Hollywood & Spine Archive: Gremlin Stew

An overview of the novelization to GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, originally published in March 2023.

Hollywood & Spine Archive: Gremlin Stew

This might've been one of the only novelizations I ever covered where it seemed apparent that there were huge continuity errors in editing. Which is a shame, because the book is otherwise quite good! I remember really flipping back and forth to make sure the lengthy passage I quote later in this essay was accurately typed. More than anything, it really made me want to rewatch Gremlins 2, which I'm sure I'll get to at some point. Kind of a lot going on right now. (Originally published 3/9/2023)

What a nice poster! Credit Warner Bros. for not going nuts reinventing this wheel for subsequent video releases.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff (based on the motion picture written by Charlie Haas and characters created by Chris Columbus) (Avon, 1990)

The pitch: Gizmo the Mogwai and the heroes of the 1984 horror-comedy classic square off against a skyscraper full of little monsters in this seriously unusual sequel from director Joe Dante.

The author: David Bischoff (1951-2018) was an accomplished writer whose work dipped into sci-fi/fantasy (including several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation), tie-in media (among them, forays into the worlds of Aliens Versus Predator and seaQuest DSV) and even wrestling (contributing to Rampage under the pseudonym Winchell Dredge).

The pitch: It's not an exaggeration to say there's no sequel quite like Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The Key & Peele sketch in which Jordan Peele's "sequel consultant" riles a writers' room into inventing an insane but real series of gremlin variants is indication enough. But the less heightened truth is just as bizarre.

After Gremlins became the fourth highest-grossing picture of 1984, Warner Bros. dogged Dante for a follow-up. He finally acquiesced upon receiving the promise of full artistic control over the project. What happened next was a living MAD magazine satire: an arched-eyebrow send-up of Hollywood, the changing face of corporate capitalism, even some pointed barbs at the plot conceits of the first movie. It begins and ends with new Chuck Jones Looney Tunes sequences and carries that anarchic energy through the next 100 or so minutes. You don't see The Goonies inspiring Twitter accounts as postmodern art and commentary.

So how do you adapt a movie like this for a novel? Simple: you lean into the madness and hope you can capture some of the magic. Bischoff doesn't always succeed, but when he does, it's pretty hilarious.

If you came away from this knowing one thing about Gremlins 2 as a novel, it's how the book handles the film's most off-the-wall sequence. Midway through the action - not long after Leonard Maltin is terrorized by Gremlins for panning the original film and a mutated winged Gremlin leaves a perfect Batman logo silhouette in a wall - the film shatters the fourth wall. Gremlins taking over the projection booth, snapping the film reel before clawed hands make shadow puppets on the bare screen.

Because of the video version (referenced below), I didn't see this until I taped a broadcast on a weekend afternoon. Imagine my surprise!

A cadre of cameos put the movie back on track, including Kenneth Tobey (who appeared in the first film as a gas station attendant) as a projectionist, Belinda Belaski (another bit player in the first movie) as a concerned parent, Eating Raoul writer/director Paul Bartel as a frustrated movie house manager...and Hulk Hogan as himself. It's a scene so wacky that they created a different version for home video release. (On a personal note: this sort of frantic pseudo-loss of control before a confused audience is one of my favorite tropes in visual media; Gremlins 2 didn't birth this love, but it surely cultivated it.)

You might be asking what that looks like in a novelization - or maybe how that works in the first place. Luckily, we have a satisfying answer. Here, in total, are the two pages of the novel's interruption:

"Try and calm down--" said Billy. "Where were the--"
There. The novelizer, Mr. David Bischoff, Esq., has been successfully waylaid and is now tied up in the bathroom of his Los Angeles apartment.
Do not attempt to adjust your book.
We have control of the programming.
Please excuse the rudeness. You have previously known me as "the Gremlin that drank the brain fluid"--or, as Bischoff quaintly called me, "Mr. Glasses." Believe it or not, in the screenplay, I am referred to as BRAIN GREMLIN.
I want to take this opportunity to talk to you about our philosophy toward life, so that we will not be misunderstood and branded as "monsters."
Yes, but faithful novel readers, I do not intend to cheat you. In the movie presentation, Gremlins take over the movie theatre (ah, what a delicious conceit--excellent, Joe--was that you?) and Hulk Hogan comes to the rescue.
I believe Kenneth Tobey of THE THING is somewhere in there.
However, let us now deal with more intellectual matters.
In the great paradigm of anti-intellectualism that is the vast American untermenschen, there needs be a seismic quake of thought, a veritable avalanche of anarchy, to wake you somnambulist beings from your couch-potato torpor.
May I offer you the services of we Gremlins. You may hereafter refer to us as the New Capitalistic Democratic Nice Folks.
Already our numbers are spreading out from the heart of America to aid you in this endeavor and although you may be viewing this physically for the first time now (except for those lucky citizens of Kingston Falls who received a foreshadow some years ago) our intellectual forces have been at work for some time, albeit embodied in human form.
According to my contacts with our crypto-CDs the Church of the subGenius it is generally not known, for instance, that the entirety of network television is programmed by proto-Capitalist Democrats.
However, the past is merely prologue, introduction, forward, with some long footnotes thrown in.
Our time is now!
So, my dear readers (oh, the few, the chosen literate who have been intelligent enough to purchase this volume) prepare for a New Age of the New Capitalist Demo--<
Oh, dear. Mr. Bischoff seems to have successfully axed his way out of the bathroom. Methinks I need to fly and return this temporarily liberated keyboard to his superb, urbane and witty prose.
Back I fly to the Clamp Cent........

It's a sequence that threatens to make the film version passive by comparison. In these pages, Bischoff has a character interrupt the action, outline the deviations between what occurs on screen and what is happening in the page, tips a hat to the film's own director, and embarks on a bizarre social commentary that justified, if not outright inspired, that whole "Institute of Gremlins 2 Studies" business. Such is the magic of novelizations! Hollywood & Spine endeavors to make you think about why this type of fiction exists. And here, it transcends mere product and becomes one of the more active thought experiments of what you feel reading the events of a movie in prose form.

I can only imagine what this image must look like if you've only seen the first film.

Bischoff doesn't stop there, either. His devilish description of the film's genetic scientist describes "a tall man whose narrow features and crooked teeth made him look very much like the Dracula of Hammer horror films." The character, of course, was played by exactly that same actor, Christopher Lee. (A nice novel-only touch: that Dr. Catheter's first name is "Cushing," the other Hammer horror legend and one of Lee's closest friends.) Later, when returning hero Billy Peltzer tries to explain to Daniel Clamp (the Trump-meets-Turner mogul who provides a lot of the sharpest comic relief) that his understanding of Gremlins stems from "read[ing] science fiction and fantasy," Clamp digresses on his ownership of sci-fi films like "that one about the werewolves...what's it called? THE JOWLING? That one by that nice Italian boy with the nasty sense of humor." I mean, come on.

The delight you'll feel in the Gremlins 2 novelization finding ways to skewer itself in ways the film doesn't, ultimately offsets some major flaws possibly done in editing. (Typos are bountiful in the printing surveyed here.) Two pivotal scenes aren't adapted in the pages of the book! First, when the first batch of Gremlins causes havoc on a cooking show set, they blow up stuff in a microwave, but it never sets off the sprinkler system that causes the rest of the chaos in the film. (You'll no doubt remember that water makes these things multiply.)

Just later on, the book ignores a sequence in which another returning hero, Billy's fiancée Kate, escapes from an elevator taken over by Gremlins - but it has her get in that elevator. As the narrative structure pinwheels around various human characters (sometimes taking too long without them appearing), it's distracting that Gremlins suddenly appear en masse and Kate escapes a threatening jam with no explanation. If you're gonna splurge on a cadre of nouns followed by the word "Gremlin," the least we can do is not have the mind of a child when mapping out the plot that does happen in the film.

This is one of the deleted scenes linked below. Happy to find this photo!

The cutting room floor: There were about 20 minutes cut from the picture - less gags than you'd think, more little character moments - and they're just about all in the book. (They're also probably more fun to watch than to read about, so get to it!) As far as other exposition exclusive to the novel, a few characters get full names in these pages - Robert Picardo's Clamp enforcer is named Frank Forster, while Robert Prosky's late-night Dracula-style TV host is named Fred Finlay - and we get a brief on how Clamp got so ludicrously powerful. (His media empire started with $50,000 in midwestern radio stations and the same amount in real estate inheritance. Is he funnier or less so now that there was a literal, terrible president working after this guy's example?) The book also briefly honors the late George Gipe's work on the original Gremlins novelization, reiterating the Mogwai's origins on the planet Mogturmen. (Think Warner Bros. Discovery is ever releasing that Gremlins cartoon? [Note: they did, it was whatever. Surprised Warner didn't quash it for tax writeoffs!])

The last word: A book so good you'll want to rewatch the movie! A movie so fun you'll want to read the book! Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a lot of things - chiefly "fun, but in no sense civilized."

Even this making-of promo clip highlights the anarchic spirit of the movie! Highly recommended.