Despite meager box office returns and only late success on home video, Tremors may be one of the only films to spawn a franchise out of a film that was never a big hit nor really intended to be a series. But unlike contemporary, flash-in-the-pan successes like The Hangover and Taken, the substance of the Tremors sequels is what kept their longevity and their quality at least in some ways comparable to the original masterwork. Tremors II: Aftershocks is a very strong sequel, and with the original film's screenwriter S.S. Wilson getting promoted to director and Brent Maddock assisting Wilson once again in the writing department, the original film's spirit is still captured in what is also a pleasantly different film than the first. For all the griping I, myself, and others do about sequels failing to raise the stakes, here's a film that doesn't mind changing the rules late in the game because, hey, it was already told that Graboids themselves don't play fair.
After opening with a stunningly suspenseful scene of an oil worker trying to avoid a Graboid, we are dropped right in the middle of the sleepy desert-town of Perfection, Nevada, once more, where Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) is now making his living as an ostrich farmer. Despite him and his partner Valentine gaining unprecedented popularity from their discovery of Graboids, Earl hasn't received much, if any, royalties from the licensing of the beasts, from comic books to arcade games. He still makes his living as a humble handyman and is almost going to keep it that way until Señor Carlos Ortega (Marcelo Tubert) and Grady Hoover (Christopher Gartin) show up on his doorstep informing them of the most recent Graboid, large, subterranean worms that hunt by sounds and sonic vibrations in the ground, crisis. An oil rig in Mexico has been deemed a serious hazard to employees and occupants after numerous Graboid attacks have resulted in the deaths of innocent workers. Ortega is prepared to offer Earl $50,000 per each Graboid he kills whilst in Mexico, in addition to $100,000 if he can capture one alive.
After much persuasion from Grady, Earl reluctantly agrees to make good use of his big "second chance," taking Grady along with him as his right-hand-man. When the two realize the Graboid operation is more dangerous and prolific than they thought, even after managing to blow up several using a remote-control car and dynamite, they enlist in the help of survivalist Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), who has spent his most recent days wallowing in self-pity and frustration after his wife Heather chose to leave him. The three, in addition to Kate (Helen Shaver), a local paleontologist, work to complete Ortega's operation, which goes rather seamlessly until the worms wind up undergoing metamorphosis and subsequently transforming into something more dangerous and more ubiquitous.
While the amiable and often hilarious chemistry of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward is subtracted from the formula of this sequel, Gartin steps in to do an okay job at playing second banana to Fred Ward's always interesting Earl character. Gartin's obnoxiousness is grating at times, and while his character is clearly the comic relief here, he comes off as a sign as being that a bit too obviously. The great thing about the original Tremors was no blatant comic relief was needed (even the listless teenager Melvin really didn't constitute as one, in my mind) because both leading men were capable of being funny without forgoing any element of seriousness and believability. Gartin does what he can within the screenplay of Wilson and Maddock and the result is fair but not totally destructive to the plot.
Tremors II largely works because it doesn't settle to do the same thing twice; it keeps its story moving by not only changing the setting and adding a few more characters in the mix, but changing the entire biological spectrum of the monsters. Wilson and Maddock put a lot of thought into the mindset of these Graboids, biologically, physically, and conceptually, which results in a fairly elaborate and well-played detailing of the next wave of monsters sure to plague our characters. In addition, much like the original Tremors, this is a film that makes total use of its desert setting, spending considerable amounts of time in some settings, but always giving different locations their time of day in a manner that feels very regionally democratic.
Tremors II: Aftershocks is a thoroughly pleasant sequel because it helps to revoke the spirit of the original film, whilst deviating course into something that expands upon the mythology of the monsters in the film and general likability of most of the film's characters. Rarely has there been a franchise quite like Tremors that has proved its own longevity better than most established, financially successful franchises and rarely has there been an impressive sequel quite like Tremors II: Aftershocks.
Starring: Fred Ward, Christopher Gartin, Michael Gross, Helen Slater, Marco Hernandez, and Marcelo Tubert. Directed by: S.S. Wilson.