Film Discussion

Gremlins 2: The New Batch – Throwback 30

You can tell a lot by a film whenever it does something crazy with the logo of the studio producing it. Edward Scissorhands with the snowy 20th Century Fox logo; the continents disappearing from the Universal Pictures globe in Waterworld; or the Paramount mountain dissolving into a real mountain in the Indiana Jones movies. Gremlins 2 doesn’t open with a conventional Warner Bros. logo, instead opting to use the Looney Tunes fanfare complete with a cameo appearance from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

In terms of the actual story, two of the most famous characters in animation history have nothing to do with the storyline of what was a long-awaited Gremlins sequel, but instead it’s all about tone and attitude. There has never been a film quite like Gremlins 2.

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Like Ghostbusters which made its way into cinemas the same weekend as Gremlins, it took a longer time than expected for a sequel to make its way to movie theatres. Six years after unleashing the Mogwai onto the world, and with it the creation of the PG-13 rating, Gizmo returned, but instead of merely retreading past glories, Joe Dante’s sequel took an approach that to call it meta, self-referential or fourth wall breaking is to almost suggest that the fourth wall existed with this film in the first place.

The first Gremlins, like so much of Dante’s work, was drenched in a love of old B-movies and film references. It thrived on the fun of its own existence, and brought with it a sense of the unreal, and a movie logic informed by a love of genre and the possibilities afforded by it.

Gremlins 2 has a similar feeling, but instead opts to throw in every joke and wink to the audience imaginable. It’s not a movie that exists in the real world, instead operating as a piece of work that knows it’s a movie, comments on its own existence as a film, and throws in an abundance of in-jokes that remind you that this is indeed a work of cinematic fiction. One could say there’s a delicate tone going on here, but a delicate nature isn’t what Gremlins 2 is offering. One could even argue that it’s a sequel about being a sequel, but which then turns into a real-life Looney Tunes cartoon that pokes fun at everything it can get in its focus.

The film premiered in 1990, and so many of the jokes have the 90s and where the world had come from and was about to go in its sights. Taking the story away from the small town setting of the first film and moving it to New York, the film targets the emerging fad for everything being technology-based: twenty-four cable television channels, the colourisation of black and white films, the rejection of unhappy endings, big business and the emergence of entrepreneurial moguls.

The latter is represented by the character of Daniel Clamp, who initially was written to be a more villainous figure, but when the wonderful John Glover put a lovable, naive and wide-eyed innocent spin on the character he was changed into something more sympathetic, and it has to be said he runs away with the film. Where most sequels nowadays are about building cinematic universes, or semi-serious world-building, Gremlins 2 has no interest in further exploring the mythology of the Mogwai or laying the groundwork for future instalments.

Gremlins 2 opts for a work of grandiose satire, making fun of the type of mogul that was emerging at the time with the likes of Ted Turner and Donald Trump, and with Trump in the White House the satire here takes on an even more interesting tone given that Clamp is clearly a Trump stand-in of sorts (although clearly a better type of human being than the character he’s making fun of).

The film increasingly becomes a cavalcade of jokes and humour, even making fun of its predecessor by having the great film critic Leonard Maltin, a friend of Dante’s who gave the first film a bad review, show up and repeat his negative feelings towards the first film while brandishing a VHS copy in his hand and then being promptly killed by the vengeful Mogwai.

The fact that a VHS copy of the first movie shows up while a real-life critic who hated it is then dispatched by the creatures themselves sums the film up in a nutshell, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg to the levels of comedy and creativity going on here. The absolute comedic highlight occurs when the film ‘malfunctions’ halfway through, with the creatures themselves ‘taking over’ the projection booth and thus prompting Hulk Hogan to tell them to put the film back on, and then breaking the fourth wall to reassure the audience that everything will be okay. It’s Hulk Hogan’s greatest contribution to cinema.

There has never been a comedic sequel like this before, nor has there ever been anything like it since. Sure, the kids today might say Deadpool, but Gremlins 2 isn’t a film that merely breaks the fourth wall so much as it takes a thermonuclear device to it just to see what happens.

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Naturally, audiences didn’t take to it at the time and the film failed to match its predecessor at the box office, but as the years have gone on, it’s arguably become the better film, a dazzling work of original comedy that one could say never gets made anymore, but honestly, there wasn’t anything like it even before 1990.

A third film has never materialised, although an animated series is in the works exploring the history of the Mogwai. In terms of live-action, there is probably little else to be said or done with the Gremlins property. The first film was a brilliant stand-alone entry in the mould of so many wonderful Amblin films, while the second takes a satirical approach that is insanely creative and original and possibly one of Hollywood’s greatest ever comedies.

What more could there be to say? Maybe it’s just better to sit back and enjoy that end of the world VHS.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch was released in the UK on 27th July 1990.

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