“Gremlins” was an enormous success, but director Joe Dante didn’t feel like doing a sequel. Instead, he made some of the 80s most entertaining movies – “Explorers”, “Innerspace”, “The Burbs” and large chunks of “Amazon Women On The Moon”, and was only enticed back when all the studio’s other choices pulled out, and they agreed to his demands to let him do whatever he wanted. And that carte blanche gave us this.
Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) have moved to New York, to work at Clamp Towers. Clamp is John Glover, one of the great sleazy villains, and any resemblance between him and real-life evil scumbag property developers with 5-letter names ending in “mp” is no doubt entirely coincidental. Mr Wing is the last holdout in his neighbourhood, refusing to sell to Clamp, but when he dies Clamp swoops in, and in a fortunate coincidence a worker from the genetic engineering lab in Clamp’s building, run by Dr Catheter (the great Christopher Lee, who has a surprising knack for comedy) finds Gizmo and takes him.
Billy realises Gizmo is there and gets him back fairly quickly, but thanks to Gizmo, honestly, being a bit of a nosy asshole, the whole horrible chaotic mess starts again, this time based entirely in Clamp Tower, the world’s most advanced office building. All this is really just an excuse for Joe Dante to hire everyone he ever loved, to recreate scenes from his favourite movies, to pack every scene with in-jokes, obscure references and just plain stupidity. The gremlins this time are designed by effects master Rick Baker, and they’re more diverse and interesting than the gang in part 1, plus, having him on board means that when they discover the genetic engineering lab and all the cool mutagens in there, you’re going to get some great-looking monsters. Brain Gremlin is a brilliant character, for instance.
There’s so much stuff happening that you’ll notice a little reference in a corner somewhere, and IMDB’s “trivia” page is stuffed with them – my favourite is a sign for Dr Quatermass, a reference to the British sci-fi character of the 1950s and 60s. There’s the famous scene where the gremlins actually cause the film to break, cutting to a cinema showing “Gremlins 2” where a woman (who also played a small part in the first movie) walks out of the theatre and complains to the owner, played by the great Paul Bartel, who then goes and gets Hulk Hogan to force the gremlins to show the rest of the movie. There’s the appearance by movie reviewer Leonard Maltin who actually reads out his real unfavourable review of the first movie before being attacked by gremlins. I’ve not even scratched the surface, but if you see an older actor, chances are he’s a guy who used to work for Roger Corman way back when (Dante got his start with Corman) and Dante is giving work to one of his old buddies.
The actual film itself seems almost irrelevant when you can just enjoy the steady stream of references, recreations of other scenes (my favourite – a gremlin sat on a mockup of the Empire State Building, swatting at toy helicopters, from “King Kong”) and ridiculous sight gags. But they make an effort, occasionally – Clamp becomes a human being of sorts, the old creature-feature host who helps Billy has a nice arc, and Billy’s boss, the never-more-beautiful Haviland Morris, shows her human side too. I’d say it’s a heartwarming movie, but the vast majority of it is the exact opposite – it’s a cartoon movie, with the same joyful lack of morality and respect for the laws of physics that those classic cartoons had.
There’s a debate in our household about which is better – my wife preferring part 1 (even though this has a scene in a Canadian themed restaurant, and she does love a good Canadian gag), and me just wavering on the side of part 2. For me, it was the moment where Phoebe Cates told a story which directly mocked her own incredibly dark tale from part 1 that pushed this over the edge – such a clever move, and an example – of which there are many – of the mockery of sequels and its own prequel that this film loves so much. The awful inventor father from part 1 becomes the constantly malfunctioning tower in part 2, for an example of a really clever little gag. And yes, there’s a group of characters who pick the “3 rules” apart!
The gremlins themselves, despite being better models in this, still have the same glee over death and destruction, and are always funny. Gizmo gets a training montage after watching “Rambo” on the TV, and even puts on Rambo’s bandana – the permission to use the footage and the likeness given willingly by Sylvester Stallone, apparently. See, I’m just listing the awesome stuff this film did again.
Provided your kids are old enough to not mind a bit of fairly gross gremlin violence (no humans are killed, as far as I can tell), pop this on over the festive period and have yourself a good old time. Perhaps it’ll take them a day, as it just took me, to realise it’s not actually set at Christmas. Whoops!
Rating: thumbs up