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Dante was able to create his biggest hit, Gremlins, without toning down his style in the slightest.
Set in a sleepy town that seems sketched out by Frank Capra or Steven Spielberg (the film's producer), the timeless film quickly spins out into a liberating anarchy as a cuddly creature called a "mogwai" gets splashed with water and spawns the impish title characters. The exhilaratingly dangerous black-comedy and slapstick of the creatures famously prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating. This rare, longer "preview cut" of the film features approximately six minutes of footage cut for the theatrical release. With Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, and Hoyt Axton. (112 mins., 35mm)
Gremlins 2 sends up the very idea of a sequel (characters make fun of the arbitrary "rules" from the first movie, for example) and shows what happens when Dante fully unleashes his imagination. Warner Brothers wanted a sequel to Gremlins so badly that they gave Dante complete creative control, an opportunity he exploited to basically create a live-action Looney Tunes film combined with a Jacques Tati-esque commentary on the sterility of modern corporate culture. Gremlins 2’s plot is almost beside the point, as the chief focus on the movie is clearly on Dante’s customary, as he calls it, "doodling in the margins" (in-jokes, throwaway gags, and pure pandemonium). It’s probably the only studio film with room for jokes about Daffy Duck and Susan Sontag. With Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Christopher Lee, and a memorable cameo by Tony Randall as the voice of the "Brain" gremlin. (106 mins., 35mm)
Gremlins print courtesy of the Joe Dante and Jon Davison Collection at the Academy Film Archive.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch Trailer