Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff
based on the screenplay written by Charlie Haas
Avon Books, 1990
Price I paid: 90¢
KEEP AWAY FROM BRIGHT LIGHT,
AWAY FROM WATER—
FEED THEM AFTER MIDNIGHT!
Who would have thought that within every playful, cuddly Mogwai there lurked a gleefully, malevolent gremlin? Billy Peltzer and his girlfriend Kate Beringer found out the hard way—and it nearly destroyed their hometown of Kingston Falls. Now the young lovers have come to New York to seek their fortunes. But the towering, high-tech office building in which they work is about to become a breeding ground for a whole new batch of deliciously malicious creatures.
Start spreading the news. The gremlins—lots of them—have come to take Manhattan…and they’re itching to comically paint the Big Apple gremlin green!
Happy 2019 everybody! I hope it’s been a good one so far!
I’ve hinted broadly that I was planning on adding something new to the mix this year, and here it is. Movie novelizations.
This isn’t entirely new to the blog, considering that once I did a novelization of a Starsky and Hutch episode and Moon Zero Two turned out to be one although I didn’t know that at first, but I want to delve a little bit into why I want to tackle this strangest of genres, the movie tie-in novel.
I’m curious about some of the most basic aspects of this genre. I know what it’s for. It’s merchandise. It’s an attempt to make a few extra bucks on a movie. I get that. I also get that it’s an extremely cheap way of making those few extra bucks. I’m sure David Bischoff was paid forty dollars and the rest of a sandwich for his work. If an editor was hired, they weren’t paid enough to care. At one point in the novel it refers to “Gemlins,” if that gives you any idea of how much copyediting went into this process. The cover art was already done by the movie promo people. If you factor in printing costs, I’m sure this book cost about a thousand bucks to create and distribute.
I’m only sort of joking.
What I don’t know is who this book is for. Who buys these things? Clearly someone does or they wouldn’t be made in the first place. Wikipedia even claims that some novelizations do quite well.
Part of the answer to that question is “kids like me.” As a very little kid I read the children’s novelization of The Addams Family film about a hundred times, and later on I read all of the Star Trek film novelizations, plus a few of the episode novelizations (more like short-storyfications) by James Blish. Those things were so great. I hope they hold up.
The only Terry Brooks novel I’ve ever read is his novelization of Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace. It had a whole extra pod race scene!
But who was the novelization of Gremlins 2 written for? At times it comes across as really juvenile. I’m not throwing shade at kids’ or YA lit—they’re amazing—but their close cousin, the book written like children are stupid, is more similiar to what this book is.
But on the other hand, this book has cusses! It even says shit! Admittedly, it has fewer cusses than the Bible, but they’re still there. It also discusses adult feelings once or twice. Nothing too blue, but boobs (or rather, busts) are prominent.
So I don’t think this was written for kids.
One thing that’s clear is that the book was not only written on a tight budget, it was also written to a strict word count on a short deadline. Bischoff probably dashed this book off over a weekend. And that’s okay. I want to make it clear that I’m not condemning the author for this book. He needed to make a car payment, and I respect that.
Still, there are some turns of phrase and stylistic choices that are just wild.
A lot of my impetus for analyzing some novelizations comes from Ryan North’s page-by-page look at the novelization of Back to the Future. One connection here is that the BttF novelization was written by a fellow named George Gipe, who also wrote the novelization to the first Gremlins movie. That’s not relevant, but it’s neat.
I’m having trouble figuring out how is best to approach this review. Should I assume you’ve seen the movie and go from there? Should I summarize it? Golly, I probably should have figured that out before I got 700 words into the review, shouldn’t I…
So the most basic premise is that there are creatures called Mogwai. They are cute. Gizmo is one. The thing about Mogwai are that bright light kills them, they reproduce if they get wet, and they turn into monsters—the titular gremlins— if they eat after midnight.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s what we’ve all thought since we first saw the movie: What the hell does “after midnight” actually mean?
While the first movie was a straight-up dark comedy/horror, director Joe Dante decided to take the second movie into a different direction. It’s a screwball comedy, more in line with a Looney Tune than a horror movie. It’s crazy and zany and wacky and I love this movie.
Lots of people say it’s a satire of film sequels in general, but I’ll be honest, I don’t see that? That’s probably on me.
It’s also largely meta-referential. The movie (and the book) break down the fourth wall all over the place. For one example, a scene has several characters actually debating the mechanics of the “after midnight” thing. Questions like “what if it eats before midnight but gets a caraway seed stuck in its teeth that doesn’t come out until after” or “what if it crosses a time zone” are brought up. (Actually, the book refers to “the time zone,” which, I dunno, is pretty on-brand for it, as we’re about to see.)
Like a lot of movie tie-ins, I’m sure Gremlins 2 was written based on an early version of the script. There are scenes that didn’t take place in the film version, for example. Those might be scenes that got cut from the final product, but might also be inventions of the author. I don’t know how much creative control Bischoff had.
It was also written before some characters had been cast. It’s hard to tell when sometimes. The main characters had been cast already, surely, since they were holdovers from the previous movie. But new characters were less clear. Oddly, they were also the ones described in more detail. I suppose we were expected to know what and who Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer looked like (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, respectively).
Real-estate mogul Daniel Clamp, Billy and Kate’s boss, is described as looking like a “greedy Jimmy Stewart,” which is pretty different from (the incredible) John Glover. Likewise, the screenplay hadn’t settled on what Clamp’s personality was supposed to be when Bischoff got it, and it looks like some re-writer made the right choice. Instead of a greedy, evil billionaire, the movie made him more of a exuberantly clueless sort. I liked it.
Likewise, while the film was able to use visuals to make it clear that he was a parody of Donald Trump and Ted Turner, the book had to come right out and say it by comparing him to both of them. Repeatedly. Just in case we missed it.
On the flip, its clear that one new character was cast already, or at least they knew who they wanted. When we’re introduced to Dr. Catheter, the geneticist whose work becomes a driver for a lot of the wacky horror, he’s described as
…a tall man whose narrow features and crooked teeth made him look very much like the Dracula of Hammer horror films.page 55
If you haven’t seen the movie, it may not surprise you to learn that the character was played by Christopher Lee.
A nice touch that I don’t remember from the movie, the book refers to him as “Dr. Cushing Catheter,” which is an unwieldy name but at least a sweet reference to Lee’s good friend and Hammer colleague Peter Cushing.
Dammit, I’m about to go on a Hammer binge, aren’t I? Jesus god and holy spirit I love those movies.
I could keep going on about how the book deviates from the film—there’s a lot of things I feel are worth mentioning—but that would turn into the whole review and I’m not sure that should be the point of writing it. There is one last thing, though.
Here and there we get the story from Gizmo’s point of view. It’s really bad because the written-for-dumb-children knob gets turned up and broken off, but it’s even more weird. It’s not necessarily weird that Gizmo is more intelligent than his movie representation would have us believe. He’s intelligent, and the movie makes his emotions and thoughts clear with a puppet or whatever he was, but we don’t see any of his inner life. Learning that he has one isn’t terribly surprising.
Still, his thoughts make reference to the weirdest stuff. On page 8 he thinks of Sylvester Stallone (he’s watching a Rambo movie) as looking like “Paul McCartney on steroids.” Not weird enough? Later on, after the evil Mogwai are created, Gizmo is the one to name them. He names two of them George and Lenny, because they remind him of the Steinbeck novel.
Are we to believe that Gizmo has read Of Mice and Men? I have trouble imagining that. But this book specifically refers to the book, not the movie, so there we are.
Now, in the movie it’s clear that those two Mogwai/Gremlins are based on the characters and are named such in the script, and I get that Bischoff had to make that clear (or did he?), but it’s still weird how he chose to do it. Couldn’t one of the other characters made the observation?
The other thing is a random line, also from near the beginning:
It reminded him of the Light and Lava Falls of the homeworld of the Mogturmen, the inventors of the Mogwai.pg 9
Never, ever in the movies do we get any kind of origin of the Mogwai. I don’t have a lot of really strong feelings on storytelling, but one I do have is that if you’re going for horror, things are scarier if you don’t know where they came from. If they just are. Once some of the mystery starts to fall away, the things get more familiar and understandable, and that undermines the scarier elements. I recognize that this is subjective and of course you can argue with me, but I stand by it.
My research shows that in the novelization for the first Gremlins, George Gipe had a long origin story included, and that Bischoff is referencing that. I don’t know if that story was new to him or if it was cut from the screenplay, but if that’s the case, then damn, right call.
Okay, so the main question about this novelization still stands: Who is it for? Who was the expected audience?
I get that for some movies, the novelization is a way of getting deeper into the film’s universe. The characters’ inner thoughts can be explored and we can get more exposition on things. That’s why I read a lot of the Star Trek stuff as a kid.
Did people feel that way about Gremlins 2? I kind of doubt it. Of course, the film series was heavily merchandised. You probably remember the Gizmo with suction cups thing in every third car on the interstate. (That gets referenced in Gremlins 2, by the way). So it’s no surprise that a novelization is part of that merch effort.
This is a movie based heavily on sight gags, pratfalls, and slapstick. It loses so much when it’s turned into prose.
There’s one scene—and I realize this is turning into another “here’s a difference bit” but hear me out please—in the movie where the fourth wall just collapses. It’s great. The gremlins go so crazy that the film breaks and we cut to a movie theater where people are watching this very movie. Hulk Hogan shows up. I love it.
I was wondering very much how the book would treat that. Turns out, the author does a great job. It’s the only good part of the book, to be frank.
See, instead of the film breaking, Bischoff introduces himself as a character getting pushed away from his typewriter by the Brain Gremlin, who goes on a long rant about, well, a lot of things. It’s insane and it’s utterly perfect. It even references the Church of the SubGenius? For this two pages, I have a ton of respect for the author, who manages to get himself out of the bathroom and resume the book.
Everything else is so bad though. This book reads like it was written for dumb children, but it also has cusses. I think I mentioned that already. There are a lot of bad turns of phrase, some of which emphasize the fact that Bischoff was paid by the word.
“Well, uhm,” Billy said. Time to desperately dissemble!pg 139
“…But how do you know so much about them.” (sic)
“I…er…I read science fiction and fantasy!”pg 143
The Gremlin grinned evilly. But then his expression changed. He looked like a comic’s parody of a drunk who has just taken a shot of very strong liquor.pg 145
This book also hated question marks and whenever italics were called for, it used ALL CAPS. It uses so many words.
This was, with that one exception, a really stupid book.
Again, I’m not calling out Bischoff for that. He had a job to do and I think he did it magnificently.
But there are also references that made me go whaaaaaat. Near the end he draws a comparison to the Edgar Allen Poe short story “The Curious Case of M. Valdemar.”
Oh god I just looked it up: That’s not the name of the story! Bischoff! What are you doing?!?
The story’s title is “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”
He does this several times! Once we’re told about something called RIDE OF THE VALKRIE and another time it’s THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER WHO COULD but I didn’t realize that he did it with the Poe story. What else did he screw up?
I’m still not calling out the author. These are understandable mistakes, especially if you have three hours to hammer out 60k words and nobody hired an editor to catch that kind of thing. I’m calling out the entire Hollywood merchandising machine for foisting this halfassed crap on us.
But that’s nothing new.
Who was supposed to read this book? My working theory is this:
Nobody was supposed to read this book. People were supposed to buy it and not read it. Put it on the shelves next to the Gizmo doll and, I dunno, some action figures or whatever. Never, ever crack it open. It’s not a book, it’s a piece of merch that looks like a book.
At least the author got paid for something that wasn’t very difficult and at one point he got to have a little fun with it. That’s all anybody could ask.
If you’re worried that I’m switching this blog entirely to reviewing movie novelizations, don’t worry. I’ll just pepper them here and there. I did think about starting a sister blog for them, and might still do so, but that seems like a lot of work. In case you’re wondering, I did re-watch the movie—both movies, in fact—before starting the novel, so that was interesting. I intend to keep that up, too, especially considering I’ve picked up a few novelizations for movies that I know only from reputation.
Or should I not watch those movies, and review the book based on its own merits? Hmm…an interesting question. Your thoughts?
This is gonna be fun.