Where the original Gremlins was a horror film spiked with comedy, Gremlins 2: The New Batch is essentially a black comedy, with a couple of horrifying touches. As the film starts, the fantastical trinket shop in Chinatown, which sold the Mogwai in the first film, is demolished by a crazed multi-media businessman called Daniel Clamp (John Glover). The heroes from the first movie, Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates), happen to work for Clamp in his huge high-rise. They find the Mogwai within Clamp’s building, but not before he has accidentally spawned legions of mischievous, lizard-like Gremlins. Soon, the Gremlins are wreaking havoc throughout the building.
Director Joe Dante filled the film with quick verbal and visual jokes making Gremlins 2: The New Batch a satire and inversion of the typical horror film. Dante put effort into taking the sequel in new anarchic directions such as where Leonard Maltin appears as himself repeating his criticisms of Gremlins (1984) while he holds a video version of the movie. However, his rant is cut short when Gremlins pounce on him as a result. The movie is meant to be more cartoon-like and less dark than the original, and the violence is fairly slapstick. There are also a number of parodies of other films and stories, most notably Gremlins itself, as well as the Rambo films, The Wizard of Oz, Marathon Man and The Phantom of the Opera.
Rather than a simple re-tread of the Gremlins from the first movie, Gremlins 2 goes to town by creating the most bizarre Gremlins imaginable. There are Bat Gremlins, Spider Gremlins, Lady Gremlins, Vegetable Gremlins and even an Electric Gremlin. The highlight has to be the Gremlin that consumes a hormone that makes him especially intelligent, wherein after he speaks with a refined voice (provided by actor Tony Randall). This “Brain Gremlin” acquires a pair of spectacles from some undisclosed source to denote his new-found intellect. It is he at the film’s conclusion that leads The Gremlins to gather in the building’s foyer, singing “New York, New York” as they anticipate all the mischief they’re planning to get into.
At the time of release people didn’t get Gremlins 2: The New Batch. When it was released in the summer of 1990, six years and a week after its blockbusting predecessor it grossed less than a third of the original’s box-office take. ($41.4 million versus Gremlins‘ $148.1 million) In the commentary on the Gremlins 2 DVD, Dante recalls Warner Bros. head Terry Semel telling him, “Just come up with something. Whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. Between 90 minutes and two hours, call it Gremlins 2, and we’ll make it.”
Dante, and screenwriter Charlie Haas had the studio by the balls and then kicked their movie in them for 107 minutes. Empowered by carte blanche, the team “ragged mercilessly” (Dante’s words from the commentary) on Gremlins in a blur of mocking references. The most overt happens when protagonist Billy (Zach Galligan) summarizes to the uninitiated the Gremlin-fuelled hell that’s about to be unleashed in the New York, Trump Tower-esque super-building in which the film is set, they guffaw in his face. They are laughing at, not with his experience in the first movie. He runs through the Gremlin rules (don’t get them wet, avoid bright light and do not feed a Mogwai after midnight), and someone pokes a whole through the entire logic of the franchise by noting, “It’s always midnight somewhere!” This irreverent attitude sums up the movie as a whole.
Gremlins 2 is best remembered for subverting expectations as a sequel to a beloved and profitable ‘80s relic. The impressive subversion is within its engagement with its own source material as director Joe Dante gleefully pulls apart the makings of what he created six years before. The result is nothing short of a riot.