Gremlins 2 might be one of the more absurdly funny films ever made. Much of it relies on the viewer laughing at him or herself laughing at the film. My wife claims her occasional giggles were in response to my laughter, not the film itself. I just read Dante wanted it to be a spoof of itself, of the idea of a Gremlins 2 and it’s incredibly successful.
The film is very much a product of its time. There are Die Hard references (both in the film, with Gizmo heading into a duct, and out–the single setting of an office high rise), there are references to classic films, there are references to not so classic films. Where Gremlins 2 is particularly strange is in the corporate branding. Besides the Looney Tunes opening–to celebrate Warner’s anniversary–there’s a big Batman reference and then the Warner Bros. logo shows up tattooed to a Gremlin. It’s strange, but I guess Warner really did establish itself differently back then (I still remember the Warner Bros. store catalogs with their Batman, Gremlins 2 and “Murphy Brown” goodies).
It all combines to make the film a strange experience, since movies dedicated to making the viewer laugh out loud–not just smile–are difficult. But Gremlins 2 takes it a step further, practically requiring moderate film literacy.
The film relies heavily on its actors–John Glover being the most outright fantastic. Glover doesn’t do a Donald Trump imitation (his character’s a mix of Trump and Ted Turner), instead just goes crazy in a way only he can–one of Glover’s best scenes is one of his simplest. He walks around his office, bored, until he decides it’d be fun to do a memo. It’s great.
The rest of the supporting cast–Robert Prosky, Christopher Lee, Dick Miller, Gedde Watanabe and especially Robert Picardo–are excellent as well. Only Haviland Morris, with an over-affected performance, is lacking. Zach Galligan, who starts out more in the center, is good… even as his character takes a backseat to the wacky Gremlins. Phoebe Cates has a few good scenes, but she’s absent even more than Galligan. They literally get her lost in the building and forget about her.
One of Dante’s great achievements with this film is his handling of the sets. He directs the chaos in the hallway scenes like it’s an old B picture, but these scenes match perfectly with the rest. The exterior scenes–Galligan and Cates walking home, Miller fighting the flying Gremlin outside–all look exceptional. But those interior scenes are even better. Then, with the musical number at the end, Dante makes Gremlins 2 into the greatest Muppet movie (on acid) ever.
The script’s good a lot of great one liners, but what really sets it apart is when Cates is telling a Gremlin-to-be to be careful around the kitchen, she and Galligan don’t have the money to replace broken appliances. It’s a strange, wonderful detail and just makes Gremlins 2 more singular.
Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Charles S. Haas, based on characters by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), John Glover (Daniel Clamp), Robert Prosky (Grandpa Fred), Robert Picardo (Forster), Christopher Lee (Doctor Catheter), Haviland Morris (Marla Bloodstone), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Sheila Futterman), Gedde Watanabe (Mr. Katsuji) and Keye Luke (Mr. Wing).
- Innerspace (1987, Joe Dante)
- The Howling (1981, Joe Dante)
- The 'burbs (1989, Joe Dante)
- Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)
- Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)