2020/11/16

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Maltin Gremlins 2
 The recent post I did on beloved 80s horror-comedy Gremlins hinted that a review of the sequel was forthcoming, so here it is.

First off, I mentioned that Gremlins 2: The New Batch belongs to that rare breed of sequel that surpasses the original. Much like the follow up to another little picture that could from the 80s, Gremlins 2 improves upon its predecessor, and it does so for similar reasons.

The original Gremlins is the perfect example of a movie that shouldn't have worked, yet somehow did despite itself. Director Joe Dante was keenly aware of the first film's deficiencies. As a matter of fact, the reason we had to wait six years for the sequel was that Dante held out for full creative control.

There are two general types of directors: craftsmen of clear vision and steady hand who are only encumbered by studio meddling, and big idea dreamers whose flights of fancy lose cohesion without a strong producer to rein them in.

Joe Dante fits firmly into the former category. Warner Bros. let him make Gremlins 2 the way he wanted it to be made, and his workmanship shines through in the final product.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the ways in which Gremlins 2 is superior to its predecessor:

  • Watching Gremlins, one gets the sense that it never quite figured out what it wanted to be. Not so Gremlins 2, which maintains a consistent comedy-horror mood (heavy on the comedy) throughout.
  • The first film's lack of a clear protagonist with a readily identifiable goal is solved early in the first act of Gremlins 2. Billy Peltzer wants to earn enough money to marry Kate. Simple and compelling.
  • Because it lacked a protagonist with a clear goal, the ending of Gremlins doesn't bring closure to the problems the characters had before the Gremlin attack. Instead, the town is left in ruins, and many characters are seriously injured or dead. Yes, Mrs. Deagle met a karmic death before she could foreclose on her poor tenants, but their houses probably burned down, anyway. At the end of Gremlins 2, Billy lands a lucrative deal with a real estate tycoon after helping to save his billion-dollar brand. Money problems solved!
  • A minor but important point: Dante had wanted to open the original Gremlins with a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, but the deal fell through. He made up for it in Gremlins 2 with a new Looney Tunes short directed by Chuck Jones.
  • Having been made six years later, you'd expect Gremlins 2 to have better special effects than the first movie, and you'd be right. The creature effects take the cake with some truly creative designs.
  • The vital inclusion of Sir Christopher Lee.
  • Not only does Billy get a full plot arc complete with a satisfying payoff, so does almost every supporting character.
  • Gremlins 2 pulls off the difficult comedic trick of lampshading its own nonsensical rules without undermining the audience's suspension of disbelief.
  • Hulk Hogan cameo, Andy Kaufman style.
  • Genuinely funny--as is the first one, but Gremlins 2 is primarily a comedy--and comedy takes greater technical mastery to execute properly than any other genre. The Canadian restaurant brings me new sources of hilarity on every viewing.
I could sing this movie's praises all day, but Red Letter Media has already done it for me. See their insightful Gremlins 2 analysis for more.


I pointed out that the first Gremlins was surprisingly redpilled, especially as it pertained to globalism and the plight of the working man. Gremlins 2 is even more based in its comedic demolition of corporate bug man culture and consumerist urban life. Clamp Center is one giant malfunctioning Peltzer invention in the heart of New York.

That brings us to the character of Daniel Clamp himself. The New York real estate mogul is an admitted homage to Donald Trump. He was originally intended as a villain, but Joe Dante turned him into a somewhat air-headed but sincere deuteragonist, which goes to show how universally well-liked Trump was before he decided to threaten the establishment.

There's also the little detail that brings us full circle and almost qualifies this as a high strangeness post: A deleted scene from Gremlins 2 prefigured the Trump presidency over a quarter century before the fact. Skip to 3:30.


Gremlins 2: It's even better than the first one. It holds up. Give it another watch!

Absolute hit

13 comments:

  1. I didn't see either of these when they came out. Not sure why, but it's probably because I didn't like horror much as a kid. Most of the junk I came across was splatterpunk, which I still detest. I first saw these movies years later after a friend's insistence. Watching them back to back for the first time is an experience, I'll tell you.

    I had a blast with both, but the second one was the one that really knocked it out of the park. It was perplexing to learn that it was looked down on as a failure of a sequel back when it came out. That doesn't really make any sense when it is, as you listed above, a clear improvement over the first in every conceivable way.

    Perhaps this just has something to do with the times. The 1990s tried really hard to eject horror out of the culture, leading to its near extinction before Scream created the crap climate we have now.

    But I digress.

    I did want to add this in regards to the original.

    Why were people so forgiving of its flaws to the extent that craft issues do not bother audiences as much as they do other movies? I think the answer is Narrative Investment. I've been thinking about it since we watched it for Cannon Cruisers, and I really think that getting the audience invested is something that will get them to forgive just about anything you do. It's easier said than doe, but it is a skill that shouldn't be underestimated.

    As a writer and someone who reviews movies a lot, I tend to forgive most anything in a story as long as the execution is buoyed by four things:

    1) Characters that are likable
    2) Themes that resonate
    3) Action that flows
    4) Story that is coherent

    Gremlins has all of these, and executes them all expertly to the extent that the narrative issues simply don't matter because they don't get in the way of those four key things.

    That it does all of that despite some of its objective flaws makes it even more impressive, honestly.

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  2. >The New York real estate mogul is an admitted homage to Donald Trump.

    This is lampshaded several times in the novelization. IIRC, one time, Clamp looks out his office window and thinks about his unnamed rival. When Clamp is using his private, emergency elevator, he states, "I bet the other guy doesn't have one of these in his office!"

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    1. Does the novel say where the entrance to the elevator inside the building is? the movie just shows the exit under the potted tree.

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    2. I sold the novel to a used book store in the mid 90s for trade-in credit. IIRC, it was hidden in a nook in his office.

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  3. When you put it this way, it made me think of the first Nightmare on Elm Street versus the third one, Dream Warriors. The first is rather serious in tone, more eerie and atmospheric. Dream Warriors on the other hand embraces Freddy the Comedian while still having effective scares. When you include the epic song by Dokken, it's clear the makers went for full entertainment value instead of a pure genre flick.

    Personally, the first installments in these franchices are more to my liking but I can see why some consider the sequels to be superior. But if anything, I consider the ending for Dream Warriors the best possible: Freddy gets stabbed with his own blades and is finished with holy water, crucifix and by the power of God. For what I remember, that sort of thing was rather rare in the 80s horror.

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  4. Big fan of Gremlins 2 and becoming more enamored of it every year as the culture slowly shrinks into a kind of quasi religious quagmire. If it were made today, the Marla Bloodstone character couldn't be funny because muh feminism. Phoebe Cates' character would also have to be an executive of some kind and not played by a white person. The Clamp character would have to be the guy who started it all and gets arrested or killed at the end. The movie represents what is "normality" of people just being people with no hidden messaging or lectures. The movie satirizes every one, including the movie makers themselves and the cultural references were perfect.

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    1. On my most recent viewing of Gremlins 2, what really struck me was how Dante perfectly captured the heady social mood of the early 90s. For those of us who experienced that era, the world felt like one big funfair. The Clamp Center lobby, with its futurist architecture and period shopping mall teeming with carefree consumers, is a microcosm of post-Cold War material optimism.

      We thought the ride would never stop. It was always going to dump us off here.

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  5. After writing the above, I re-thought my take. The movie does have a message, but a subtle one. The message is be true to yourself as an individual even while caught in the gears of the machine, and even more so when the machine breaks down.

    You seem to be taking the present situation pretty hard. I think you will find that, as Trump was unable to implement his agenda due to the "swamp" that the same effect also works on the Democrats. The country is too big and the Constitution puts too many blocks in the road for massive changes that you envision. The big challenge to the country occurred in 2008 when the GOP alone was blamed for the meltdown and the most left wing Democrat assumed the office of POTUS with a filibuster proof Senate and full control of congress. The people rose up and gave the GOP full control again. I don't think the Democrats are going to be anywhere near as powerful this time around.

    I also bought your "Don't Give Money..." kindel book. Very interesting, I'll have more to say about it later.

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    1. First, thank you for your readership!

      You're misreading my reaction to the establishment's theft of the election. Longtime followers of this blog know I've been calling out the GOP's complicity since before Trump ran for office. Right after he was elected I gave him a < 1% chance of success.

      The main reason is that the Swamp is a crooked police precinct, and the GOPe are just the good cops to the Dmes' bad cops. They're not going to help the new chief clean up the corruption. The silence of hacks like Mitch McConnell, Nimrata Haley, and Brian Kemp speaks volumes.

      Far from depressing me, both parties dropping their masks has me excited. It gives us a rare chance to cast off our own blinders and return to a sane society ordered toward God, family, and the good.

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