Should I Watch..? 'Gremlins 2: The New Batch'
What's the big deal?
Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a horror comedy film released in 1990 and is the sequel to the 1984 film Gremlins. Directed once again by Joe Dante, the film sees Billy Peltzer and his fiancée Kate relocate to New York where they rediscover Gizmo in the lab owned by eccentric billionaire Daniel Clamp, who is unaware of the danger Gizmo poses. The film stars Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo and Christopher Lee. Dante intended the film to be even more anarchic than its predecessor and the film was noticeably lighter in tone. However, fans disapproved of the changes and the film went on to earn a disappointing domestic return of $41.5 million. Critics were more divided and plans for a third movie in the series have been dormant until recent rumours suggesting that plans may be being made once again.
What's it about?
After the death of his previous owner, the lovable little mogwai Gizmo is found by a couple of scientists and taken to a secret research facility within Clamp Central, a huge and technical advanced building owned by eccentric billionaire Daniel Clamp. The towering skyscraper hosts a variety of industrial activities from cable TV production, research and development, architectural design and even public tours. It's in these latter categories that Billy Peltzer and his fiancée Kate work in respectively, having left behind Kingston Falls and moved to New York.
Eventually escaping the clutches of Dr Catheter, Gizmo stumbles once again into Billy's possession who keeps him secure in his office after hours. However, Gizmo accidentally gets wet due to a malfunctioning drinking fountain and soon spawns four new gremlins who quickly overcome Gizmo and start multiplying themselves by eating on the food court. Initially unaware of the dangers around them, Billy and Kate must once again prevent disaster before the whole city becomes overrun.
Forster, security chief
Brain Gremlin (voice)
Charlie S. Haas*
Release Date (UK)
27th July, 1990
What's to like?
The original Gremlins was one of a number of films at the time that proved instrumental in introducing the 12 certificate in the US and UK, mainly by being too scary and too violent for younger viewers. But with this second film, Dante tones down the darkness and introduces a solid dose of cartoony lunacy - from the very first shot, the film is keen to stress that this is sillier and much more light-hearted than before. True, it still has a slight horror element (the spider-gremlin is the stuff of nightmares, frankly) but the film is much more at ease by featuring the little monsters getting into all kinds of pop-culture-riffing antics.
Annoyingly, Galligan and Cates still have zero chemistry as a couple and don't feel right leading the charge against the varied foes. However, the film does boast a great performance from Glover as the Donald Trump-clone Clamp, a pompous idiot with little concept of reality other than what he can purchase and remake in his own image. Watching it nowadays, I couldn't help but wonder what Trump himself would make of it assuming he could tear himself away from Twitter for a few hours. He'd probably enjoy the film which is a bundle of fun but nothing like as enjoyable as the first film. This is a more goofy proposition than before and definitely better suited to younger viewers.
- Among the film's many cameos include Hulk Hogan and film critic Leonard Maltin as themselves, Kathleen Freeman as a TV chef, composer Jerry Goldsmith as a customer at the yogurt counter and NFL legends Bubba Smith and Dick Butkus getting attacked at a salad bar.
- Dante wanted no part of a sequel to Gremlins as he felt the story had already concluded and the filmmaking experience behind the original was difficult. In the end, he only agreed to direct a sequel at Warner Bros' request on condition that he had complete creative freedom over the sequel. As a result, the film was intended to be a parody of sequels in general as well as including scenes he knew the studio wouldn't have agreed to otherwise.
- The film also includes a sequence where it seems as though the gremlins have taken over the theatre itself showing the film. Despite the studio fearing that audiences might leave, the sequence became one of the most popular jokes. Dante even tweaked the scene for the home video release, making it seem as though the VCR tape had been chewed up.
What's not to like?
While your kids will be laughing at the comedy and squealing at the scary bits, Gremlins 2 left me feeling a bit disappointed. Part of the reason why I enjoyed the first film was that the comedy was more subtle and useful in off-setting some of the film's darkness. It was more in dialogue and performance than simple in-jokes and sight gags - take the overly female gremlin that behaves like an absolute man-eater (possibly literally). It was a joke that got stale pretty quickly and by the time the end came, had definitely run out of gas. I would have preferred the film to keep more of the balance of the first film instead of tilting too heavily towards commercial success.
They were other things that I didn't like as well. The film has too many characters as well as gremlins and many don't serve much of a purpose like Prosky's cable TV host or the ambitious Marla Bloodstone played by Haviland Morris. Worse still, characters like Clamp or the Asian tourist recruited by Grandpa Fred as a cameraman felt underwritten and too heavily riddled with cliché. As good as Glover's performance is, it is such an obvious parody that I'm surprised the Quiffed One didn't lob a lawsuit at it. Whereas the first film kept the anarchy in check, it runs wild during this film and you feel like you experience it instead of watch it.
Should I watch it?
The first film might have scooped the bigger box office receipts and deservedly so but this film feels more readily consumable, dropping the more darker aspects and becoming a much-more family-friendly affair with wacky cameos, goofy action and a director barely in control of the chaos. But it isn't necessarily more enjoyable or as clever as it thinks it is. Overall, I think I'll stick with the first film.
Great For: children older than eight or nine, family viewings, anyone who doesn't like the current US President
Not So Great For: very young kids, Warner Bros' expectations, anyone expecting something conventional
What else should I watch?
I actually rated the original Gremlins the same score but I do prefer it to the sequel, being darker and more daring. As for horror comedies in general, it's a surprisingly crowded playing field with an unfortunate lack of true star power. The first film that springs to my mind is the sublime Shaun Of The Dead, a wonderfully written and performed film that introduced the wider world to the nerdy brilliance of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. As funny as it is bloody, it's the perfect blend of gut-wrenching horror and side-splitting humour. You'd also do well to watch the classic An American Werewolf In London or one of the better Carry On films, Carry On Screaming. Failing that, you can always rely on another film from 1990 - the redneck rampage of Tremors.
However, there are no shortage of films that simply aren't worth your time. The amusingly-named Lesbian Vampire Killers features a pre-superstardom James Corden and unfortunately, the title is the best bit. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is another failed attempt at extracting humour from a plague of the undead while the Scary Movie franchise finally seems to have died a gruesome death after years of increasingly poor sequels. And I'm sure you don't need me to tell you to avoid films with titles like Blood Sucking Freaks, Gingerdead Man 2: Passion Of The Crust and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox