Hollywood goes through different phases all the time. Right now, and for the past decade-plus, it’s been all about superhero movies and trailers filled with BRAAAM sounds. But for a brief period in the ’80s, the movie business fell head over heels for small — and scary — puppet creatures. We’re talking, of course, about that all-too-short era when Gremlins, Ghoulies, and Critters ruled the world.
It was Gremlins who kicked off the trend. The 1984 Joe Dante movie about adorable Mogwai who transform into mischevious creatures when their owner doesn’t follow the rules for their care was a smash hit. Gremlins was the fourth highest-grossing film the year it was released, coming in right between two other iconic films in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (#3) and The Karate Kid (#5), but its influence extended far beyond the box office. The movie inspired legions of other critter features, and for a short while, small monsters were all the rage. There were Hobgoblins, Trolls, and Munchies invading cinemas all over the country in the mid-1980s, but the two most memorable of these Gremlins knock-offs were Critters and Ghoulies, both of which took wildly different approaches to their little monsters.
Ghoulies was first to market in 1985. The film features the titular Ghoulies — small, evil demons who are summoned during a satanic ritual. The Ghoulies were undoubtedly grosser than the fantastical Gremlins, and also more risque — the film’s poster had a Ghoulie emerging from a toilet. Critters, released in 1986, featured creatures called Crites that came from outer space and liked to eat people. But with their furball appearance and giant mouths, they didn’t have quite the gross-out factor the Ghoulies did. Still, both films earned themselves the new PG-13 rating that the PG-rated Gremlins and The Temple of Doom had spurred the MPAA to create the previous year.
By the time Gremlins 2 rolled around in 1990, the trend had pretty much worn itself out — which explains why the Gremlins sequel pretty much parodies the original and doesn’t take itself even the least bit seriously. Sure, there were still a few Ghoulies and Critters sequels to come a little later in the ’90s, but it just wasn’t the same. And though their heyday may be behind them, these little creatures will always live on in our hearts… and hopefully not in our toilets.
Be sure to tune into COMET for Ghoulies and Ghoulies II on Saturday, Oct. 26, starting at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. C.