Tremors 2: Aftershocks holds a very special place in my heart, and though the top area of this list is chock with ‘guilty pleasures,’ if you must, this is perhaps the least defensible. People like Tremors, but nobody really cares for the sequels.
Who has two thumbs and cares for the sequels? A-THIS GUY.
So instead of rephrasing old sentiment, I’ll simply reproduce the script for Ep. 13 – The Essentials: Tremors 2:
Halloween last year, AMC was doing marathons of horror movies, and the one day I tuned in was the Tremors day, which was before Chucky Day. And I said to myself, I’m gonna revisit just one of these because I’ve been meaning to for a very long time, and that’s the second one. And so I click the TV on and it’s like thirty minutes into Tremors 2. I can’t super accurately speak to the first thirty minutes of Tremors 2, but I was truly shocked at how well the rest of it held up.
Now if I could get all Harry’s stories on you, Tremors was a very critical piece of childhood media for me, below the league of Jurassic Park, Terminator, and Robocop, but roundabouts on like Godzilla. I was really into it, but I eventually learned how lame both of those things were and are. And we all have those, especially if you happen to be an anime fan, I know that as a kid I would push the things I liked on friends and family to an obnoxious degree. I remember being just so blown away by John Woo I made it my mission to show everyone Hard Boiled. Nowadays I have some discretion, because Woo is not for everyone. But The Raid: Redemption…
And Tremors is for almost nobody, despite having four feature films and a short-lived television series. If the franchise, I don’t know, showrunner, Brent Maddock or S.S. Wilson, had his way he’d make Tremors 5 Graboids in space. No joke. I would watch that one too, if I saw the one that was Graboids in the Old West. And loved it. Graboids of course, being, the non-eponymous giant sandworms of Dune that somewhat terrorize good ol’ boys in Perfection, Nevada.
If you don’t know, Tremors was a 90s throwback to 50s monster movies, and at the time of release was very well received by critics as such. It’s a solid formula, this funny, thrilling creature feature with memorable characters and set pieces. It felt fresh, but nobody ever forgot that this was, as star Kevin Bacon quietly put it, ‘a movie about underground worms!’
To the extent that the three sequels were direct-to-video, and while the third and fourth were just fine as I remember them, the first of these sequels is a matter all its own, one to be beheld as unique and interesting.
It’s not a scary movie and it’s not a particularly funny movie, but to me it perfectly, perfectly, exemplifies the comedy/horror genre, a very specific variety of film, that which I adore just so much when it’s done well.
There’s this podcast that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this one, that being The Greatest Movie Ever!, which is great. They had this one a long time ago covering Tremors, the first one, and at the end he discusses briefly the sequels, namely Tremors 2. And he said that Tremors 2 really undermines the story and the premise and what made the original so good. And he’s right. He’s absolutely correct. See, the first movie was novel because it had these creatures that couldn’t see and came after you if you walked on the ground so they could hear the vibrations underground.
That’s a really neat idea for a movie and it’s kinda like you know don’t fall asleep Freddy will get you don’t go in the water Jaws’ll be there. This time you can’t walk on solid earth. Wow. Tremors 2 changes the monster. This time, we have the graboids giving birth to the next in the cycle, three little things with legs that see Infrared called the Shriekers. It’s a completely diametrically opposite thing.
But if we take that apart, we find that with this very aspect, this very evolution, if you will, Tremors 2 finds its way to becoming a perfect sequel…
Which is a weird statement. But the sequel, is an interesting thing. It’s this impossible ideal. Like, you loved this one movie, you want to see more of it, right? Depending on the movie, sure! But it’s rarely that way. Terminator 2, The Godfather 2, Aliens, these movies are always brought up as good sequels but not a one of those is from last decade. Because filmmakers have to strike this crazy balance between repetition, which fans don’t want, and doing something completely different, which fans don’t want. In the case of Tremors 2, there is this development that stays true to the original formula but expands upon it in an intelligent way. I think without a doubt The Dark Knight was the last decade’s most popular and most successful sequel, though its sequel did better financially and The Avengers is kind of a sequel, but all three of those movies were drawing on mythology cultivated over years and years. There was comparatively little being built from the groundup. It’s a different type of sequel, not to directly weigh the two in a metric I can’t possibly understand as somebody who doesn’t make movies.
With these Shriekers, these things are waddling around and you know, shrieking at people, and so our heroes have to run around and figure out how to win, just like in the first one. But their adversity is just so absurd. The threat level is really at an all-time low for monster movies. If you get killed by these things, you weren’t paying attention. Basically the worms, right, they evolve sight, but now they can’t hear. Even though… they shriek to communicate. So it’s this very illogical morphology and metamorphosis, and when Fred Ward’s character says “I told you they get smarter,” it’s like this battle of the wits between this really dumb animal, and our buffoonish heroes.
And it’s really inventive, the ways this battle actually manifests. The human characters have to work around the Shrieker’s abilities and maximize their limitations, so they come up with all these funny workarounds like picking up and walking behind doors, so they don’t see your heat, spraying yourself with a fire extinguisher so they don’t… see your heat. You know there’s other funny situations but the point is that this is something almost unquantifiable. It isn’t necessarily comedy, because additionally the verbal jokes are dated and sort of lame. But that’s enough, and right there you have the core conceit, the B story if you will, of a franchise. That’s a formula that you can repeat because it requires inventiveness. You saw that a little bit in Tremors 3 when they were carrying the mattress over them across the desert because the Ass-blasters, which evolved from the shriekers and to the day are a favorite reference to my dad, also see infrared but from the sky. Not really funny, but that movie gets points for having the monster actually looking pretty cool. Believe it or not, yes, the ass-blaster is pretty badass.
It was a critical moment for me when I first saw this film, Tremors 2, and the one thing that really stuck out to me, was when Fred Ward and his comic relief sidekick played by Christopher Garlin, let’s call them Earl and Grady, for the sake of argument, are just sitting out in the desert waiting on a Graboid to come by so they can blow it up. And they’re just sitting there, shooting the shit. Talking about stupid stuff. It’s like Tarantino applied to a monster movie but you know, not mostly insufferable. And I thought wow that’s something I’ve never seen before, at the age of maybe twelve, and then using my psychic powers I said that’s something I’ll never really see again.
A comedy/horror doesn’t have to be Shaun of the Dead. And while that’s the best example of the genre, or subgenre, it doesn’t really embody the features I’ve come to love that movies like Return of the Living Dead, unlike Dead Alive, like Slither, unlike Evil Dead 2, embody. For more survey. You have realistic people from comedy films behaving realistically, applied to the horror environment. So instead of acting irrationally and tripping over the roots in the ground, they’re poking fun at the zombies, or yelling at the shriekers to shut up, because they’re shrieking awfully loudly.
And the comedy that does work follows this principle, and is organic to the characters. Like… the two male leads are not the scientist characters, though there is a scientist character, so their grip on what these monsters are is limited, to the point where they can’t think of the word metamorphosis when that’s the theory they concoct for what happened to their Graboid they were gonna showcase in Worm World.
As a kid, the great value in hearing conversations like that and listening to people who can’t think of that M word was that I could imagine myself in the movie, and it’s not a terrifying zombie movie, you’re not in space, and nobody is grim and looking to stab you in the back. As long as you follow the rules, you’ll be fine, and Tremors is definitely a series about establishing rules for its mythology. It’s escapism of a different breed, and so the town of Perfection actually becomes something of a horror movie destination.
And that’s the last thing I’ll mention, even though it doesn’t apply to this movie, is that one other thing the comedy/horror seems to do with ease toward escapism is making playgrounds out of familiar environments. I can’t comment on the quality of this Emmerich and Devlin produced movie, Eight Legged Freaks, but I remember loving it, and liking the fact that the characters were running around a neighborhood and a school and a mall, if they even did that. Ivan Reitman’s Evolution was the same way, and even the comedy film Godzilla 98, with Madison Square Garden, though that’s not really a familiar place for a lot of us. The idea of taking an environment where typically normal people conduct normal business and applying a monster to it, and having our heroes run around in it, is very potent because as kids, and hopefully even now, whenever us geeks are just out, for whatever labored reason we left our computers and went into the sun, we look around at the world and wish it was more interesting. Comedy/horrors like these don’t take us into the great beyond, they bring the great beyond to us. Now we just need them to do other things like good writing.
But in that regard, I was so happy that Tremors 2: Aftershocks turned out to be as good as I remembered, because this whole idea that Tremors 2 is the poster child for, except for the last point, is something I’ve held in my mind for a long time, and I would’ve talked about it even if the movie sucked. So now I mostly don’t look like a fool. That’ll be for when I talk about Eight Legged Freaks.