Second Union

Second Union

FRANCHISE REWIND: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Gremlins 2: The New Batch, 1990 (Zach Galligan/Phoebe Cates) Warner Bros.

“Now, bear in mind, none of us has been in New York before. There are the Broadway shows – we’ll have to find out how to get tickets. There’s also a lot of street crime, but I believe we can watch that for free. We want the essentials. Dinettes. Complete bedroom groups. Convenient credit, even though we’ve been turned down in the past.”

I’m being completely serious here. I know there’s going to be a lot of eye-rolling and moans from various peanut galleries, judges in balconies, and be-jumpsuited men with their robot pals. Gremlins 2: The New Batch is one of the greatest sequels ever made. Yes! You get a bit world-weary when yet another sequel is announced, and it never seems to meet your expectations, let alone exceed or “subvert” them (God, I hate that word). I referenced the year 1989 as the perfect storm of sequels.

Gremlins 2 came out a year later, and we were still exhausted from the onslaught of film product, and the more-than-obvious grabs for cash. Indeed, the first Gremlins movie smelled of action figures and stuffed Mogwai dolls. It was a terrible process that disillusioned director Joe Dante after working with Steven Spielberg for several years, so he decided to turn the concept on its ear and mock the rampant commercialization that comes hand-in-hand with mainstream filmmaking.

He would make Small Soldiers for Dreamworks eight years later (again a ringing endorsement for the mediocrity of product tie-ins), but in later years, Hollywood would seem to have very little interest in his talents while less ambitious, less interesting filmmakers copied him. Dante was one of those guys, like John Carpenter, John Landis, George A. Romero, and Tobe Hooper, who were enormously influential to modern filmmakers but forgotten by contemporary audiences. It’s a damned shame.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a movie that mocks its predecessor in innovative ways. It’s a movie that would frighten Warner Brothers executives these days. We go along with the pretense that this is a sequel to an in-universe story about a young man and his pet Mogwai, Gizmo. We’re in New York for this exercise. Billy Peltzer’s hinted-at artistic ability from the first movie pays off (in a way) and he gets a corporate job as a graphic designer for Clamp Industries, headed by the obvious Donald Trump analog, Daniel Clamp (an energetic John Glover).

There are a whole bunch of improbable circumstances and coincidences that lead us to this sequel. Gizmo is driven from his home in a New York antique store. He is caged and taken to a research lab located in the over-designed yet inefficient Clamp building where Peltzer and his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates) work, and it isn’t long before we have a family reunion. Even the Futterman’s (Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph) arrive for the express purpose of being tormented yet again by gremlins.

Of course, having Gizmo poked and prodded by ambitious scientists ensures strange things are going to happen. A broken water fountain sprays in Gizmo’s direction, and the next thing we know, we’ve got another collection of Mogwai offspring (with Stripe lookalike, Mohawk, as the heavy this time). Gizmo takes a backseat for most of the movie’s running time, eventually striking back (after watching Rambo) when he’s pushed too far.

It reminds me of how we forgot that the Austin Powers movies were about Austin Powers and not Dr. Evil. Gizmo should be the star, but because he’s so cute and harmless, he isn’t terribly interesting on other levels. What is interesting is that Kate can’t tell any Mogwai apart, so she takes off with the Mogwai she assumes is Gizmo, leaving him trapped in the Clamp building as the gremlins torture him. The creatures continue to multiply until they’ve flooded the building.

Everybody evacuates except for Billy, Kate, Billy’s lecherous boss, Marla (Haviland Morris), Robert Prosky (as an Al Lewis-style horror TV show host), his cameraman (Gedde Watanabe!), and building security supervisor (and Joe Dante regular) Robert Picardo. They come up with a plan to set the clocks for later in the day and then drop a tarp over the windows to simulate a night sky, and the gremlins will want to leave and then get zapped by the sun. It doesn’t work out that way because, in New York, we’re subject to freak thunderstorms. Look, it just happens.

Anyway, Billy has to come up with another plan as the gremlins engage in one musical showstopper after another (led by Tony Randall’s “Brain” Gremlin). Granted, Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a corporate product made by Warner Brothers, yet this fact is lampooned by the filmmakers. There’s a scene in the movie that shows a gremlin becoming some kind of a bat hybrid and he crashes through a wall that perfectly forms the trademarked Batman logo. The movie even makes fun of itself and the Gremlins “franchise.”

What’s baffling about all of this is how the movie flopped in the summer of 1990, earning $40 million on a $50 million budget. The original movie made over $200 million on a budget of $11 million. It’s possible Warners had no confidence (I don’t remember any advertisements) and dumped it with very little in the way of press or enthusiasm. This is a movie made by movie lovers for movie lovers.

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