In 1990, Warner Bros. released Joe Dante’s follow-up to the cult classic Christmas horror film Gremlins, and no one really knew what to think of it. Where the first film told a story about a small town coming together in the face of chaotic monsters, the Gremlins sequel was more interested in showing how much destruction the monsters could cause. Gremlins 2 is thought to be one of the weirdest '90s movies to be released by a major studio, and it certainly deserves that status. It’s absolutely bonkers from the very beginning.
You may not remember much of this film besides Hulk Hogan's wall-breaking cameo or the musical number during the film's finale, but Gremlins 2: The New Batch isn’t just some ill-conceived cash grab - it’s a piece of art.
The "three rules" of the Gremlins are that you can't get them wet, you can't feed them after midnight, and you can't expose them to sunlight. Obviously, these rules are arbitrary, but the first Gremlins film treats them as sacred, while Gremlins 2 throws out the serious tone established in its predecessor. Even the people who work in the building beset by Gremlins are dubious of how these rules work.
At one point, a group of crew members on a fictional TV show wonder aloud how one could keep a Mogwai from changing if it crossed into a new time zone, specifically if it were being transported on a plane. Dante explains that this moment came from his initial fears that the audience wouldn't accept the rules. He told Syfy: "We were always worried that the rules were so arbitrary that the audience would just say, 'What you do mean don't get them wet after midnight? Where does that come from?'"
From the moment the film starts, it's obvious Dante cares more about portraying non-stop gags and the Gremlins themselves rather than establishing an emotional core to the narrative. Any moment spent with a human who isn't dressed like a vampire or wearing a mad scientist uniform is dull to the point of parody.
Most of the first act is spent getting the people from the original film out of the way so Dante and his new creations can run amok. He obviously didn't want to tell a story about Billy Peltzer's (Zach Galligan) new job or whether he was going to marry Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), so he literally locks them out of the movie for most of the runtime. The only human characters who interact with the Gremlins once the mayhem begins are either over-the-top caricatures of businesspeople or scientists or people with eccentric onscreen personas, like Hulk Hogan and John Wayne.
According to Dante, Warner Bros. wanted a Gremlins sequel solely for merchandising purposes. After Star Wars was released in 1977, movie studios began seeking properties that could help sell merchandise. Blockbuster films of the 1980s showed selling character rights for toys, backpacks, Trapper Keepers, or any other products was far more profitable than the movie tickets themselves. But with the release of Gremlins and Ghostbusters in 1984 and the failures of their merchandising campaigns, it became obvious to studio heads and economists that sequels were more profitable because they had pre-established characters. Gremlins 2 was no exception to that, but it's also obvious Dante purposely took the merchandising philosophy to its extreme in order to satirize it.
Along with the very adorable and pre-established Gizmo, who is given a cute Rambo outfit, the Gremlins come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There's a spider Gremlin, a lady Gremlin, an electric Gremlin, and a suave Gremlin. By giving them each a defining characteristic, Dante turns the Gremlins into over-the-top merchandising opportunities.
The film doesn't just stop at insinuating there are new and improved Gremlins. At the end of the film, billionaire Daniel Clamp (John Glover) says that Clamp Industries is going to "market the hell" out of Gizmo. On top of that, there are visual references to Batman and one Gremlin has the Warner Bros. logo tattooed on its body.
Since Gremlins 2 was first released, Dante has discussed the fact that he didn't want to make the film. When the sequel was first proposed, he actively turned down Warner Bros. during their initial conversations. After the studio failed to find any purpose to make the sequel beyond the monetary success of the first, Warner Bros. promised Dante he could have full control of production. Dante describes the film as "a pretty unusual studio movie, but it comes from a desperate desire to make a sequel to a movie that made hundreds of millions of dollars."
Dante claimed the Warner Bros. pitch that inspired him to get to work on Gremlins 2 was equally freeing and depressing. He said he was told: “'If you give us a couple of cans of film with Gremlins in them next summer, you can do whatever you want.' And they gave me three times the money we had to make the first one."
The desire for a sequel is what inspired Dante to make the movie "about how there didn’t need to be a sequel to 'Gremlins.'"
Gremlins 2 was bigger while containing more of the same that everyone loved, but with a twist. Dante literally gave the sequel the same story, the same characters, and essentially the same outcome (all of the Gremlins are electrocuted, whereas, in the first film, they perish in a fire).