I seem to be reviewing a lot of sequels lately. They can be tricky to do because as follow ups to usually more popular originals, it is difficult to say anything new about them. When a film does well, a studio is hesitant to go in a direction that deviates from the formula that brought the first one success. There is also something to be said about the lack of originality in making a second version of the same thing. And then there is Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Gremlins (1984) was played as a straight monster/horror film. In concept, it works. If you have seen it and can somehow forgot that you have done so, it is truly scary to think of creatures that multiply in something so common as water, and whose sole purpose for existing is to wreak as much havoc as possible. What changed the way it was received was the comedic elements in it (which worked), and the cuteness of Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), the furry little Mogwai who innocently touches off disaster. I say “innocently” because his human friend Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is tricked into disobeying the rules that govern Gizmo’s care. In the aftermath of the destruction, Gizmo is returned to his original owner, Mr. Wing (Keye Luke), and that is probably for the best. And then Gizmo toys began appearing everywhere, a fact that I can attest to having lived through it. So, we got Gremlins 2.
In Gremlins 2, we shift from the quaint suburbia of Kingston Falls from the last movie to the world of high stakes realty in Midtown Manhattan. That may seem like hyperbole, but it is what an ailing Mr. Wing is caught up in at the beginning. Representatives of Clamp Enterprises are attempting to get Mr. Wing to sell his building for a new development, but he refuses. However, they are able to swoop in on the property shortly thereafter with Mr. Wing’s passing, and poor Gizmo becomes a guinea pig to be experimented on by Daniel Clamp’s (John Glover) science division. Speaking of Clamp Enterprises, two of our previous heroes, Billy and his girlfriend Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), work in Clamp’s state-of-the-art tower. Billy is an aspiring architect while Kate gives tours of the building. While dodging the advances of his immediate superior, Marla Bloodstone (Haviland Morris), Billy walks by the laboratory of the mad scientist, Dr. Cushing Catheter (Christopher Lee), and hears the familiar tune of Gizmo singing. Billy realizes that he must rescue Gizmo before something terrible happens, and enlists Kate’s reluctant help to do so. Unfortunately, before he can get Gizmo out of the building, Billy is called to a meeting with Mr. Clamp, who is impressed with his work. While he is away, some water accidentally spills onto Gizmo, spawning a number of other Mogwai. As before, none of them have the friendly disposition of Gizmo. They torture Gizmo in a variety of ways before locking him in an air vent. Now loose in the building after midnight, they begin to eat and metamorphose into the green creatures with which we are all familiar. A few end up in Dr. Catheter’s lab, where he does a variety of experiments on them. This mainly involves creating a variety of potions that, when drank by the Gremlins, turn them into a variety of creatures. The worst happens when a group of them attack the television studio in the building, which sets off the sprinkler system and creates a horde of gremlins. The problems they create become apparent the next day when Billy and Kate, and many of their other co-workers, show up for their shifts and find that many of the buildings high-tech gadgets are not working properly. Further, many of the gremlins have gotten into the potions created by Dr. Catheter. One in particular becomes the de facto ring leader of the crazy mob. This is “Brain Gremlin,” so called because the concoction it consumes gives it the ability to converse like a human. For the moment, the destruction is contained inside the Clamp building, but Brain Gremlin is devising ways of getting the monster menace out into the streets of New York City. It is Billy that informs Mr. Clamp of the terrible danger these creatures pose. Billy has a plan. Hearing Brain Gremlin being interviewed on Clamp’s television station, Billy understands that they want to break free. Hence, he gets Mr. Clamp to leave the building through a secret exit and organize a move to put up covers over the exterior windows in the lobby to fool the gremlins into thinking it is night time. Next, he hopes to lure the little goblins into said part of the building, drop the curtains, and fry them all with sunlight, which kills them. This all works until the sun disappears behind thick cloud cover. With the gremlins getting restless and about to bust loose, Billy must improvise. Instead, he pulls out a fire hose, turns it on, and then makes a phone call. You see, earlier another gremlin had drunk a draft that turned into a being of pure electricity that Billy managed to trap in the phone lines. His call from the lobby brings it to this location, and he lets it jump out of the line and into the pooling water below. This has the effect of electrocuting all the gremlins. Mr. Clamp bursts into the ensuing mess moments later, not thrilled by the grossness, but overjoyed by Billy’s efforts. Promotions are handed out all around, and Billy and Kate return home with Gizmo.
Gizmo, by the way, did have a role in Gremlins 2, but none of it is really germane to the plot. We can call it cuteness relief. There is plenty of what is meant to be comedic relief, too. Indeed, that is really the majority of the film. Even what is meant to be the more serious parts have jokes in them, which makes it rather difficult to watch. One of the moments that is meant to have, I think, a little more gravitas is when Brain Gremlin explains how his species simply wants their place in the world. As strange as this might sound, this is kind of a pro-life argument, although it is sad that it should come from the mouth of the default villain. He philosophizes how every creature has a right to life, and given the semi-sentience of his kind, he has something like a point. Of course, this is all dissolved away when one of his fellows begins acting amok and Brain Gremlin casually pulls out at pistol and kills it. This comes, too, as he is making a point about civilization. I am not going to sit here and tell you that if gremlins were real that they should be treated with the dignity of a human toddler, for example. The similarities between them are striking when you consider their relative levels of intelligence and occasional hunger for destruction. As is made clear over the course of two movies, gremlins are a direct threat to civilization. I am not sure how to deal with such a menace from a Catholic perspective, and I am thankful that I do not have to as they do not actually exist.
There are a few bits of Gremlins 2 that I did not mention, such as the lady gremlin, another of Dr. Catheter’s creations, that is left alive at the end and attempting to marry Mr. Clamp’s head of security, Forster (Robert Picardo). There is also a moment of fourth wall breaking when we see Hulk Hogan (as himself) dealing with gremlins messing up the showing of the movie we are watching. It all makes for a strange ride that I am not sure I recommend to anyone.