REVIEW: Gremlins & Gremlins 2: The New Batch

In a nutshell:

Gremlins: Teenager Billy Peltzer receives an unusual early Christmas present from his father; a small furry creature who he names Gizmo. However Billy fails to follow some basic rules and unwittingly allows Gizmo to spawn other creatures which turn into little demonic monsters.

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Each year, several Christmas films are released, and they usually fall into three main genres – horror, comedy and romance. It’s a popular setting for horror, as it’s the perfect juxtaposition to what’s supposed to be such a magical time of year. With comedy, there’s the potential to make fun of the pratfalls one can encounter over the period, visiting relatives, disastrous dinners etc. For romance, it usually involves the love of your life being in plain sight or some shit. One of the reasons Gremlins stands out from the pack, is the subversion of all those conventions, to create something unique. It’s grotesque,very funny and even manages moments of sweetness.

Whilst director Joe Dante is an assured hand at both comedy and horror, the old-fashioned charm has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg production.  Rand Peltzer is a hard working father trying to launch that big invention whilst looking to get his son a unique Christmas present. Billy is the awkward kid who fancies the girl next door and wants to be treated as an adult. There’s a lot going on in Gremlins, so it’s not surprising the romance subplot almost goes unnoticed. We’re here to see the little green creatures do the funny stuff – screw your small town love story!

Like fellow release Ghostbusters, it balances the horror and comedy elements seamlessly. Take the first scene of the gremlins big reveal – when the tension is at it’s highest. The ghoulish cocoons have opened and the monsters are loose in the house. Billy’s mum is attacked in her kitchen and suddenly the horror quickly turns into giggles as the gremlins are inventively dispatched via a variety of kitchen appliances.  

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Many will be quick to notice Gremlins is a spoof/satire on Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra), right down to that pleasant little middle American town where everyone knows each other – Kingston Falls. Like that film, the friendly community are united against a greedy geriatric foe, Mrs Deagle. However, this time around, there’s a much worse threat – Billy Peltzer, I mean, the gremlins themselves.

Being a Spielberg production, the sharp edges of horror have been smoothed down for a more family friendly horror comedy. Apparently Chris Columbus’ original script was a much darker affair. Cute and cuddly Gizmo was intended to become the head villain, Spike. The horror was a lot more explicit with the gremlins being openly murderous, chopping off Billy’s mother’s head and offing the family dog!

Amongst all the laughs and scares are some playful jabs at the American Dream and consumerism. It’s not just the townsfolk under threat, but their wholesome traditional values too. Though it’s somewhat ironic that with all these jokes about consumerism, the amount of merchandising that came off the back of the film (hey it was the 80s, after all), with toy Gizmos and obligatory cereal tie ins.

For me, Gremlins is a great alternative to the usual schmaltz that is packaged with a Christmas film. It’s truly a unique feature, a classic of it’s decade and a lot of demented fun.

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In a nutshell:

Gremlins 2: The New Batch – Billy has moved to New York and is working at the conglomerate Clamp Towers. Through a coincidence, he and Gizmo are reunited and soon enough, a new batch of Gremlins are on the loose, causing havoc throughout the building.

Due to stresses of working with tricky puppets and temperamental animatronics, Joe Dante and his production team weren’t keen to rush into a sequel. It’s clear that following the success of the original, the studio were so keen, they gave Dante free reign on it’s direction. The belated sequel goes even further with the self-deprecating approach and runs riot with it. Instead of the kitsch American Dream, The New Batch takes aim at the excesses of 80’s yuppiedum and the growing culture of TV channel-hopping and emerging technology.


Like the antagonists themselves, Dante is happy to break the rules of the first film and have even more fun. The sequel gives us gremlins who are impervious to sunlight, turn into electricity and chatty ones who are up for a philosophical debate. The film is great example of post-modernism (nowadays the kids simply refer to it as “being meta”) directly referencing the original film, with a cameo from film critic Leonard Maltin who gives Gremlins a bad review (before he is attacked by the monsters). When things get too silly, the film literally stops – meaning another bizarre cameo has to get the film back on track. This time it’s legendary wrestler/ part time actor Hulk Hogan (who appears to be watching some arty porno) who uses his trademark gruff authority to intervene.

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Like Starship Troopers, The New Batch is a film ahead of it’s time. The Clamp Tower is a “smart building” – everything is connected and controlled by computers. Just think what damage the gremlins could do in current times? When the phrase, “What do you mean the wifi isn’t working?!” is enough to strike fear in even the calmest person? It would also be rude to not mention Daniel Clamp, a thinly veiled caricature of Donald Trump. John Glover brings an almost lovable energy to the gormless but well meaning Clamp. Here is a man, who sees opportunity in every crisis. Yes, his company may have been responsible for the outbreak, but he could be the saviour of New York! Think of the merchandising opportunities…. Part of me likes to think in a parallel world somewhere, Daniel Clamp is President.

Like many other films we cover at Retro Ramble, these films hold up due to some inventive special effects, a memorable score and some timeless black humour. Zack Galligan may not be the strongest leading man, but he brings a naive charm that the role requires. I think we can all agree the creatures are the real stars, so kudos must go to the teams and performers who bring Gizmo and company to life.

Rumours of a Gremlins sequel/reboot have been on the cards for many years now. Warners obviously still value their place in pop culture, most recently including them in The Lego Batman Movie (2017). If the mogwai and monsters are due to return any time soon, the filmmakers responsible need to remember to balance the jokies, violence, grotesqueness and old fashioned (Spielberg) charm.

Price: £18.49

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (1984)

Who you gonna call? George McGhee delves into what makes Ghostbusters such a beloved horror comedy classic.

In a nutshell

Three New York college professors develop their own ghost capturing technology and attempt to catch ghosts for money. Along the way they encounter a woman whose apartment building may be the gateway to another dimension, which could unleash evil forces worldwide. Scares and laughter ensues.

We all have that one film that terrified us as kids – well, other than Jaws. For me that was Ghostbusters. I was so terrified on the first watch, I completely missed the fact it was a comedy. Nevertheless, I was quickly hooked and became obsessed with all things Ghostbusters. From the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters, the toys (I was very happy with my proton pack) and books.

“If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.”

What makes Ghostbusters so appealing? Well, it’s an original concept, with a bunch of geeks (plus Winston) using science to capture ghosts, deftly balancing comedy with the supernatural. It obviously helps when the laughs are delivered by the leading comic talent of the time – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Rick Moranis, steered by assured comedy filmmakers, Harold Ramis (Caddyshack) and Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Meatballs).

Dan Ackroyd is the man to responsible for getting it to the big screen. He always had an interest in the paranormal and following the success of Blues Brothers (1980) was looking for another project for him and Saturday Night Live alumni, John Belushi to star in. With Belushi’s unexpected death and an overly ambitious initial concept (including time travel and parallel dimensions), story and script had to be tweaked and stripped down. Director and producer Reitman brought in Ramis to help bring the story into something more manageable and fellow SNL member cast Murray in the role intended for Belushi.

The film has a good sense of pace, with the rise of the Ghostbusters (ending with a textbook 80’s montage) and spooky goings on at Dana’s apartment at the same time. The three main Ghostbusters (poor Ernie Hudson gets short shrift) fill out their roles dutifully – the naive and  earnest Ray (Ackroyd), the deadpan logic of Egon (Ramis) and the roguish charm of Venkman (Murray). Despite being an ensemble, writers Ackroyd and Ramis humbly give the best lines and most screen time to Murray – which cuts through all the science mumbo jumbo.

“If the ionization-rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we can really bust some heads… in a spiritual sense, of course.”

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Ackroyd, Moranis and director Reitman on set

Along with Groundhog Day (1993 directed by Ramis) it’s a defining film of Murray’s career.Special mention must go to Rick Moranis, as nervous neighbour Louis Tully, who shines in every role he’s in. The highlight being the one take scene at his drinks party where he introduces his guests (all clients, so it’s tax deductible), whilst casually sharing their financial situation. The ever reliable Sigourney Weaver probably gets the best character arc as Dana. She gets to join in on the jokes, whilst skilfully veering from terrified damsel to slutting it up as the possessed Gate Keeper.

The horror comedy genre is a tricky balance. Too much in either direction and you risk alienating some of the audience. Ghostbusters seems to be the right amount for a family audience. The experienced cast ensures all the laughs hit home and decent special effects (for the time) bring the various ghouls to life, without being overly gruesome. The soundtrack adds to this balance. Ray Parker Jnr’s infectious title track is on repeat along with some other Eighties pop which add to the fun. Meanwhile, the legendary Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score enhances the scenes of fear and dread when required, whilst offering some playful melodies for the lighter moments.

“We’ve been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft’s okay! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!”

Retro ramble Ghostbusters Stay Puft

There are moments where the the film veers into more mature territory that is quite typical for a comedy at that time. Despite being pitched as a family film, it’s got a generous amount of swearing, sexual innuendo and enough chain-smoking to give Samuel L Jackson in Jurassic Park a heart attack.

Why has it endured for so long? The film has a nice underlying message that anyone can save the day, the Ghostbusters are not muscular heroes, they rise to the task because no one else can, using smarts and bravery. It’s a great snapshot of the Eighties, whilst being a love letter to the city of New York, with the majority of scenes filmed on location. Whilst the main characters don’t manage to escape their archetypes, there’s so many thrills, laughs and character, you don’t really notice.

The film was so successful it launched a franchise with varying success includes cartoons, games and controversial reboots. For me, it’s all about the original, great laughs, good scares and a cracking cast who have great chemistry.

“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

MVP: This is Bill Murray’s film but the real unsung hero is Rick Moranis – it’s a minor role but he steals every scene he’s in.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

The role of Winston was written for Eddie Murphy. When he declined as he had his own star project – Beverly Hills Cop, the role was scaled down.

Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd were all considered for the role of Egon Spengler. However, after Harold Ramis finished writing the script, he felt close to the character and figured he could act the part.

Alternate Title: The Chain Smoking Radioactive Ghost Catchers

NEWS: Stranger Things 2 New Cast Members

With October 27th looming every the more closer many people are beginning to get excited about what Stranger Things Season 2 will bring with it. For the uninitiated, Stranger Things is a show set in the 80s focusing on a quartet of bmx driving, fantasy savvy kids that discover there may be a connection to another dimension in their hometown. Things escalate when an unknown threat from the “upside down” dimension abducts one of the group.

Can Stranger Things continue to surprise in Season 2?

Here at RetroRamble we may mainly fixate on the films of our youth but I can’t think of another show that encapsulates films and popular culture of the 1980s in the way that Stranger Things does.

We spoke about its influences back when we reviewed The Goonies in Podcast Episode 6 and if you listened to that you will recall we mentioned that Mikey from the Goonies / Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (aka Sean Astin) is returning in season 2. What role he will play we do not know, so if you are in the know please share and embarrass us in the comments below.

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A more recent edition is he of Aliens and My Two Dads fame, you guessed it, its no other than 80’s slime-ball Paul Reiser. No offence Paul – we’re sure you’re a lovely guy in real life, but Newt was only a kid, man.

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Paul is no stranger to playing to his strengths so our guess he will most likely take on the role of a bad guy, a good guy who’s creepy or a good guy who later turns out to be a really a creepy, bad guy.

We’ll just have to wait until October 27th to find out!

In the meantime, check out the cool Ghostbusters Themed Trailer below.

Adam West 1928 – 2017

“In the Sixties, there would be the three B’s; Bond, Batman and The Beatles” Adam West.

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In the space of just a few weeks, I’ve lost two childhood heroes, James Bond (Sir Roger Moore) and now Batman. Much like Roger Moore, Adam West isn’t likely to be at the top of many people’s lists for playing a popular character, but it’s hard to argue he’ll be the most fondly remembered. His Batman was one for a certain era, full of colour and camp. West was always proud to acknowledge that all the other Batmen were Dark Knights, whilst he was The Bright Knight.

Despite growing up with Michael Keaton and Tim Burton’s gothic take on Batman complete with “moulded rubber”, it would be West’s Batman that I would rush home from school to catch the reruns on Channel 4. The dated effects, wonky sets and cliffhanger set-pieces – “tune in, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel” – all had a certain charm, spearheaded by West and his measured, dead-pan delivery.

Along with Christopher Walken and William Shatner, West’s voice is often parodied or homaged. Whilst Big Daddy from Kick Ass was a knowing parody of Batman’s violent vigilante side, Nicolas Cage, in a genius move, gave the character West’s stilted delivery as his voice.

At university, probably around the same time Christian Bale was growling at criminals in Batman Begins, I rediscovered West’s Batman through the 1966 TV movie. The film is a great celebration of the series with all the best villains, ridiculous Bat-gadgets (including the infamous Shark Repellant Bat Spray) and some genius West one-liners, “They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re also human beings!” The film is bat-shit mental, tongue in cheek and far too long but I can’t help revisit it from time to time.

West kept himself busy with conventions, voice work and guest appearances over the years, but Seth   gave him a career boost by casting him as a recurring character in Family Guy – Mayor Adam West! West is portrayed as a paranoid nut case, though still oddly lovable. He has many standout moments in the show, which work due to West’s sense of humour and self-deprecation.

Many who knew him have commented on how charming, warm and generous he was – a true gentleman by all accounts.

Rest in peace, Bright Knight, and thanks for all the memories.

NEWS: I’ll be back….again

After flirting on the fringes of each new production, it appears James Cameron is ready to go back to Titanic, Terminator. George McGhee wonders if this is a good idea.

It’s a machine that can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop…EVER. Yes, I’m talking about the Terminator but not the actual character- I’m talking about the studio engine that will not let this once great franchise die, by letting it gracefully slip into the fiery furnace of time with a graceful thumbs up, so to speak.

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Can James Cameron recapture T2’s magic?

Yet Hollywood keeps hitting the reset button on this franchise – why? Nothing is an easier sell than brand/name recognition – hence the continuing bombardment of remakes, sequels, and the term that makes me cringe – “shared universes”. The big surprise is that none other than the Miles Dyson of this franchise, self proclaimed “King Of The World” James Cameron, is actively involved in this new production.

Whilst Mr Cameron is far too busy prepping numerous Avatar sequels, it’s been revealed that he is taking on a “godfather” or a creative consultant role for a new Terminator film – as the film rights revert to him in 2019. One would hope that his involvement means proper production opposed to executive production – which is essentially funding a film but with little creative input.

On every sequel since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) the Cameron Connection has always been crowbarred in some way, however tenuous. Both Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) had his best wishes – mainly support for his friends/collaborators Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sam Worthington.

He had a more direct involvement in Genysis, from the initial suggestion on how to bring back Arnie (“what if the T-800’s skin ages like a human?”) to a cringe worthy video endorsement where he praises it as a true sequel to the first two films…. The claim is almost as outrageous as the shirt he’s wearing for the video.

Following the poor critical and audience reception at remake/reboot/sequel, Terminator Genysis (the first of a new planned trilogy and potential TV series tie in) we all thought the franchise, like Salvation before it (another planned trilogy…) was a non starter.

As a huge fan, I can still find strengths in each sequel post Terminator 2, which happens to be one of my favourite films of all time – however disappointing they can be. Rise of the Machines was averagely entertaining in a familiar way but I was really impressed with it’s bleak ending. Salvation was the opposite – fans were eager to see the future war teased in Cameron’s films and it had an interesting twist with a human/cyborg hybrid (like Genysis, the key twist was spoiled in the trailer). However the film still couldn’t avoid giving us another smack down finale in familiar factory, followed by the world’s first desert based heart transplant…

As Cameron points out, Genysis is a “true” sequel of sorts, with it’s Back to The Future II approach, the opening half hour impressively recreates previous scenes almost shot for shot. Sadly as soon as they announce “we must travel to 2017! For reasons!” it quickly falls apart with all too familiar action scenes (another Golden Gate Bridge set-piece, really?!) and wooden exposition delivered by Arnie, a miscast Emilia Clarke and miscast in everything, Jai Courtney.

The press release promises this new take will be a reboot and conclusion of the story, which…makes little sense. With Cameron’s busy slate, rumour has it that Tim Miller, the other man (besides Ryan Reynolds) that we have to thank for the wonderful Deadpool (2016), is due to take on the directing duties. Apart from being one of the funniest films of last year, Miller displayed an inventive flair for stylish action and violence and most importantly with a limited budget – so again, another reason to be hopeful, if not outright excited.

Is Cameron the right man for the job? Or does it need some new blood? After all, Star Wars is doing a lot better without George Lucas, now it’s in the hands of talented filmmakers who grew up with the originals. Cameron has done little to tarnish his Terminator legacy, with his last two theatrical features are two of the biggest selling films of all time. You can moan about the mawkish romance of Titanic or Avatar being Pocahontas with blue cat people all you want, those numbers don’t lie. It’s fair to say that box-office numbers don’t always mean quality (e.g. Transformers/Fast & Furious films) but it’s unlikely many would accuse Cameron of approaching anything half-heartedly – in each of his films, he’s clearly looking to push boundaries in terms of using technology to tell a story, opposed for the sake of it.

My concern is where can the story go, that it hasn’t tried already. Whilst a groundbreaking idea in the early 1980’s, has today’s technology overtaken the concept of a killer robot disguised as a human? Cameron pointed out back in 2011 that the machines have already won, we’re already enslaved to technology. It seems that Genysis took this concept literally with Skynet turning into a killer app – a storyline that people found hard to take seriously.

Personally I feel the only sensible way to approach Terminator is to go back it’s roots, as a low budget, horror sci-fi, and controversially get rid of Arnie – alright, give him a walk on cameo if you must. For further proof, check out the excellent action film The Guest (2014), which lovingly homages Terminator and other 80’s action thrillers. It’s almost an unofficial remake, with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens (yes, you read that right) as a seemingly unstoppable soldier.

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To be, or not to be? Can Cameron save the franchise?

Time will tell if Cameron can right the course of this franchise and what exact role he will take. The last two features Cameron produced were Strange Days (1995) and Solaris (2002), both are strong sci-fi entries in my opinion. They offered intriguing concepts and strong visual aesthetics whilst still recognisably the work of their respective directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Steven Soderbergh. (On a side note, check out the Solaris DVD commentary with Cameron and Steven Soderbergh – it’s very informative and entertaining).

Many fans are saying the franchise has had it’s day, and whilst an unknown future rolls toward us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope. Dun-dun-dan-dun-dun…….

Should Terminator be rebooted again?

Let us know in the comments below.