I have something of an odd history with director Joe Dante's 1990 release "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." Having been born in the late 80's, I grew up in "Gremlins"-mania. The original classic of black humor and creature-feature thrills was everywhere... everyone loved it and everyone loved to watch it constantly. And as a young child, as much as I loved that brilliant first film, I equally loved it's twisted and demented follow up. I'd watch them back-to- back practically once a week when I was in Elementary school. They just worked so well together in my mind: a more subtle first film followed by a more over-the-top and in-your-face sequel chocked full of constant gags and twists. Then, about age 10 or 11, I stopped enjoying it. It's radical tonal departure from the original and seeming discontent with its predecessor just didn't sit well with me... it seemed so insane and ridiculous, I just stopped loving it. It felt too much like it was making fun of the original rather than honoring it, which I hated.
It wasn't until many years later, as a teen about to enter my 20's that I rediscovered it and gave it a chance...and I loved it more than I had ever imagined I would! And even to this day, my adoration for it continues to grow. Why? Because I realized those things I hated about it years prior were intentional. It was all part of the insane and all-encompassing sense of anarchy director Joe Dante was crafting with this wonderful sequel. I just wasn't mature enough to be in on the gag, and realize that this wasn't just a sequel- it was a brilliant satire filled with great themes based on American culture of the 90's, consumerism and media... and also just a darned well- constructed piece of self-parody. It's poking fun at its own existence as an unnecessary sequel to a self-contained film and just has fun using the concept as an excuse to deliver some biting commentary. And I do think that it may be one of the greatest under-appreciated sequels ever made.
Several years after the events of the original, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) have re-located to New York City and are both working for Clamp Enterprises, a company run by eccentric and amusingly naive millionaire Daniel Clamp. (John Glover) Coincidentally, it turns out that Gizmo- the adorable Mogwai- is being held captive for experimentation in the very same building. Soon enough, Billy and his former pet are reunited. But all is not well- an accident causes a new batch of Gremlins to emerge, and it's up to Billy, Kate, Gizmo, Clamp and the visiting Futtermans (Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph) to save the day once again.
Director Dante, along with screenwriter Charles S. Haas craft a deliciously subversive tale that builds off of what came before, but takes it in a wildly creative new direction. Story goes that Dante was simply not interested in making another "Gremlins", especially as every script that was turned in was just a carbon-copy of the original. It wasn't until he was given near full creative control that he stepped back into the director's chair. And thank the lord he did. From the opening minute of the film, you know you're in for something very unique. And almost each and every scene has some layer of parody, satire or commentary that will leave you howling with laughter. You know you're watching something special when there's an uproariously funny gag involving a cable network's "End of Civilization" video announcement being prepped to air and a prolonged sequence where a janitor bemoans the dog-eat-dog world of modern employment while Gizmo is besieged by his evil Mogwai offspring. Special props also go to the brilliant series of gags revolving around Clamp's decidedly inefficient "smart" building and a sequence that openly mocks the "three rules" established in the first film. There's some good, broad humor there.
Beyond that, the rest of the production is just magnificent. The updated creature effects courtesy Rick Baker are a massive step-up, with each and every Gremlin and Mogwai seeming to have their own distinct look and personality. Jerry Goldsmith's score is a comical blast and a half. The cast is fabulous, with all returning actors given their moment to shine and new cast members being very likable and entertaining. Glover is wonderful as the oddball Clamp. Christopher Lee makes for a memorable foil as a deranged genetic research scientist whose work allows the Gremlins to mutate into amusing new forms. And Robert Prosky gives a sense of class as a television host who gets caught up in the action. And the cinematography is also very sharp and works wonders, perfectly complimenting director Dante's unique and quirky visual sensibilities.
"Gremlins 2: The New Batch" might not be for everyone. It's complex and hard-hitting commentary will likely fly over the heads of many viewers, and its deliberately ridiculous and farcical style may turn off the more hardcore fanbase of the original. But if you have an open mind, this is a journey well worth taking.
I give it a very good 8 out of 10.
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