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On a busy night in Chinatown, Rand Peltzer is looking for something. Let's hope it's not his sister who is also his daughter. Oh wait, that's a different Chinatown.
Rand is looking for a Christmas gift for his son. He finds the perfect present—an adorable fuzzy little creature called a mogwai—in a Chinese junk shop. You know what they say, one man's junk is another's biological weapon.
Rand is told to obey the three rules of mogwai care: 1. Keep it away from bright light. 2. Don't get it wet. 3. Don't ever, ever feed it after midnight. Don't even let it lick the Ben & Jerry's lid at 12:00:01.
We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, but if the old guy would tell Rand how dangerous Gizmo is, everything that's about to happen could be avoided.
He doesn't of course, so Rand brings the mogwai home to his son, Billy. Billy loves the cuddly furrball, who they name Gizmo. The next day Billy gets him wet. Way to go, Billy. You had one job. If there were a big red button that said "Don't Press or World Will End," Billy would hit it with his elbow.
To be fair, we can blame his friend Pete, played by Corey Feldman, who ruins everything. When Gizmo gets wet, his back bubbles up and little hairy eggs shoot out of it. They became more mogwai. These ones are cute but…different. One of them tries to bite Pete's finger. We doubt they're housebroken.
Billy takes a mogwai to his high school science teacher to figure out what it is. Public education must have been amazing in the 1980s if public school science teachers were counted on to research species completely foreign to America.
That night, Billy's tricked by Stripe, the mogwai with the mohawk, into feeding them after midnight. Billy wakes up in the morning and the mogwai are gone. They appear to be inside the icky alien eggs that have appeared in his bedroom.
At the school, Mr. Hanson leaves his sandwich near the cage, and the mogwai eats it after midnight. It metamorphoses into a gross cocoon, and then hatches. After being in a cocoon, everything looks like a sandwich, and the gremlin takes Mr. Hanson as his next snack. Maybe the high school science teacher wasn't the best choice to research this creature after all.
In Billy's house, the gremlin eggs hatch and gremlins go after Billy's mom. Big mistake. Going after Billy's mom is like trying commit a crime while RoboCop is on patrol. She knocks one gremlin into a blender, stabs another with a kitchen knife, and nukes a third in the microwave. In a duel to the death between Billy's mom and Rambo, we're betting on Billy's mom.
Stripe, the gremlin leader, jumps into a swimming pool and spawns dozens of gremlins to terrorize the town. Not everyone is a Billy's mom, and many people fall victim to the creatures. Gremlins attack someone dressed as Santa, run over Billy's neighbor with his own snowplow, and kill Mrs. Deagle, the town Grinch.
After all the murder, the gremlins need a break. They all gather in the town movie theater to watch Snow White. When you kill dozens of people, it gets you in the mood for Disney. Billy sneaks into the theater without even buying a ticket and blows the place up. The gremlins are dead. Movie theaters are safe once again.
Not so fast, Billy the kid. One gremlin escapes: Stripe. He scurries away into a nearby department store. Billy knows if Stripe reproduces, he'll have to go through this all over again. Then where will he watch his movies? Billy, adorable girl-next-door Kate, and the one remaining non-homicidal mogwai Gizmo, chase Stripe into the department store.
Stripe goes all lumberjack on Billy with a chainsaw, as if Billy were a maple tree filled with delicious syrup, but Billy fends him off. He pursues Stripe to a fountain. If Stripe gets wet, it's all over, but Gizmo zips to the rescue in a pink toy car he must have hijacked off a Barbie. Gizmo opens the blinds, directing bright sunlight onto Stripe, and frying him into goo.
Billy, Kate, and Gizmo recover at home with Mom and Dad. The Peltzers get a special visitor. He has a gray beard, but he's not Santa bearing prezzies. It's Grandfather from Chinatown coming to repo Gizmo.
He chastises the Peltzers for disobeying the rules and wreaking havoc and tells Billy that maybe, someday, he'll be ready to see Gizmo again. (Hint: he'll be ready in 1990, when the sequel comes out.)