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The Campy Horror Film That Definitely Ripped Off Gremlins

When you ask people what their favorite Christmas movie is, they might give you a sincere answer like "Miracle on 34th Street" or "It's a Wonderful Life." These days, though, people are just as likely to list Christmas-themed movies like "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Die Hard," or even "Batman Returns." And for some, the best Christmas movies are straight up horror: "Christmas Evil," the "Silent Night, Deadly Night" franchise, and "Krampus" are just a few examples of horror movies about evil Santa Claus-type characters alone. 

However, when it comes to horror movies that just so happen to be set on Christmas, there's one which reigns supreme — Joe Dante's "Gremlins." It shouldn't have come as a surprise that "Gremlins" was (and still is) such a memorable film. The movie's script was written by Chris Columbus, who would also go on to direct both "Home Alone" and the first two "Harry Potter" movies. Still, who could have guessed that a movie about a kid with a cute pet — which spawns horrible lizard demons — would be as successful as "Gremlins" was? The first film made over $150 million off a $12 million budget in 1984 (per Box Office Mojo). 

The film was such a hit that Dante was given free reign to do whatever he wanted for the sequel. "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" took a dark comedy and turned it into something entirely "Looney Tunes" in nature. And soon enough, "Gremlins" imitators became extremely commonplace. 

One film in particular was so cheap and so bizarre that, among horror fans at least, it is almost as well-known as "Gremlins" — and that's "Hobgoblins."

Hobgoblins is a cult classic Gremlins ripoff

Joe Dante, who directed "Gremlins" and its sequel, is known for elevating schlock horror. One of his very first successes was 1978's "Piranha," a B-movie which was very intentionally a knock-off of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws." In a world full of "Jaws" knock-offs, "Piranha" broke the mold by actually being good — and funny, too. Spielberg, in turn, actually wound up as the executive producer for "Gremlins" as his career was really hitting its stride. As a result, Dante's "Gremlins" had the kind of support to not only ensure it was both written well and expertly cast, but that its practical monster effects wound up looking absolutely incredible.

Conversely, there is "Hobgoblins," which was released four years later in 1988 on, clearly, a tiny budget. The film was created by Rick Sloane, who is effectively the exact opposite of Joe Dante in that he takes ideas and injects as much schlock as possible. Sloane is probably best known for his "Police Academy" knock-off series "Vice Academy" — a franchise where police trainees solve most of their problems with sex. The strangest thing about "Hobgoblins," though, is that, despite the fact that it is obviously a knock-off of "Gremlins" (more on that later), the often-incomprehensible plot bears little resemblance to the plot of "Gremlins." 

"Hobgoblins" is the story of Kevin (Tom Bartlett) a young man who takes a job guarding a movie studio's vault, who happens upon a group of evil aliens being held in the vault by an older guard — the titular hobgoblins. The remainder of the film involves Kevin and his friends fighting off the hobgoblins.

Why do so many people know about a "Gremlins" imitation that sounds so innocuous? The answer is in the details.

Hobgoblins is so cheesy it ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000

The Gremlins typically kill their victims the old-fashioned way — with violent mutilations. The Hobgoblins, on the other hand, kill their victims by granting them their greatest fantasies and then turning those fantasies against them. How is any of this a "Gremlins" knock-off? The answer is simple: The hobgoblins look like Gremlins with fur. The hobgoblins also look like they cost a nickel (at most) to build. Nonetheless, the Gremlins influence in their design — particularly given when the movie was produced — is obvious.

If you watched TV in the 1990s, this kind of off-the-wall, ultra low-budget storytelling makes you think of one thing specifically — "Mystery Science Theater 3000," that show where a man and his robots are forced to watch (and make fun of) bad movies, while trapped in an outer space satellite. Sure enough, "MST3K" covered "Hobgoblins" in 1998, one decade after the film's initial release, with great success. As a result, "Hobgoblins" gained an infamy it shares with other ultra-low budget schlock like "Troll 2," "Mac and Me," and "Silent Night, Deadly Night 2."

"Hobgoblins" is so infamous that Rick Sloane even returned to the story in 2009 for the direct-to-video "Hobgoblins 2." That's right — there's been a new "Hobgoblins" movie more recently than there's been a new "Gremlins." We can only hope that eventually that a third "Gremlins" movie finally sees release, and this very strange injustice can be set to rights.