let up, messing with his instruments, breaking down his engine, and eventually bringing his plane crashing into the cold water of the Atlantic. Another pilot shares that the gremlins attached to the fuselage where they held on for dear life, able to withstand incredibly high altitudes. They were even accused of being Japanese created weapons, which isn’t too far-fetched when you consider Godzilla and Mothra. With deep red eyes and long, pointy, black-tipped ears, it’s amazing to think that so many pilots saw these creatures if they aren’t real. In fact, the second pilot said in 1947 when a strange aircraft landed in a little place known as Roswell, New Mexico, he saw the drawings and was shocked to again see the gremlins from his aircraft all those years earlier.
So are gremlins goblins? Are they the hallucinations of drunken pilots? Are they aliens? We may never know.
Few people who have experienced personal encounters have described them differently, saying they wore red or greed double-breasted frocks, old-fashioned tricorn hats with feathers, tights, and pointed footwear. Sounds like mischievous leprechauns to me (which you can learn all about on a previous chapter of ORIGINS). Others describe them as elves, sprites, imps, even demons measuring 20 inches in height and weighing only 17 pounds, though I can’t imagine someone getting a gremlin to stand on a scale or lean against a measuring stick taped to a wall. I can barely get my kids to sit still long enough for that or my dog, who has to be bribed in treats. My favorite visuals of gremlins include those clad in brown bomber jackets and boots with 6 inch horns protruding from their heads.
Apparently there are different variants of this creature. Gremlins with finned heels and webbed feet have been reported by Fleet Air Arm, according to the book titled Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins by Carol Rose. She adds that a species operating above 10,000 feet has been given the name Spandule, thought she doesn’t clarify why.
Gremlins have powers that remind me of the Bermuda Triangle’s affects, like unexplained magnetic and meteorological anomalies, and perhaps the creatures originate somewhere in that part of the world. Known to remove entire navigational points from maps, raise and lower runways by ten feet at touchdown, and even spin dials on airplanes backwards, leaving pilots directionless, are some of the accusations that sound an awful lot like the Triangle’s same shortcomings. And perhaps it can all be attributed to Roald Dahl, who was familiar with the myth after serving and shared the stories he’d heard from pilots to Disney.
Believe it or not, even American Charles Lindbergh came into contact with these rapid little creatures during his historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. During the ninth hour of the 33 hour flight, Lindbergh’s eyelids grew heavy. Sound slowed and the space inside the cockpit took on a hazy edge. What could only be explained as detached from reality, Lindbergh felt the presence of vaporous creatures in his cramped cockpit. The beings demonstrated an astonishing amount of insight of navigational equipment and flight controls. Although he swore they were mischievous gremlins and although he knew their track record of mayhem to include biting holes in the fuel lines, drinking the fuel, and even crashing planes, he drew a peace watching them work and maneuver the flight while he remained dazed.
The beauty of gremlins are their knowledge in technology and equipment. They are masters of mechanics, aces of appliances, and purveyors of progress. Known as the youngest in the monster pantheon, they were birthed in America and made famous by their ability to cutely cause chaos then kill with cruel intention. Gremlins make tools more effective and are even credited with inventing the steam engine. There’s a new story idea: Gremlin Steampunk. I’m totally on it! They are also mentioned as influential in Franklin’s discovery of electricity. I would love to write that story too. “Benjamin Franklin Meets a Gremlin, the picture book.” And don’t steal that idea either. I’m watching you. Some websites mention gremlins can do all manner of things in the clouds including moving mountains, islands, and perhaps shuffling a star or two if necessary. In their mechanical role, there is no equipment out of their scope of capabilities. They have an uncanny knack to read a pilot’s next move and have been credited with using telepathy. Basically, gremlins can work anything mechanical, prevent you from running away because they can read your mind, and even if you do escape, they can just move a house in front of you like the Wicked Witch of the West and strike you dead. I’m thinking the cute monsters from Gremlins missed some awesome opportunities. We need a new gremlins film that exploits their many abilities and talents. Maybe a fish-out-of-water tale about one gremlin who wants to help humans or a historical fiction showing their debauchery during World War II, maybe even the secret reason the war took place and how Hitler used them as weapons. Those ideas are on the table for anyone. Just make sure I’m mentioned on the dedications page.
In keeping with the heart of this chapter, I’d like to share some things you may not know about the film Gremlins. They’re from a website of 21 obscure facts, but I don’t think I’ll go that far. Here we go:
- Gremlins was written by Chris Columbus as a spec film with no intention of production until Spielberg got a hold of it and called it the most unique idea he’d seen in a long time.
- The inspiration for Gremlins were mice in the writer’s apartment.
- Howie Mandel voiced Gizmo.
- Tim Burton almost directed it.
- Without CGI, the Gremlins were expensive puppets and the producers had security check the vehicles of the cast and crew each night before leaving to protect their investment.
- Balloons were used for the exploding Gremlin in the microwave and when the mogwai popped out of Gizmo’s body.
- Gremlins was the first film to feature the iconic Amblin logo with ET in Elliot’s bike basket.
- The town of Kingston Falls used the same set as Hill Valley from Back to the Future.
So the next time your cable freaks out, your computer won’t work, or your car dies for no reason, you can blame a gremlin and no one will doubt you. Just be careful. They might show themselves to spite you. After all, they can read your mind and they know how to get under your skin: that copier machine at work that’s always paper jammed. Or is it?
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, where myth and science meet; written and produced by me, award-winning author Jaimie Engle of The Write Engle. If you like stories with a supernatural slant, I happen to write them. You can learn more about my books, read show notes, and study this topic through provided links by visiting podcastORIGINS.com. Please follow on all social media @theWRITEengle. I follow back. As always, subscribing, liking, and sharing this podcast is your greatest compliment. Thank you. I’ve also opened a Patreon account. If you like what you hear, consider donating a buck a month to say thanks. And finally, stick around and be dazzled by a short story from my book The Toilet Papers titled “Backseat Driver” about a man whose car is taken over by something evil.
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