A couple of days before I wrote this review, I needed to find a book. The two books I’d planned to read were ones that, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into. Worried about losing interest in reading once again, I needed to find something easy and readable. And quickly!
Then I remembered that there was a book. A book I’d owned for over a decade and a half and still hadn’t got round to reading. I am, of course, talking about David Bischoff’s 1990 novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (if you want to see my review of this “so bad that it’s good” comedy horror film, then you can read it here).
Although it’s probably theoretically possible to enjoy this book without watching the film, I’d strongly recommend that you watch the film at least once or twice before reading the book in order to get the most out of it.
So, let’s take a look at the novelisation of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
The story to this novel is, as you might have guessed, pretty much identical to the movie. The story begins in Chinatown, New York, where an elderly shopkeeper called Mr.Wing is visited by a rather unpleasant man called Forster who works for a business magnate called Daniel Clamp.
Clamp is interested in redeveloping the area, but Mr.Wing won’t sell his shop despite Forster’s arguments. After they leave, Mr. Wing catches his pet Mogwai (a cute, fluffy creature called Gizmo) watching a Rambo movie on TV and scolds him for it.
Several weeks later, Mr. Wing dies of old age and Clamp begins to demolish the shop. Gizmo barely escapes from the wreckage before he is found and kidnapped by a guy who is lurking in an alleyway.
Meanwhile, young couple Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer are travelling to work at the Clamp Center, a vast office tower run by Daniel Clamp. Several years earlier, Billy and Kate’s humdrum rural life had been shattered when Billy’s dad had given him Gizmo as a Christmas present. You see, there are several rules with Mogwai. They don’t like bright lights, they spontaneously reproduce whenever they get wet and you must never, ever feed them after midnight. If you do, they turn into fearsome, destructive gremlins. Gremlins that almost destroyed Billy and Kate’s old hometown. But, of course, that’s all in the past. It could never happen in New York, right….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a surprisingly good adaptation of the film. In other words, it is also “so bad that it is good”. Not only does the book absolutely nail the slightly quirky, referential, tongue-in-cheek tone of the film, but it also adds a bit of extra humour and background stuff too.
Still, Bischoff’s third-person narration can take a little while to get used to. He writes in a very informal, fast-paced and referential way that you’ll either find wonderfully readable or slightly annoying. Fortunately, for me, the former was true. But, this is only because I’ve seen the film several times before.
If I hadn’t seen the film, then I’d probably find the narration to be a little bit on the confusing side. Even so, the narration is full of these brilliantly fast-paced rushing-to-meet-a-deadline descriptions that almost have a certain poetry to them. Likewise, the informal narration fits in really well with the zany, anarchic tone of the film too.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, the narration (like the film) is fairly referential too, with frequent references to movies, TV shows, celebrities etc… Although this mostly works well, it all depends on how many of the references that you get. Luckily, most of them have stood the test of time. But, I’m guessing that, if you were living in the US during the 1990s, you’ll probably get slightly more out of this book than you would if you read it for the first time in 2010s Britain.
Likewise, the story itself moves at a reasonable pace too. Since this book was published in 1990, it is actually able to be short. What this means is that – over just 225 pages – the book can tell a reasonably focused story that doesn’t waste too much of the reader’s time. Seriously, I really miss the days when short books were nothing unusual. So, yes, this is a very readable book that will probably only take you a small number of hours to read too.
Although this novel follows the story of the film fairly closely, there are a reasonable number of extra little jokes thrown into the narration – mostly consisting of puns, sarcastic descriptions and parodies (eg: a mention of a werewolf movie called “The Jowling” which is a parody of a film called “The Howling” that was directed by the guy who directed “Gremlins 2”).
However, some visual parodies in the film don’t turn up in the book (eg: the “Batman” reference when the bat gremlin escapes the lab). But, although this novel mostly follows the story of the film, there are a couple of interesting story differences too.
For example, the novel initially seems to follow the film’s idea of making Daniel Clamp a thinly-disguised parody of Donald Trump (even taking it a step further than the film by hinting that Clamp wants to run for US President. As if anyone could imagine something so ludicrously absurd!). Yet, unlike the film, the novel actually mentions that Donald Trump is Daniel Clamp’s arch-rival. So, in the book at least, they’re supposed to be two totally different people.
Likewise, the fourth wall-breaking “film montage” scene in the original movie is replaced by a short chapter where the brain-serum gremlin breaks into David Bischoff’s apartment and narrates for a page or two before Bischoff is able to scare him away and continue telling the main story. Although this is quite a clever way to adapt this scene, and it also includes references to the original montage scene, I still slightly prefer the version in the film.
In addition to this, we get a very brief description of the Mogwai homeworld (implying that Gizmo is an alien), the film’s “New York, New York” musical montage scene is less of a major moment in the book (since it’s a book) and the electrocution scene is a little bit more intense and grotesque than it is in the film. Plus, in a scene that I don’t remember from the film, Grandpa Fred gives a speech about chaos and order that sums up the themes of the “Gremlins” series absolutely perfectly.
In terms of how this 29 year old novel has aged, it has aged as well as the film has. In other words, it’s a “so bad that it’s good” relic of the early 1990s. But, even though some of the book’s pop culture references are a little dated, it still reads reasonably well. If you’ve see the film and you know what to expect, then this book is a wonderful piece of 90s nostalgia. If you haven’t seen the film, you’ll probably find it less readable/enjoyable.
All in all, this novel is quite literally “Gremlins 2” in book form, even down the somewhat quirky/zany tone of the story. And, I’m honestly not sure whether I prefer it to the film or not. Like the film, it is “so bad that it is good”. It is endearingly annoying, it is a dreadful delight….
So, like the film, if I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get… both one and five simultaneously.