Sometimes the credits roll and you just wish the story hadn’t ended. You want more, more of the characters and their adventures, more thrills and chills and laughs. But the popcorn tub is empty and the lights are coming on and the people in the seats next to you are glaring at you because they want to squeeze past and go home. And there is no more.
Until … the sequel! Bigger! Better! Higher stakes! Sequels put bums on seats in droves, because we often don’t want to say goodbye to some characters, and because there’s more stories to be told in some universes. Don’t get me wrong, there are completely unnecessary sequels – most Disney sequels can be happily ignored, and as far as I’m concerned there’s only one Land Before Time film. The less said about The Matrix the better. But on the whole, we like sequels and that’s why Hollywood keeps cranking them out.
So, what sequel have I chosen for today’s topic? Something classy and legendary, like The Godfather Part II? A high-octane genre-jump like Aliens? An experimental mashup of sequel and remake, like Evil Dead 2?
I chose Gremlins 2.
The Gremlins franchise is a major source of nostalgia for me. The idea is simple – take one cute fuzzy Mogwai. Expose it to water and watch it multiply. Feed your new friends after midnight and sit back to enjoy the havoc that a thousand puppets can wreak on an unsuspecting small American town. It’s got puppets, cartoonish violence and a tone that veers between dark and silly. What’s not to love?
My mother, against her better judgement, let my sister and I watch the first one when we were the tender age of way-way-WAY-below-the-15-certificate-the-film-has-for-some-reason. She watched it first and nearly decided against letting us see it, thanks to the gruesome kitchen scene that she found terrifying. But she relented, telling us she’d be just downstairs while we watch it. Sure enough, about half an hour in she hears screams and she pelts up the stairs, throws open the door – and finds the two of us shrieking with laughter at the carnage of the very same scene. We absolutely loved it! Gremlins is, to this day, one of my all-time favourite Christmas movies.
How do you top a movie like Gremlins? Easy – you go bigger. From a small town to the big city – but they didn’t have quite the budget for that, so they confined themselves to a high-tech skyscraper. The gremlins get unleashed and all hell breaks loose – but something’s different. The tone is much much lighter now, and the gremlins seem to have their own individual personalities. It’s like someone saw the Derry’s pub scene in the original and said ‘make that the whole movie.’
And I love it.
It’s zany, wacky, madcap humour. There’s slapstick and spoofery and self-referential gags. The late Sir Christopher Lee makes an appearance as a mad scientist and, as always, gives a stellar performance even though it’s clearly a pay-cheque movie for him. The science lab leads to the creation of new and exciting gremlins, like the Spider-Gremlin and the Brain Gremlin who is sophisticated and verbose.
And it has my favourite type of gag about three quarters of the way through – a fourth-wall-breaking scene. In the cinema version, the film suddenly becomes distorted and the sound goes weird and the film melts, revealing a blank white projector screen. Gremlins silhouettes pop up and play with shadow puppets – they’ve broken into the projection room and are messing with the film! In the home video version, they start skipping channels and messing with your TV. It’s genius, and very entertaining.
And that’s the reason I love it so much – it’s entertaining. The whole thing just puts a great big silly grin on my face, from the malfunctioning amenities in the skyscraper to the Gremlins’ antics to the big musical number at the climax … yes, a great big musical number. It has to be seen to be believed. The sheer amount of effort that went into this film is staggering – puppeteering is NOT easy. You should see the kind of shit they have to put up with on Sesame Street, let alone a movie with hundreds of puppets operating at once.
In a way, I really don’t want there to ever be a Gremlins 3. They’d CGI it up and it would just end up soulless. If they could do it all practical, the way the other two were, then I’d be interested.
As long as it’s wacky. I like wacky.