Last December, I reviewed the original Gremlins as the initial installment of that year’s Christmas Cinema. The sequel, not being tied to any particular time of year, I could have viewed at any time, but circumstances allowed for it to come across my path just in time for it to inaugurate this year’s Halloween Haunters.
Director Joe Dante and stars Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates returned for Gremlins 2, which is vital for the sequel. This is not a franchise that would be near as enjoyable without the sense of continuity; it’s more fun to watch people who are experienced with the little troublemakers than to switch to somebody new and start all over again. By sticking with Billy and Kate as the protagonists (along with Gizmo, of course), the film is able to skip over most of the build-up and plunge headlong into the lunacy.
Lunacy’s a good word for the film. Both Gremlins and Gremlins 2 are comedy-horror films, with emphasis strongly on the comedy, but their approach to the comedy is different. Gremlins had a much darker sense of humor than its sequel, which is unabashedly goofy. It’s much more of a spoof than the first one, and its primary target appears to be the first film. Cheerful shots are taken at it, such as lampooning Kate’s terrible Christmas story from the first film with an interrupted monologue about Lincoln’s birthday, and having Leonard Maltin get attacked by gremlins for mocking the first film. Yes, it breaks the fourth wall without compunction; that’s not even the biggest example. For those who — like me — are only seeing the film years after its release, let’s just say that at one point Hulk Hogan gets involved in keeping the film on track.
The antics of the gremlins have gotten even wackier as well. Not that they were ever super dark to begin with, mind you, but where the original inspired the PG-13 rating, it would be easy to picture Gremlins 2 getting spun off into a Saturday morning cartoon series. Watching the two films is a pretty good demonstration of the difference between comic violence and cartoon violence. The gremlins are more varied in this one, and it’s hard to picture a vegetable gremlin as anything but silly. While there are a few genuinely creepy gremlins, such as the spider-gremlin, even most of the “normal” gremlins feel a lot like cartoon characters. One of the most prominent is even dubbed “Daffy Gremlin” in the script.
That’s not to say it doesn’t sometimes have the dry and dark wit of the original, however; it’s just not quite as prominent. But anybody who wants a bit of acerbic wit can still enjoy watching Christopher Lee ham it up as a lab scientist, or get a laugh out of the sophisticated evil being spoken by the “Brain Gremlin”. There’s also a degree of mockery at corporate culture with Joe Dante playing a company president who is learning the hard way that sometimes subordinates need to be listened to.
Gremlins 2 doesn’t offer a lot over the original film. It’s a bit more creative in the designs, and most of the special effects still look good (other than the obvious optical effects with the bat-gremlin). But its narrative isn’t as strong, and its sense of humor is a lot more juvenile and goofy than the first one — which is really saying something. It’s still plenty of fun, though, and provides several good laughs.