Re-Watchterpiece Theater is a series that explores the organic way that attitudes about films change after you watch them a second time, a third time, or more, further down the line than the original viewing. This week, I’d like to discuss Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Before you suit me for a straitjacket and padded walls, understand that there’s a legitimate reason I re-watched Gremlins 2. A few writers that I enjoy recently implied that it was underrated, worth a re-visit, and had been rather merciless in skewering… well, everything. What did I have to lose?
The First Viewing
One aspect that made Gremlins 2 appealing to me as a re-watch is that I hadn’t seen it since 1990 when I was 13. I had seen it in theaters and frankly hadn’t given it a second thought since then. The first Gremlins had been something of a shining light of my childhood movie-going experience. When I was 8 years old, I thought it was the best movie ever made.
Truthfully, I barely remembered anything about Gremlins 2. I was 13. I was far more concerned with getting to 2nd base than I was with movies. I remembered thinking it was pretty bad, nowhere near as good as the original, featured a flasher Gremlin, and something about Gizmo going all Rambo at some point. I think- but am not sure- that I got to see it as a reward from my Jr. High School, which would take class field trips to movies for the kids who were nerdy/good enough to not cause any trouble in class. And that’s it. In other words, I was going to need my memory jogged a ton when re-watching it.
I think that the “Gremlins 2 is underrated” crowd has it just right. As a 13 year old kid, I didn’t realize what was being lampooned in the movie. For starters, the entire film revolves around grilling (and destroying) a huge evil corporate entity that’s a patchwork of Donald Trump and Ted Turner. There are overt references to Turner’s ill-fated 1980’s attempt to colorize classic films. Moreover, the film playfully jabs itself, often taking comedic swipes at the original Gremlins. This includes knocking the mass-commercialization of Gizmo and his various evil Gremlin clones following the first movie. Probably my favorite scene comes when Kate (Phoebe Cates) starts to reprise her monologue from the original Gremlins in which she details why she hates Christmas. This time, she details why she hates President’s Day. Hilarious.
There’s a really great subtext involved about pining for the classics of yore. Even in the original, the setting- a town called Kingston Falls, at Christmas- was a very direct nod to It’s a Wonderful Life‘s own Bedford Falls. The second film has advanced to the aforementioned giant evil corporation, which is systematically destroyed while character after character pines for classic Hollywood. It reaches denouement in the final scene when “Clamp” (a.k.a. Trump/Turner) sees a painting of Kingston Falls and waxes poetic about it. It really happens throughout, with special attention paid to classic horror movies like Godzilla and Phantom of the Opera, and classic horror TV serials. It stars Christopher Lee, the Hammer Horror legend. Long story short, it’s a deconstruction of modern filmmaking, putting Joe Dante’s disdain for 80’s industry standards on full display. It’s taken literally in one scene in which two gremlins get into a projection room in a theater inside the building. They wreck the movie that’s playing. And the movie that’s playing? Gremlins 2. And then Hulk Hogan shows up and threatens them, which sort of brings me to my next point.
For as underrated as I think it was, I don’t mean to make this sound like a work of art. There are very clear signs of camp and cheese. It’s the very reason I thought it was a crappy sequel when I was 13. What the hell is Hulk Hogan doing in there? Or Dick Butkus? A gremlin becomes an electric demon… and gets trapped in a phone… and it’s a key plot point of the movie. The film ends with an oversexed fe-gremlin (female gremlin) sexually assaulting the nefarious head of security. Really, Joe Dante?
Put it all together and I was very pleasantly surprised by the film, regardless of the camp. In fact, I’d point to the camp as a reason for it to stay alive in future generations. I know that today, my friends and I take great joy in finding goofy 50’s-era horror films. I’m hoping that over the next two decades or so, as the film approaches the 30th and 40th anniversary, it finds an audience as a cult classic. It deserves it.