GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH is a sequel unlike any other. Returning to the director’s chair, Joe Dante uses the greater latitude afforded by the success of the original to mount an anarchic, multifaceted metatextual satire which simultaneously expands on and honours the conventions of the first film while also mercilessly subverting and mocking them, taking swipes at a multitude of other targets – including one Donald J Trump – along the way.
When Mr Wing (Keye Luke) passes away, Gizmo narrowly escapes the demolition of the old curiosity shop he called home only to be captured by scientists and taken back to the Clamp Centre laboratories of Doctor Catheter (Christopher Lee). Also working there is Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and his fiancée Kate (Phoebe Cates) who manage to rescue Gizmo but not before a faulty drinking fountain ensures that the Clamp Centre is about to have a very bad day.
Dante coaxed Chuck Jones out of retirement to direct the animated opening featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck so as to set the tone for a sequel which he was reluctant to make, believing that GREMLINS had a proper, satisfying ending and so any sequel would run the risk of being a soulless cash-in. Deliberately striking a lighter, more cartoony and slapstick tone, Dante focused his efforts on parodying the very nature of sequels, ridiculing the loopholes of the sacrosanct “three rules” and cramming in as many movie and pop culture references as he possibly could.
To give some gravitas to the narrative anarchy, Dante wisely populates his cast with a wealth of character actors, drawing heavily from his usual ‘repertory company’, so we have the likes of Robert Picardo, Robert Prosky, Dick Miller (returning, if for no other reason, to reassure us that Mr Futterman survived his encounter with the snow plough) with Jon Glover and, of course, Christopher Lee alongside flashy and occasional fourth wall breaking cameos from the likes of Henry Gibson, John Astin, composer Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Maltin and Hulk Hogan.
The masterstroke of the sequel is Dante’s decision to push the concept of the Gremlins as far as it possibly could go, parodying the tendency for horror sequels to arbitrarily add new abilities for every iteration. In GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, we get to see them all – in one movie, and pivotal to the whole plot of the movie is Christopher Lee’s Doctor Cushing Catheter. Cutting an imperious figure as the chaos erupts all around him, there’s a twinkle in his eye that shows that Lee is having tremendous fun spoofing his own storied back catalogue of macabre characters. Whether effortlessly delivering sight gags (such as holding a pod from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) or delivering his absurdly eldritch dialogue with obvious relish, Lee makes every moment count as his character becomes the axis upon which the movie’s world turns.
The other standout character is probably that of Daniel Clamp, played with manic glee by Jon Glover. A parody of the self-involved, superficial and vain New York real estate mogul of the time Donald Trump, arguably its in this characterisation that Dante didn’t go far enough. It feels too gentle and, ultimately, too redemptive an arc given what we know the real-life basis for the character went on to become. If only Glover’s Clamp had come face to face with Christopher Lee, then he might have gotten the comeuppance he would so richly deserve nowadays.
Of course, the real stars of the show are the Gremlins themselves and thanks to Doctor Catheter’s Willy Wonka-esque selection of potions and serums, they infinitely more form and variety than the first film, archly side-lining the lead Gremlin you expect to be the lead villain in favour of an erudite and elegantly homicidal intellectual spokesperson and his horde of oddball creations. While it may have disappointed audiences, who were expecting a retread of the original movie, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH richly deserves reappraisal as the knowing, tounge-in-cheek snapshot of nineties pop culture it set out to be, with a wit so multi-layered that, like AIRPLANE, there’s something new to pick up on every time you rewatch it.