Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Jersey's Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.72: Gremlins 2

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Clamp Corner would make a great replacement for Xanadu at the Meadowlands

CLAMP: "...This is what I've been looking for."
BILLY PELTZER: "You want to buy it?"
CLAMP: "No I want to build it...for my next project over in Jersey. This is terrific! This is what people want now, the traditional community thing..."

Since we're in the new year, I bring you a moment from The New Batch. It just makes sense.

It seemed like a bit of a stretch for Warner Brothers and Amblin to pull another Gremlin out of their hat 6 years after the original was in theaters. According to the entry on Wikipedia, they held out until Joe Dante agreed to helm the sequel for them. To me, Dante rules - and not just because he's a Jersey guy, but mainly because the majority of his work incorporates a few of my favorite things: horror, monsters, and comedy. 1990's Gremlins 2: The New Batch isn't quite as incredible as the original, but it's still so good and isn't praised nearly enough.

One of other reasons why I enjoy Dante's films is because he usually makes it abundantly clear that you're watching a Joe Dante picture. His style oozes out of every frame and his go-to actors always show up (i.e Dick Miller.) Some of his other notable films include Piranha, The Explorers, and one of my all-time favorites The Burbs. The bulk of his films include elements of fantasy and the supernatural as well as throwbacks to old b-grade monster movies.

As much as I want to sing Gremlins 2's praises, there's a few things that keep me from fawning over. I love that it's probably the most prototypical Joe Dante film ever, but I felt that he went slightly too self indulgent with it. It was really more of a straight up comedy, or cartoon come to life, rather than a horror film. The original Gremlins offered a nice balance of horror and dark humor, it was creepy and maintained a tense atmosphere once the Gremlins started showing up. With the Mogwai being such a mysterious and likable little character, it lent a bit of fantasy to the film as well. Once the sequel rolled around it became "how ridiculous could we make these little creatures?" The sequel brought an array of different Gremlins, too many actually. The best one out of all of them is Brain Gremlin. I would love to be friends with him in real life. I wouldn't have fallen asleep in class if he was giving a lecture when I was in college.

Dante was given full creative control on the project. For a big studio film that's usually unheard of. The plot was interesting and I think if it built up more of an eerie atmosphere and dropped a few of the gags, the film would have become a classic. Nowadays (even today in fact) you can pick up a DVD copy of Gremlins 2 for $5 bucks on Amazon.

Other aspects of the sequel really stand out. The cast was fantastic, including the often overlooked, Marla, played by future Garden State Playmate Haviland Morris. The film's score is trumped up and more fun than it's predecessor, but just as cool and creepy. The opening credits include a sweeping shot of New York City with the Twin Towers in all of their glory. According to IMDB, this happens to be stock footage from the opening of Superman IV.

Even with my minor complaints, Gremlins 2 is an absolute riot and simply a fun film to watch in a very cartoony way. To hit that concept home, Gizmo dances to Fats Domino and the movie even begins with an animated intro with Bugs and Daffy. The original is more serious and offered less slapstick and in-jokes, and I still hold that as my favorite of the two. The big difference is that we get a New Jersey reference in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, courtesy of the billionaire owner of Clamp Enterprises, Daniel Clamp himself.

*Joe Dante was born in Morristown and grew up in Parsippany, NJ.

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