Director: Joe Dante
Hot Damn, Gremlins 2. How is it that you exist? Maybe I saw Gremlins as a kid. But it’s the sequel that I always remembered. It was the sequel I watched and re-watched on TV, and it was the sequel that I bought on VHS and then DVD and then IT’S COMING OUT ON BLURAY SOON. The movie blew my mind with its 4th-wall breaking insanity – which, yeah, you had your Ferris Bueller-esque ‘character talks to view’ movies, but Gremlins 2, after a certain point, is all out wacky. It breaks rules in the same unclassifiable way that ‘Rubber’ would do a million years later. That is to say – it ain’t ‘Funny Games,’ it’s not about something, so it’s freed to just go banana-boat nutso on you and hit you in the gut in whichever way it pleases ya’.
Dante had attempted the comedy/horror road before with Piranha and Howling, but both of those were definitely genre films leaning toward the horror. And having leaned more on the darker part of the Gremlins story for the first film, in Gremlins 2 he seemed to have the dollars to pursue the Looney Tunes madcap live-action cartoon he’s always been sort of making. (And actually made at some point, though without the threat of gremlins that was much lighter fare.)
So where are we at the start of the film? Well, the old man who owns Gizmo goes kaput which allows Daniel Clamp, owner of the ginormous Clamp Corporation, to wreck the property and snatch it up for development. Ol’ Gizmo escapes before the wrecking ball comes down, but gets snatched up by some scientists who happen to work in a research facility owned by… Daniel Clamp. And who works there? Why Billy and Katie from film 1, of course. And a pretty cute sequence of events gets Gizmo back to Billy, where another cute sequence of events leads to… Gremlins. Things are proceeding at a charming enough pace with an element that wasn’t there in the first film: gags. The first film had its comedy, of course, but Dante begins seeding us for later foolishness by having a freaking actual Looney Tunes opener, with bugs and daffy, and then proceeds to come up with quirky characters and concepts and sound effects (Christopher Lee’s genetics lab being a mighty source) that definitely lets you know that the mood is different.
And yet, Jerry Goldsmith’s awesome theme is bouncing around, with its elements of mischief, and the Gremlins look and act pretty mean and actually feel threatening in the sense that their only purpose is to cause discomfort and harm… Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive and their endless ilk have done the slapstick, gory comedy thing. But they’re silly movies, and purposefully so. Later, Shaun of the Dead would bring more grounding in plot to the idea, enlivened with Edgar Wright’s pop sense of pacing and framing, but I would still maintain that none of these films achieve the unique atmosphere of Gremlins 2, where you can have a Hulk Hoganed 4th-wall breaking moment and still feel like you’re worried about how our leads are going to stop these nasty things, because you like our main characters and you don’t want the bad guys to win.
Also, while some of the rotoscoping (…or compositing… I’m trying out some terms here) to put a full Gizmo in some scenes, as opposed to just an upper torso or whatever, is a little dodgy, it’s not a main feature of the film, instead using (as they did in the first one) smart camera work to keep what we want in frame. Some of the larger scale scenes are intense for how many practical animatronic characters or puppets are on screen, all, mostly, with individual details. Upon repeated views you can see where someone’s just shaking an immobile puppet or whatever, but on the whole, they rarely cut corners, and for any fan of this kind of practical work, it’s damned impressive.
A special mention should go to John Glover, who plays company owner Daniel Clamp. This was apparently written as a megalomaniacal character, but Glover brings an odd innocence to the role that prevents his character from being fully shaded one way or another. While his is the most awesome example of this, the script allowed enough flexibility for each character, and each actor, to put just the right spin on their roles, such that no one comes off as strictly good, or bad, or whatever, except for our gremlins and mogwai. This helps to keep the focus where it should and makes the gags palatable in the overall context, as it seems like we’re watching real human beings respond as realistically as possible to the complete insanity.
Have I spoken on the same topic long enough?
The only thing dated in the film is Joe Dante’s hair. Otherwise, we can only hope for another opportunity where someone with such a lifelong dedicated vision to tomfoolery takes some studio money and makes a bold, Gremlins 2-esque experiment with it.
UPDATE 01.02.2017: So, like, I finally watched the blu-ray. IT’S FANTASTIC. I can’t say whether or not all of these features were available via other sources, but besides a fantastic, and consistent transfer, the commentary is pretty consistently entertaining and informative, with a lot of mention of what they wanted to do but either cut or decided to for budget reasons, with carryover of that to the extra footage and gag reel. The “behind-the-scenes” is pretty funny, shot as though the Gremlins are real, with Gizmo as a demanding Prima Donna (this is a VHS-quality extra, so this most definitely existed previously), and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the version of the 4th-wall sequence they made specifically for home video (to keep it contextual vs. the movie theater sequence) – that’s exactly the kind of gleeful dedication this movie inspired that it doesn’t seem like we’ll get again anytime soon. Definitely a worthwhile purchase.