'Gremlins 2' at 30: Director Joe Dante talks 'crazy, manic movie' and contributions of Rick Baker and Christopher Lee

It will never be confused with The Godfather: Part II, but Gremlins 2: The New Batch (which turns 30 today) holds a special place in the hearts of many an ‘80s and ‘90s baby. It’s also a movie that has seen appreciation for it grow (or should we say transform) over the years, lovingly spoofed on Key and Peele and recently named one of a couple dozen sequels that were better than the original in a widely shared — and widely debated — list from Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn.

According to director Joe Dante, the film’s resonance can be attributed to a confluence of factors, including that its distributor Warner Bros. subscribed to “a bigger means better” philosophy when bankrolling the follow-up to the 1984 hit Gremlins with a very generous $50 million, five times the budget of the original.

“It was much more comprehensive, many more gremlins than there were in the first movie,” Dante (who directed the original as well as other ‘80s favorites like The ‘Burbs and Innerspace) told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2015 Director’s Reel interview (watch above, with Gremlins 2 chat starting at the 5:05 mark). “[We had] more money for special effects.” 

Gremlins 2 (Photo: Warner Bros.)

“We had a flying gremlin. And we had all sorts of stuff that we couldn’t possibly have afforded to do in the other movie. And it’s a pretty crazy, manic movie. And one of my favorites.”

As Dante explains, the eponymous expansion of the gremlin breed came not necessarily from the writer’s room (as Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hilariously imagined in a popular revisionist history sketch featuring Peele’s Hollywood Sequel Doctor), but from the hiring of famed creature feature make-up and effects maestro Rick Baker.

“Rick Baker didn’t want to come on if he had to redo [original creator] Chris Walas’s gremlins because what’s in it for him? And so to induce him, we changed the story so that there was a genetics lab run by Christopher Lee,” Dante says of the plot, which finds our furry friend Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) once again spawning dangerous offspring, this time in a Manhattan skyscraper. “They turned the gremlins into different kinds of gremlins. So all the designs and ideas that Rick had, we could come up with and we could make different kinds of gremlins out of them. And plus he changed the designs of Gizmo and the regular gremlins a little bit.” 

Speaking of Christopher Lee, Dante recalled how the late Dracula and Lord of the Rings actor, who died in 2015, adapted to the role of mad scientist Dr. Catheter.

Christopher Lee in Gremlins 2. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

“When Chris came in, he had an idea that he wanted to play it wacky. And he wanted to have long hair, and he wanted to look like his character in The Gorgon, with the big mustache.

“And I took him down to the set and I said, you know this is pretty austere. I need the formidable, forbidding Christopher Lee in order to be able to make fun of that. And then he got it right away, and then he played it that way.”

Watch the trailer for Gremlins 2: The New Batch:

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