50 years, 50 films: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
It’s a new decade. And we cheekily pick a great sequel to an already very fine comedy horror.
Yes, yes. This is the year that Goodfellas was released. But Scorsese made it into this list with Taxi Driver and, as you may have noticed, I am trying to include no more than one film by any director. The same dictum rules out David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. I don’t much like Edward Scissorhands. Wong Kar Wai’s Days of Being Wild is very tempting, but there are better films by that director to come. No, we’re going with one of the world’s great sequels.
Joe Dante, director of both Gremlins films, has rarely got the credit he deserves. The inestimable Jonathan Rosenbaum does rate him as one of the great American auteurs. But elsewhere he’s usually regarded as a jobbing populist. No fair. Dante was part of that generation who ate, drank and breathed film as teenagers and then attempted to finesse fandom into a job. Eventually, like so many lucky such enthusiasts before him, he fell in with Roger Corman and began a career that continued — and commented upon — work done by horror and fantasy masters of previous decades. Piranha was a cheapo hit. The Howling was a great variation on the werewolf myth. Then came the Gremlins movies.
As you should know, the first picture is one of the greatest Christmas films ever made. The sequel goes further in its desire to pastiche, twist and dismember the traditions of cinema. Indeed, in one superb scene, the titular beasts, now set loose in Manhattan, appear to destroy the very movie theatre in which we are watching the film. We could go on at great length about the games being played. Frank Capra is in there. If the first film has much to say about It’s a Wonderful Life, the follow-up pointed towards those of the director’s films in which Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper gets led astray in the big city. In the process, it pays a worthwhile farewell to the 1980s. The villain of the piece, Daniel Clamp, could hardly be more explicitly modelled on Donald Trump — high priest of New York’s descent into vulgarity during that decade — if he were wearing a teeshirt advertising the fact. Mr Peltzer, formerly of Kingston Falls, goes to Manhattan and everything falls about his ears. That’s commerce for you.
The film is here because it is good on its era. It’s here because it shows the right way to go about making a sequel. It’s here because the great Tony Randall is incredibly funny as the Brain Gremlin. But it’s also here because 1990 really wasn’t a great year for cinema. Fear not. All kinds of interesting things are about to happen.
Phoebe Cates is now 50.