There are several horror movies with Christmas themes, but Gremlins might be the only Christmas horror comedy with cute puppets. Well, maybe not, but it’s certainly the most famous. While it came out in my childhood, I didn’t watch it until my adult life, although I do recall seeing a few minutes of it at a neighbor’s house. I didn’t watch it this year, but Beth usually leaves it on whenever we come across it on television. The premise is that there are these cute, cuddly creatures called Mogwai, which you aren’t supposed to get wet, expose to sunlight, or feed after midnight.
Obviously, we find out what happens when all of these things happen. Sunlight can kill them, getting them wet makes them reproduce, and feeding them after midnight turns them into murderous but still kinda cute monsters.
These rules don’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about them, especially because they don’t specify when it ceases to be “after midnight.” There are even jokes about this in the sequel. Also, while the offspring all turn into monsters after being fed, since Gizmo refuses the food we never find out what would happen to him in that situation. And while the ancient Chinese guy takes back Gizmo at the end, admonishing the family for not taking proper care of him, it’s a pretty tall order to not get an animal near water. I understand that the movie novelization said that Mogwai originated on another planet, perhaps one where water isn’t so common, but their origin is never specified in the movies.
The word “mogwai” was not invented for the film, but is a Chinese term that can basically refer to any sort of monster or demon. There’s even somewhat of a precedent for water making them reproduce, as the demons are often thought to have their mating season during rainy weather. While it’s not entirely clear if mogwai were originally thought of as all evil, it’s basically become one, sort of like “demon.” Chinese translations of the Bible apparently use “mogwai” to refer to Satan in the Book of Job. I wonder if there’s any connection between mogwai and the cute but formidable Moogles in the Final Fantasy games.
As for gremlins, I’ve more or less considered that to be just a generic sort of monster, sort of like goblins. From what I’ve found online, however, it appears to have specifically originated with the British Royal Air Force, which regarded them as little creatures that got inside airplanes and messed with the inner workings, causing them to break down.
In World War II, the idea of gremlins taking down planes became common in other nations as well.
Roald Dahl’s first children’s book, The Gremlins, involved creatures of this sort who were convinced to team up with the British against the Nazis.
Disney had wanted to make a film out of the story, but were caught up in rights issues because no one really knew the origin of the term.
Gremlins did appear in a WWII Bugs Bunny cartoon, “Falling Hare,” however.
Dahl would revisit this idea for his first adult novel, Some Time Never, here expanding the back story to explain that gremlins ruined human machinery because humans had destroyed their original habitat. The gremlins in the movies are also prone to messing with and destroying machinery.