With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.
Today’s selection is the zany and anarchic Gremlins 2: The New Batch, available to stream on HBO MAX.
Wanting to capitalize on the massive success of the first Gremlins film, Warner Bros. tried and failed to find a direction for the sequel on its own. Largely, this was because they didn’t understand what made the original great to begin with, causing them to strike out with the numerous filmmakers they tapped to helm the project. Eventually, they returned to the film’s original director, Joe Dante. And though he’d originally refused a sequel and felt the initial film was complete on its own, he agreed, but only with the assurance of complete creative control as well as triple the budget. What resulted is one of the strangest sequels ever, and among the hallowed few that may even surpass the greatness of the original.
In the first Gremlins, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives his mysterious pet Gizmo — a furry creature known as a “mogwai” — as a Christmas present from his father. Billy is given three rules for caring for his new pet: 1) Don’t get him wet; 2) don’t feed him after midnight; and 3) don’t expose him to sunlight. Of course, all three of the rules are broken, resulting in Gizmo multiplying and his clones turning into troublemaking reptilian monsters. After they nearly destroy the town of Kingston Falls, Billy and Gizmo ultimately stop them and the film ends in triumph.
The sequel is set several years later. Billy is now working in the art department of the Clamp Trade Center in Manhattan for the eccentric and gullible billionaire Daniel Clamp (who serves as a blatant satire of moguls like Donald Trump and Ted Turner). Through bizarre happenstance, Gizmo is being experimented on in a lab in the same building, and pretty soon, the events of the first film repeat themself on a much larger scale, with the rowdy gremlins threatening to take over all of New York City with their specific brand of chaos.
Whereas Gremlins was a horror movie with comedic elements, Dante leaned far more heavily into comedy and camp for The New Batch, wanting to satirize the very idea of a sequel to begin with. For instance, the gremlins start experimenting with hormones in the laboratory and begin to evolve, with some becoming fearsome chimeras replete with spider legs and bat wings. One even becomes a suave-talking, bespectacled spokesgremlin voiced by Tony Randall. In fact, there are a lot of bizarre fourth-wall-breaking vignettes, including a meta twist in which the gremlins take over the theater that’s playing Gremlins 2, and for some reason, Hulk Hogan has to stop them. In another, film critic Leonard Maltin (who gave a scathing review of the original Gremlins) is attacked by the hairy little freaks as he reviews the VHS copy of the film.
From its musical numbers to its sexy green-haired lady gremlins, The New Batch is an absurdist masterpiece. Packed to the gills with nonsense as the unruly creatures destroy an enormous office building, it feels like an irreverent mockery — not just of itself, but of the unfeeling nature of corporations like Warner Bros. If ever there were a sequel that was so self-aware of its sequel-ness, this is it.
Still, it does leave us with an important message: It’s never good to eat after midnight.