This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Does It Suck? takes a deeper look at pop cultural artifacts previously adored, unjustly hated, or altogether forgotten, re-opening the book on topics that time left behind.
In the annals of movie history, the 1984 comedy-horror flick Gremlins is widely regarded as a stone classic. Meanwhile, the 1990 sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, is widely regarded as, well, a movie that also exists. It's not that it's bad—it just isn't talked about as frequently or reverentially as the original. To some degree, that's standard operating procedure when it comes to sequels; but there are a few specific reasons why Gremlins 2 doesn't resonate with people the way the original did.
For starters, it's closer to being the dark comedy that the first Gremlins' promotional campaign made it out to be. Gremlins was a straight-up horror film with a few funny moments thrown in, while Gremlins 2 is a lot more cartoonish. One of the scariest moments of the first film was the scene where the Gremlins converge on the local movie theater. Compare that to the big group meeting in the sequel, which involves the monsters gathering in a New York City office building lobby for a group performance of "New York, New York."
This scene marks a clear turning point in the film. It separates the first half—which hews closer to the first film's horror-comedy formula—from the borderline self-parodic second half, in which the Gremlins' antics take on a slapstick quality that was far less present the first time around. In other words the second half of the movie gives the people what they probably wanted from the original, while also making fun of them for wanting it.
Another minor gripe with Gremlins 2 is that changing the setting from the idyllic small town of Kingston Falls to New York City strips the sequel of the timeless quality of the original film. Kingston Falls was so nondescript and everytown that it takes a few minutes of watching before you're even sure what decade the original is set in. You certainly won't have that problem with Gremlins 2, which is very clearly early-90s right out of the gate.
That said, just because it looks dated, it doesn't render the film irrelevant. One lead character, Ronald Clamp, is obviously based on Donald Trump (with a dash of Ted Turner thrown in, shout out to the apocalypse video). Also, weirdly enough, the events of the film somewhat parallel Trump and his followers' stance on immigration.
Before we get into that, let's address the elephant in the room: the Gremlins franchise has always had a cloud of "is this racist?" hanging over its head, so implying that there might be some racial overtones in the sequel isn't that much of a stretch. Hell, the franchise even got its name from town racist Marty Futterman's impassioned speech in the first movie about how the "Japs" are putting little green monsters called Gremlins in all of our electronics. And If anyone from Kingston Falls was going to pop up in the second movie to visit Billy in New York, you'd expect it to be his parents. Instead, the Futtermans pop in for a visit—this time so Marty can deliver a line about how "all kinds of weird foreign bugs are coming into the country."
We can argue all day about whether this franchise is overtly racist or not, but there's no disputing that the filmmakers do their best to get the viewer in a xenophobic kind of mood early on in both movies. Marty Futterman doesn't deliver those lines for nothing.
As for the parallels to immigration in the second movie, they start with Gizmo. After his home (the antique shop run by his owner, Mr. Wing) is destroyed by a corporate interest looking to expand its empire, he's forced to flee to the streets (of America). From there, he's picked up and brought into the Clamp Enterprises building—solely to be exploited for business gains by a science lab on the 51st floor. It's similar to how NAFTA destroyed Mexico's agriculture industry, forcing millions of workers to flock to the United States looking for farm work, only to be exploited as a cheap source of labor. Except that all happened years after this movie came out.
Also, that line of thinking would imply that the movie takes a sympathetic tone in its allusions to foreigners invading our way of life, which it does not. Sure, Gizmo is a "good one," but as soon as he spawns the new batch, it's immediately clear that they're different. In a bad way. They're violently aggressive. They have weird developmental disabilities. The meanest one has black fur. All of this is presumably chalked up to the fact that the water that produced them mixed with the ink from a drawing of a building designed to look like a Chinese temple. Subtle!
The parallels don't end there. When the building is finally overrun with Gremlins, they start taking jobs. Ronald Clamp's secretary is attacked and replaced by a Gremlin in a cardigan; later, Billy is knocked unconscious and wakes up strapped into the chair of a Gremlin dentist.
Even Ronald Clamp's efforts to stop them from integrating into American society involves erecting a barrier between them and the rest of the country. Assimilating and competing for a place in society is precisely what they want to do, by the way. Brain Gremlin says exactly that in a televised interview, not long after giving a team of scientists a brief rundown of the unique traits of his "ethnic group."
Sure, it's possible that none of this is intentional and is just in the active imagination of someone writing a pop culture article on the internet. Either way, the parallels are there, and they help make what could've been an outdated afterthought of a movie into something that's shockingly relevant more than 25 years later.
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