Face-Off: Gremlins vs. Gremlins 2

With the Christmas holiday approaching, 'tis the season to watch Joe Dante's classic 1984 creature feature GREMLINS. But of the two GREMLINS films, is the first the best? There is debate among fans over whether the original film or the "Dante unleashed" 1990 sequel GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH is the better movie - so for this week's Face-Off, we're going to try to figure out the answer to that question by putting the two films head-to-head.
It's Christmas and the small town of Kingston Falls, which happens to be the same backlot used for BACK TO THE FUTURE's Hill Valley, is coated with snow and decorated for the holiday. Along these festive streets stalk a horde of homicidal little monsters... Being from a small town myself, a small town "Anywhere USA" setting is always the most appealing option to me, and the setting is made all the more pleasant by the Christmas dressing. Kingston Falls is the perfect place to get wrecked in a creature feature.
Standing in New York City, the Clamp Center skyscraper is a state-of-the-art smart building that serves as headquarters for the Clamp Cable Network and houses all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to an architecture firm and even a gene-splicing laboratory. It also ends up housing a virtual army of Gremlins over the course of this film. This setting provides a lot of different environments for the monsters to cause trouble in, but the streets of a town are more interesting to me than the inside of this building.
Despite being an adult with a job at a bank, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) still seems very child-like, and when his dad Randall (Hoyt Axton), an inventor of junk, gives him a furry, adorable little creature called a Mogwai as a gift, Billy quickly proves to be a terrible pet owner as well. There are three simple rules when handling a Mogwai - don't let it get wet, don't feed it after midnight, and keep it out of the sunlight. Billy manages to break two of those rules in just a couple days, causing the Gremlin outbreak. There are some good supporting characters, including one played by Corey Feldman, and a detestable human villain who gets her comeuppance, but the most important is Billy's crush Kate (Phoebe Cates), who is a serviceable heroine but sort of bland beyond her "bad Christmas" back story. They're not the greatest, but the characters are generally likeable.
Zach Galligan is back as Billy, who has grown up, gotten slightly smarter, and works as an architect for billionaire land developer Daniel Clamp. Clamp is quite a putz and is at first presented as a potential villain, but as it turns out he's not such a bad guy. Phoebe Cates also returns as Kate, who isn't given much to do beyond make the idiotic mistake of getting Gizmo mixed up with another Mogwai who is clearly not Gizmo. Side characters include a scientist played by Christopher Lee, a horror host played by Robert Prosky, Robert Picardo as a Clamp lackey, and Dick Miller reprising the role of Gremlin-hating Kingston Falls resident Murray Futterman, who gets to have a rematch with the little creeps. Haviland Morris stands out as Billy's boss, who briefly presents a threat to his relationship with Kate. Again, I don't really connect with these characters, but they get the job done.
Billy's new pet Mogwai is named Gizmo, and he's one of the most adorable creatures you're ever likely to see. It feels like Gizmo has a larger role in this film than the sequel, so that's a plus. The hideous Gremlins are spawned from Gizmo; at first they're mischievous Mogwai, and then transform into the maniacal monsters. The Gremlins are like evil, living cartoon characters as they wreak havoc in Kingston Falls, killing people, tampering with machinery, getting up to all kinds of shenanigans in the local bar and movie theatre, and just making a mess everywhere they go.
Gizmo is as adorable as ever, but unfortunately seems to have reduced screen time in the sequel. He is given some fun things to do, like training so he can go Rambo on the Gremlins rampaging through Clamp Center. If only there were more Gizmo-Rambo moments. The designs of the Gremlins are even more impressive this time around, especially the ones who get into the gene-splicing lab, resulting in a bat-Gremlin, a brainy Gremlin, a spider-Gremlin, a female Gremlin, a vegetable-faced Gremlin, and even a Gremlin made of electricity. They definitely didn't just do the same thing all over again.
GREMLINS has a strong comedic element running through it, particularly in the scenes that are focused on the antics of the Gremlins, but it has its dark side as well. At times it can be tough to take the threat of these monsters seriously, like when they're acting like a street flasher or paying homage to FLASHDANCE, but when they're coming after a person they definitely present a danger. The balance tips toward comedy in this horror/comedy, but it holds back from getting too ridiculous most of the time.
There was no holding back on this one. There was an obvious Looney Tunes influence on the first movie, and Dante went all the way into "live action Looney Tunes" for GREMLINS 2. There is no real seriousness to be found in this movie, everything is played for laughs and pretty much every scene is utterly ridiculous. This is a bonus for many fans, but I much prefer the attempt made by the first movie to balance the darkness and the light. This sequel is really a parody of its predecessor, which the filmmakers thought was sillier than I did.
There's a large explosion involved in the eradication of the Gremlins, always the most entertaining way to take out a large number of monsters. That's followed by a climactic battle with the last remaining Gremlin in a department store, a sequence that involves Gizmo speeding through the aisles in a Barbie Corvette (he learned how to drive from watching TV) and the Gremlin wielding an electric chainsaw. It goes on a bit too long, but it's fun to watch.
With a laughable nightscape painted on cloth, Clamp tricks the Gremlins into thinking it's night, luring them into the lobby of Clamp Center. The idea is to drop the cloth and flood the lobby with sunlight, but when that falls apart water and the electricity Gremlin, who has been trapped in a phone line, are put to use. It's an extremely goofy ending for a totally goofball movie. It works, but I'd take the ending of the first GREMLINS over it any day.
We have a winner! Taking three of the five categories, GREMLINS pulls off the victory over GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Honestly, this outcome isn't a surprise to me - while the silliness of THE NEW BATCH is entertaining, it starts to wear out its welcome for me as the movie goes along. By the time it ends, I'm very ready for that ending to arrive. For this viewer, the first film is a more enjoyable, satisfying viewing experience.

Do you agree with this Face-Off's findings, or do you think the sequel is superior to the original? Share your thoughts on both GREMLINS movies by leaving a comment below. Suggestions for future Face-Off articles are always welcome, you can send them to me at [email protected].



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