When Graboids pop up in Mexico and begin terrorising an oil field and its workers, the company enlists the help of Earl Bassett, who had helped to destroy the creatures in a similar outbreak in Perfection, Nevada. Bassett and his new partner, Grady Hooper, head down to Mexico to hunt down the Graboids but when things don’t go according to plan, they call for back-up in the form of survivalist Burt Gummer.
Tremors holds a special place in many people’s hearts. There are not too many genre lovers who’d have a bad word to say about it. A throwback to the 50s monster movies with a very 90s vibe, the film is now regarded as one of the best of the 90s monster movies. It didn’t do very well at the box office but became a smash hit on home video so a sequel was inevitable. Placing the obvious “why bother do a sequel?” spiel to one side, Tremors 2: Aftershocks was never going to live up to the original. When any sequel receives a direct-to-video release and has its budget slashed by over half of what it’s predecessor did, you’re never going to get anywhere close, are you? Surely with all of the love that the original received on video, a cinematic release and a bigger budget would have been money well spent by the studio with a legion of fans behind them?
Tremors 2: Aftershocks is about as good a sequel as you should really expect. There’s a lot of repetition from the first film with similar scenes of characters in peril, dialogue which plays on previous events and characters we all know well enough now. In fact it’s good to see the return of two characters (Earl Bassett and Burt Gummer) from the previous film to add a bit of continuity to the series. But the tone of Tremors 2: Aftershocks is different, with more focus on the comedy side of things this time around. Tremors was hardly scary though it did contain its fair share of unsettling and jumpy moments (Old Fred’s disembodied head under the hat still gets me every time). There’s none of that here as the whole thing is played more for laughs than anything else.
The most blatant problem, at least for the first third, is that we know what the Graboids look like and what they are capable of doing. There are no surprises here and no real suspense as Earl is able to deal with them easily. It kind of insults the original a little during this time as the monsters are blown up left, right and centre. What were once almost-impossible to kill are now little more than fish in a barrel. You never get the feeling that anyone is under any sort of peril whatsoever. I guess this would make the whole film pointless if the characters were just blowing these creatures up for a hundred minutes but thankfully the script throws in a nice twist along the way in which the creatures have begun to evolve into something else.
So what you get is essentially the same film only with a new breed of monsters which need defeating. This allows the film to give people what they expect from watching a monster film but also avoids becoming a simple rehash by offering a fresh take on proceedings. It’s a pity that the new monsters don’t have half the menace that the Graboids did when they first appeared. The Shriekers don’t look very convincing in their CGI form and being able to walk around, they take away some of the original’s dread about being sucked into the ground by something unseen. However there’s plenty of latex Shriekers as well and these look decent enough, with the orange goo that the make-up effects team were so fond of being found in abundance.
The obvious flaw in the film is that there’s no Kevin Bacon. Fred Ward is still great on his own but he’s got no one to spark with. Part of the fun of the original was the chemistry the two men had and the humour they shared with each other. Newcomer Christopher Gartin as Grady Hooper is just so annoying and unfunny and there’s zero chemistry between him and Ward. It’s clear that his inclusion is meant to be as a replacement for Bacon but the character is written poorly and never even looks like stepping into those cowboy boots.
Proceedings are livened up with the addition of Michael Gross as Burt Gummer. Someone obviously saw the comedic value of the character from the original, where he was played over-the-top but reasonably seriously, and have expanded his role tenfold here. Gross gets plenty of great moments to shine and would become the focal point of the series over the next couple of sequels. Having Ward and Gross co-starring right from the beginning would have worked a lot better as they are better suited to firing sarcastic quips at each other plus they have the advantage of already had a full film of screen time to be fleshed out and familiar to audiences. By the time we get to know Grady Hooper, the film has already turned from building up the events to starting the ball rolling with the pay off.
I supposed it’s hard to make a sequel to a monster film because people are going to expect the same but also for it to be different – it’s a Catch 22 situation and Tremors 2: Aftershocks plays it about right. There’s a decent mix of rehashed material and new twists plus Ward and Gross are up for a good time – it’s just a shame that Kevin Bacon had made it big by this point and didn’t return.