Gremloids (1984) — The movie behind the weird British meme

“Seize the fritters!”

Justin’s rating: A long time ago in a cult cinema far, far away…

Justin’s review: Whenever I think of Star Wars parodies, my mind instantly goes to Spaceballs. But it’s entirely possible that for Britain in particular, a much different answer — and for a much more peculiar reason — may be given.

I speak in hushed and hallowed tones of the 1984 classic Gremloids, also called Hyperspace and Gremlords in certain parts of the world. Instead of being a straight-up comedic copy of Star Wars, Gremloids asked the question, “What if Darth Vader got lost while chasing the Rebels and ended up landing on Earth instead? And what if Darth Vader didn’t realize his mistake and started tormenting the locals thinking that they were intergalactic heroes?” Thus, we get the award-shunning tale of Lord Buckethead and his Jawa-like minions scouring the world for the princess and her “transmissions.”

Considering the light budget, it was probably a wise idea — and inspired — to bring Star Wars to contemporary society. But what makes Gremloids even more special than scifi trappings is its commitment to being a genuinely funny movie with quirky characters and deadpan jokes. I well and truly didn’t expect to be laughing as hard as I was just 10 minutes into this, but that’s the truth. Everyone is shamelessly being as silly as possible in the best way, much in the vein of a Zucker Abrahams Zucker flick.

Let me put it this way: At one point, the villain steps in cow poop. He gets mad, sees a cow nearby, and the next scene the cow is stone-cold dead. That’s funny enough, but then we get cow funeral from a weepy priest at a church. A long funeral. Sometimes, if you push a lame joke far enough, it becomes hilarious.

Seeing Lord Buckethead and his jawas marching on a bakery while bombastic music plays may be what you need to kick your life into gear. I know I needed it in mine. Tears of awe streaked down my cheeks as Buckethead tried to strongarm a cheery baker into spitting up the “plans,” while the baker tries to sell them fritters. Then they march on a mechanic, because that’s where the “transmissions” truly are. This is the kind of high-brow humor you’ll be treated to in Gremloids.

As the aliens raise havoc, several of the locals get swept up in the roles of “rebels.” This includes mechanic Karen (Paula Poundstone) and bug exterminator/business school student Max (Alan Marx), who gradually fall in love and get really, really drunk (no correlation). Cabin Boy’s Chris Eliott pitches in as well as the alien-hunting scientist Hopper who gets really frustrated with all of the hunting-obsessed yokels of the area.

Yet the real star here is Lord Buckethead. He takes the Vader character and plays him as this dense, homicidal, power tripping boss who abuses his underlings and refuses to see the reality of the situation. It’s kind of miserable for everyone he torments, sure, but his machinations are quite entertaining for us at home.

At least it leads us to the special effect scene of the century, where space batteries turn shopping carts at a supermarket into flying speeders. Considering that all of us used to jump on the back of these and tear down aisles, I don’t see it as far-fetched.

As amazing as the movie is — and it truly should be seen — Gremloids became far more epic thanks to some cheeky Brit deciding that he would run as Lord Buckethead agaist Margaret Thatcher in 1987 to become prime minister. His motto: “Strong, not entirely stable, leadership.” Lord Buckethead garnered 131 votes that year, which prompted him to run again in 1992 (107 votes) and 2017 (249 votes). He became a huge viral sensation in that last one thanks to social media, an appearance on Last Week Tonight, and several appearances on the news.

So there you have it: A great film, a new favor, and a failure of British politics. What more could we ask from the ’80s?

Didja notice?

  • The famous Star Wars-type crawl
  • Fishing with dynamite in the dark
  • The kids all excited about “E.T.” before it starts growling and chasing them
  • [noise growling from the basement] Dad turns right around and goes, “Okay!”
  • The business professor extolling the field… and then in the very next scene throwing that career under a bus
  • Lord Buckethead and minions marching on the bakery
  • The torture scene
  • The wet vac being a “droid”
  • The great chase scene where the humans are stunned to realize they just stole a car, and the jawas keep kicking Buckethead’s seat
  • Buckethead steps in cow poop… and that cow’s days are numbered
  • “My father is a magician. My mother makes life a living hell for my father.”
  • The DJ getting really cheesed off about all of the hunting and fishing calls
  • I love the very cultured subtitles from the Jawas
  • “They’ve drained your brain and given you a hideous haircut!”
  • It’s not a wetsuit, it’s an “epidermal covering”
  • How often Buckethead knocks his helmet on stuff
  • Clerk: “May I help you?” Buckethead: [Shoots him] Just browsing.
  • I could watch the jawas run around the store all day long
  • FLYING SHOPPING CARTS (with horrible matting)
  • Buckethead gets blown up… but he’s OK
  • Max convincing Buckethead to exterminate everything
  • “You’re such a coward! You deserve a career in business administration!”
  • There’s no urine left to test

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