Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Recent Watches: Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)
ten “Puppet Master” movies. Knowing all this, it’s still surprising that a sequel to “Tremors” didn’t come until 1996. Originally planned for a theatrical release on the strengths of the script, the film suffered budget cut-backs, location shifts, and production turnarounds, explaining the six year delay. It’s just as well. Considering the first film found its audience through rentals and television screenings, “Tremors II: Aftershocks” was destined for the video market.
In the aftermath of the first film, Earl Bassett, Valentine, and the giant worm monsters of Perfection, Nevada, gained a level of fame. However, Valentine ran off and Earl squandered what exposure he achieved. Six years later, he’s bitter and washed-up. That’s when an oil company from Mexico, themselves having a Graboid problem, enlist Earl to clear out the pests. Teaming up with young buck Grady, geologist Kate, and old friend Burt, Earl heads to Mexico, hoping to make some cash monster-hunting. The Graboids have some surprises in store though, changing the game.
The cast was such an important part of the first “Tremor’s” success. There were some losses for this sequel. Kevin Bacon was never coming back, that was certain. Reba McEntire probably didn’t have any place in a straight-to-video monster movie either. Both characters’ absences are noted, the film writing them out in smart ways. Luckily, “Aftershocks” brings back several key cast members. Fred Ward steps into the lead role. Earl is as much of a cowboy as before, being introduced here by lassoing an ostrich. Ward has lost none of his rascally charm, easily carrying the film. Most importantly, Michael Gross returns as Burt Gummer. It’s good to see Burt again. His introduction, watching war footage on a TV while a graboid head is mounted on the wall, says so much about the character. He gets some of the funniest moments in the film, such as his repeated bitching that he was not properly briefed for this adventure and had no way to know certain details. Gross remains the franchise’s MVP.
The biggest change part two makes is to the monsters themselves. And that’s a change I don’t know how I feel about. The Graboids are revealed as the first form in a biological life cycle. The giant worms violently give birth, exploding from the inside-out, to smaller two-legged monsters. Eventually dubbed Shriekers, these monsters have a completely different physiology then the Graboids. They’re small and bipedal, with a velociraptor-style physique. The iconic Graboid-style head is kept but the creatures’ navigated different. They seek by heat, with cool sensory organs on their heads. They reproduce quickly, spitting up babies after eating enough. It removes the film’s central gimmick, less “tremors” then “pack hunters.” The Shriekers are cool looking. Watching them explode or get torn apart is fun too. However, they aren’t as novel or engaging as the Graboids. The puppet effects remain top notch. Yet shaky CGI is used several times to bring the creatures to life. That hasn’t aged well. I admire the filmmakers for deciding to do something different. That change also makes “Aftershocks” a little less pure then the first.