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Notes from the Underground: Tremors & Tremors 2: Aftershocks

Saturday, April 30th, 2016 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

Tremors Kevn Bacon Fred Ward

Tremors (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood

Earl Bassett: What kind of fuse is that?
Burt Gummer: Cannon fuse
Earl Bassett: What the hell do you use it for?
Burt Gummer: My cannon!

Will Tremors, the movie, go down through the ages as a great and enduring work of art? Nah. Is it a pretty good monster movie and perhaps even one of the better examples of the breed? I would argue that it is.

Once upon a time — the Fifties, to be more specific — there was a flood of movies about giant critters of various shapes and sizes wreaking havoc in assorted and sundry ways. Once in a while the planets would align just so and someone might turn out a pretty decent one of these. Them, a yarn about rampaging giant ants, springs to mind.

[Click on the images for bigger versions.]

Tremors cast-small

But of course giant critter movies ran the gamut from good to just plain dreadful, as is the case with many things. Although, for some of us, even the worst of these movies still exude a curious charm.

The heyday of giant critter movies was probably long gone by the time Tremors came along. But it managed to revive the sub-genre (sub-sub-genre?) quite nicely and even breathed some new life into the form. Having said that, I should say that the movie doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before. It just does it better — and with a lighthearted tone that makes it go down easier.

Tremors graboid-small

Plotwise, there’s not much to see. The inhabitants of the less than perfect town of Perfection, Nevada — all 14 of them — are forced to rely on their wits and resources to fight off an attack of giant wormlike creatures. These resources are limited by the fact that the town is so remote. Before it’s all over its effectively cut off from the outside world.

The leading characters — Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) — are a likable pair of doofuses who get by doing whatever they can but who are striving for something more in life. They are actually headed out of town in search of greener pastures when giant worms (later dubbed Graboids) intervene. The rest of the movie is nothing fancy. It’s humans versus Graboids, with a fair number of casualties on each side.

Tremors Kevn Bacon Fred Ward 2-small

Bacon and Ward steal the show here, bickering like an old married couple, and Finn Carter co-stars as a college student doing some relevant work in geology in the area. Michael Gross, former head of the Family Ties TV household, and country singer Reba McEntire, also shine as a pair of rather intense survivalists whose arsenal ultimately contributes to saving the day.

If you’ve seen a few giant critter movies then there’s probably not much here that you haven’t seen before. But Tremors takes all of the mostly standard elements of the form and adds pacing and execution and acting and effects that are so well done that they combine to make a very pleasing whole.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)
Directed by S.S. Wilson

Six years after Tremors came the inevitable sequel, though not so inevitable that it merited a theatrical release. Tremors 2: Aftershocks was a direct to video release, one suspects, at least in part, because it lacked some of the star power of the first movie — namely the Footloose one himself, Kevin Bacon.

Fred Ward does return, however, in the starring role, and is paired up a new sidekick, one who’s a little younger and more of a wise ass than Bacon’s character. Also on board from the first movie, Michal Gross, reprising his role as a survivalist with a well-stocked arsenal. Whose wife has left him since the first movie, thereby accounting for the fact that Reba McEntire is also not on board this time around.

Tremors 2 video game

The movie makes no bones about the fact that it’s a sequel. For example, there Earl’s small collection of memorabilia of his fleeting brush with fame. In which we see, among other things, a People magazine cover featuring Bacon and Ward. And a Graboids pinball machine that was produced to profit on the fleeting craze caused by their discovery.

Alas, not much profit has trickled down to Earl and he hasn’t wisely invested what did. So when he is offered a lucrative opportunity to hunt Graboids in a remote Mexican oilfield where the creatures have been wreaking havoc, he reluctantly agrees.

Tremors 2-small

From here on out, its humans versus Graboids again. It’s much in the style set forth in the first movie, with a few variations here and there (explosives delivered via R/C cars and so on) and the Graboids undergo a fairly significant change in the course of the proceedings. But, as expected, when it’s all said and done, the day has been saved — at least until Tremors 3.

Comparisons to the first movie are pretty much inevitable, of course, and the sequel had a few issues. The interaction between Ward and his new sidekick didn’t measure up to that of Ward and Bacon, and Gross as a bachelor wasn’t as entertaining as Gross married to McEntire.

Tremors 2 guns-small

There’s also the fact that most viewers will have seen the first movie and thus have an idea what’s coming. Even putting that aside, the constructing of suspenseful moments wasn’t handled as well as in the original.

But taken on its own merits, I’d rank Tremors 2 as a pretty decent monster movie. It’s only when stacked up against the original that it suffers and that’s only because Tremors set the bar so high.

Tremors 2 graboids-small

See Part II of this article, covering Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins and Tremors 5: Bloodlines, here.


William I. Lengeman III’s last review for us was Star Trek Movie Rewatch: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). He holds forth at www.wileng3.com.

2 Comments »

  1. Spot-on reviews!

    I have a DVD compilation of the first three (or is four?) movies. They get worse with each installment. But I think the first one ranks pretty highly, and mostly because of all of the actors involved. There’s really no Oscar-performances here; but for being fairly cardboard-two-dimensional characters, the actors really put their all into these cheesy parts, making them believable. Moreover, the chemistry between the characters in the first movie really clicks.

    I still pull Tremors out about once a year to re-watch. For what it is (i.e. a B-grade monster movie), it really stands out!

    Comment by James McGlothlin - May 1, 2016 11:58 am

  2. Well said, James. I especially appreciated Tremors as a full-on horror movie I could share my my kids… and as you can imagine, they absolutely loved it. I’ve never watched the sequels, but I bought that same 3 (or 4?) pack, and they devoured them all, multiple times.

    Comment by John ONeill - May 1, 2016 12:19 pm


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