17 03 2010

At a time when our nation is so polarized, and its future so uncertain, I’d like to devote this blog post to something all Americans, regardless of partisan affiliation, should be able to agree upon: GREMLINS 2 THE NEW BATCH is an even better Gremlins film than the original GREMLINS.

Come come, you say, we have more important issues to address, more important debates to resolve than just those revolving around 1980’s & 90’s kids film rankings. But, reader, there are myriad other websites on which to engage in those crucial policy debates. Here on the Spielblog, we have our priorities completely fucking backwards – and that’s the way we like it.


Joe Dante (left) (I mean right)

GREMLINS 2 THE NEW BATCH has been a favorite of mine since I was in its target audience, so certainly some of my feelings toward it are tinged by nostalgia – but after a deeply mature and analytical re-visitation last night, I’m confident that this is a lasting gem of the horror-comedy genre, one full of treats not just for the casual viewer, but specifically for the cinephile. Here’s a movie packed front-to-back with movie references, from everything to RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II to MARATHON MAN – and the great majority of the in-jokes land with quick-fire consistency.

Director Joe Dante, an unsung hero of eighties pop filmmaking, came up alongside the very-sung hero of eighties pop filmmaking, Mr. Steven Spielblog- uh, berg. And though Dante became a lieutenant of Spielberg’s, so to speak (along with Chris Columbus and Joe Johnston,) helming the Spielbergian films that Spielly himself either didn’t have the time or inclination to shoot himself, Dante’s roots were always more deeply in the B-movie world than Spielberg’s. Dante’s first job out of college was cutting trailers for Roger Corman, and his first successes as director were the tongue-in-cheek creature features PIRANHA, and THE HOWLING. His love for B- or even Z-cinema, I think, is as undeniably infectious as it is undeniably prevalent in his body of work, which, it’s worth noting, is quite solid: following the original Spielberg-produced GREMLINS in 1984, Dante made EXPLORERS, INNERSPACE, and THE ‘BURBS, none of which are capital ‘G’ great films, but all of which are, yes, Great B-movies.  (He also directed a sizable chunk of the excellent and unseen 90’s TWILIGHT ZONE-esque young adult TV series EERIE, INDIANA…)


Dante’s masterpiece, and his most heartfelt paean to the B-movie industry, however, is 1993’s MATINEE, a film made with love, and a film to love. Here, John Goodman stars as larger than life schlockmeister Lawrence Woolsey, who arrives in small town America like a snake-oil Hitchcock, peddling his newest feature MANT! (half man, half ant, obviously) and in the process, manages to turn the town upside-down amid the Cuban Missile Crisis. Seek out MATINEE. It’s as fun as they come.

“Fun” really is the key descriptive in Joe Dante’s filmography. Though Spielberg and Dante’s most personal films were both released in the same year, they’re about as different as two personal statements can be. And while Spielly’s cut a somewhat darker path since ’93 in the second act of his American auteur-ship, Dante, the journeyman, has managed to make hay from a number of hokey premises. Though the 2000’s wasn’t nearly as strong a decade for him as the 80’s or 90’s, Dante’s name on the credits is always a guarantee of a very good time.

I refuse to believe I'm the only one aroused by this.

Nowhere is this truer than in GREMLINS 2 THE NEW BATCH, which I find myself gushing over this morning in the midst of several fever-pitch national crises. Sometimes, friends, it gets so bad all over, there’s nothing else to do but talk GREMLINS 2, if only to keep one’s self from reading Drudge and giving one’s self an ulcer… So! Before I go back to reading Drudge, I’ll just say this: apart from its rare Phoebe Cates sighting, and the hilarious John Glover as loopy Trump figure “Daniel Clamp,” what I love, really love about GREMLINS 2 THE NEW BATCH, is the fact that as a sequel, it fundamentally changes the format of its franchise – something even Spielberg’s own sequels haven’t ventured to do. (TEMPLE OF DOOM being the exception.) GREMLINS 2 THE NEW BATCH is a film not made to the specifications of its original. Sure, the same rules apply to the little buggers (say it with me now: no bright light, don’t get ‘em wet, and no food after midnight,) but this is a film that amps up the comedy of its premise to an almost Mel Brooksian level, while cutting back on the horror element of its significantly scarier predecessor. A wise decision; once you’ve seen the Gremlins metamorphose once, it’s diminishing returns from there on out. Dante and writer Charlie Haas clearly understand this – so rather than duplicate beat-for-beat that thing that made them rich the first time, they take a different tack, essentially switching genre, and garnering superior, though less financially lucrative results. That, Spielbloggees, is called risk-taking. And it’s something you don’t frequently see in studio filmmaking.

So, Joe Dante, god bless you. And god bless America.

Welcome to Cold Stone Creamery!