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The Macabre Brothers share an affinity for bargain-bin horror films. It’s actually more like an addiction – hardly a month goes by without one of us wasting $5 on some dubious DVD title. Such impulse buys may not deserve a full review, but like porn, they’re worth a quick and shameful glance. In Basement Ramblings, we answer your most meaningful question: Is this month’s piece of crap worth the price of a Big Mac?

By Phil

The premise: In a totally unintentional spin on the U.S./Mexico border war, the man-eating, sun-hating worms (aka Graboids) from the horror/comedy romp Tremors have left the backwater shithole of Perfection, Nev., to burrow a better living under the Petromaya oil refinery, an equally charming shithole in northern Mexico. Fred Ward returns as hero Earl Bassett, the aw-shucks ostrich farmer who teamed with Valentine McKee (played by hubba-hubba Kevin Bacon) to battle Graboids and hit on geologists in the original.

Whelp, Bassett has seen better days. Despite literally unearthing the worm equivalent of Megalodon, Tremors 2: Aftershocks finds him bumming around Perfection — or what’s left of it — after squandering the cash and celebrity that came with scientific acclaim. (Worse yet, Kevin Bacon is nowhere in sight, paving the way for shenanigans from Bassett’s obnoxious new sidekick, the Graboid fanboy Grady Hoover.)

To give the new duo and sorta-new plot purpose, the Petromaya brass offers them an enticing bounty — something on the order of $50,000 per worm — in one of several scenes with shameless references to that other ’90s monster flick, Jurassic Park. Bassett soon heads south with Hoover to prove killing something is more lucrative than discovering it.

At first, the hunting is all too easy: These dirt munchers may be smart, but they ain’t smart enough to avoid RC cars loaded down with dynamite. What do you expect from illegal subterranean immigrants? Soon enough, though, the worms wise up, the sequel wheels start spinning and Bassett calls a fellow slumming actor with Graboid-slaying experience, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross). The gun-crazed survivalist somehow sneaks shotguns, .45s and nitroglycerin over the world’s tightest border, just in time for the worms to get smart. Like really smart, as in smart enough to spontaneously evolve (oxymoron alert!) and spout footed offspring à la Gizmo in Gremlins. Good thing Gummer brought the firepower.

Where I found it: As part of the “Tremors Attack Pack” DVD at Walmart, yet another $5 steal. Sure, I bought it almost solely for the original, but with all four Tremors films in one convenient package, it’d be un-American to say no. And believe you me: The remaining shitty, straight-to-bargain-bin sequels will get the Basement Ramblings treatment. It’s my patriotic duty.

Note that Tremors 2 is now available on  videocassette AND laserdisc. Futuristic!

Tremors 2 is now available on videocassette AND laserdisc. Futuristic!

Why it caught my eye: The original is a funky yet inventive slice of monster movie camp, so at the very least I expected a romp in the same vein. Plus, no Kevin Bacon, which could be a blessing or a curse — or affect nothing whatsoever. Weird how that guy works.

What works: Tremors 2 isn’t the worst sequel to an unlikely cult hit. It’s pretty damn good, actually, or at least entertaining enough for a lazy Friday night. Written by the series creators, S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, the screenplay never loses sight of the playful invention that made its predecessor a down-home, fringes-of-society rollick.

It begins with those booby-trapped RC cars and carries through to the final scene, from the welcome reappearance of Red State wacko Burt to the dozens of creative, off-kilter ways the characters go about killing and being killed.

The human death scenes are visual treats — imagine a doomed worker playing a high-stakes game of Whac-A-Mole atop oil barrels — but, as usual in this series, they’re outmatched by the worms. Just wait for the second (and third) time Bassett washes Graboid guts off his beat-ass Jeep Gladiator. Sure, it’s a running gag, but much like the original, the writers’ knack for blink-and-miss details is an uncanny reminder that work is, well, always work. Bassett may be risking life and limb to hunt predatory worms, but he’s still wrestling with blue-collar bullshit.

The film’s sense of unrushed humor is oddly refreshing, and that’s coming from a fan of batshit schlock like Thankskilling. Even when the worms unleash their legged offspring — imagine veiny, bulbous, eyeless little fuckers cut from the same cloth as Spielberg’s velociraptors, complete with vocal clucking and chattering — Tremors 2 has none of the “look at me, laugh at me!” desperation so common with self-aware camp.

And man, do the new breed of Graboids put low-rent hand puppets like Turkie to shame. It comes with the pedigree: Tom Woodruff, Jr. (the guy behind Aliens, The Terminator and the original Tremors) led the FX team, working with good ol’-fashioned latex and puppeteers to give the devious little critters a surprisingly lifelike spark.

What sucks: It’s hard to recapture the “lightning in a bottle” vibe of a true cult classic, especially one as low-key as Tremors. (Only bizarro entries like Army of Darkness come close through sweeping reinvention.)

Timing was not on the sequel’s side. In the six years between the original and Aftershocks, Hollywood went through the sort of seismic shifts even a 30-foot worm can’t match. Jurassic Park was a massive influence — just look at the “velocigraboids” — but the mid-’90s were a boon for blockbusters in general, with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Goldeneye, Twister, Independence Day and two Batman entries setting the tone.

Despite top-notch work by Woodruff and Co. at Amalgamated Dynamics, audiences wanted (and expected) the biggest, baddest, burliest FX imaginable, and the campy Tremors charm doesn’t quite match the visceral rush of a Spielbergian T-Rex, even if both have aged remarkably well.

Yet Tremors 2 still feels like a watered-down version of the original. These characters are firmly in boxes: Bassett plays pappy to a dumb-as-rocks sidekick, Burt gets off to automatic weapons and elephant rifles, a geologist returns as the very PG love interest (played this time by jane-of-all-trades Helen Shaver).

Even the worms, which showed glimmers of unexpected intelligence in the first film, act more like convenient set-pieces than living beings. They grow smarter and dumber as the script requires. It dampens their enticing newness and, in a bad omen for the remaining sequels, their all-important cult appeal.

It also forces the plot through familiar paces — discover worms, kill worms, discover new threat, kill new threat — yet unlike the original, the pacing is too lackadaisical. When hunting monstrous worms becomes formulaic, it may be time to let them live in peace. Maybe an immigration lesson is buried in there somewhere…

Verdict: Aftershocks is a spot-on subtitle for Tremors 2. The film tweaks its laid-back horror/comedy formula just enough to feel fresh, at least on the first viewing, but it also regurgitates enough plot points and character beats to feel like more of the same. Repeat watching is for die-hard series fanatics and students of old-school FX only.

Ramblings

My notes in unedited form, with all the misspellings and randomness and non sequiturs you’d expect.

OK, call me a gorehound, but I was always a bit disappointed the tremors movies weren;t gorier, like cronenburg gore. I was also a bit disappointed to find out the sequel is still rated pg13

My first time watching this film, but the roommate says it’s a straight up piece of shit, especially compared to the first. He’s a huge fan of that one

As with most monster flick rehabs I’m stoked to see how the monster has been tweaked, simply to give it (the film) a reason to exist

And this is most definitely a rehab, not a straight-up sequel…it was made in 1996, first on in 89 or something. Pretty far apart

Pretty boring (and weirdly cheesy) opening credits

Also, the awful soundtrack music continues. Reminds me of the pan flute bands from south park

Movie starts us off at an oil field in Mexico…why not peru?

Gotta check if the same writers/directors/producers were involved with the first one and this

I’m curious and leery about the level of campy humor in this one…the one major downfall of camp sequels is how transparent they can be. The camp of the first was well tempered, but here, they know part of the appeal is just how campy it can be — the audience already expects it. Let’s hope for the Army of Darkness treatment, not the gingerdead man one

First worm kill is pretty stellar…inventive with oil barrels popping up

That Fred Ward guy is back. Alas, no Kevin bacon

But back as a pansy-assed ostrich farmer. It’s kinda jokey… meh

Heh…I’m getting a hefty Jurassic park vibe from the opening sequence with the Mexican oil baron. Like, they’re at a freaking trailer! Talking about creature hunting! You gotta love this shit

Also, the introduction of a boot-licking sidekick type? Did this film also take cues from that great bastion of 90s filmdom, batman and robin?

– or just thousands of films/sequels/fables/stories for eons….

Sounds like Earl Bassett (the main character guy, can never remember names, especially at midnight on a Wednesday) had a falling out with Kevin bacon, lost a shitload of money after shit went down with the worm discovery (worm rights?), and is now just a sad ostrich farmer. Show him $50,000 to go to mexico and get rid of them – boom, we have a quick, concise setup

I’m loving sidekick homeboy’s fingerless glovesHe’s trying the rock paper scissors thing with the new sidekick. adorable

I like how the Mexican army is supplying dynamite ak47s etc to the effort. Gotta love their discerning use of materiel

But OOOOOOOOOH lalala earl, you’ve got an eye for a geologist lady, yet another one, who you may weirdly hit on but never actually hook up with. You’re such an enigma, Earl Bassett“

The royalties you must’ve made off the video game, wow!” maybe they’re poking fun at Kevin bacon’s popularity since the first film, not just how his character supposedly screwed early over. At least I hope they are…I like to think that sequels, even if they’re awful, still boast writers who like to have fun and play with half-baked ideas. Please god, prove me right…

Oh year, earl is perving hard on the geologistHa ha ha ha ha and she’s peving hard on him

gotta love how they both have sim ilar asses when put in 501s

Ok, since I’m on a sidekick rant, why do I always assume really friendly, fanboy-type sidekicks have hidden motives? This guy isn’t really giving off that vibe, at least not overtly (or purposely, he’s kind of a clown/jester type), but little things he says and does hint at potential back-stabbery…

note:I like how they’re now using sonar to track the worms

*****Note on creature films in general: Not that the original tremors frightened me, but it did have moments of suspense and tension. This one has absolutely nothing. The best creature films manage to mix disbelief/humor (they’re one in the same with these kind of films) and tangible terrorThe worm mining scene with RC cars is PRETTY GDAMN DOPE

heh, so is the truck cleaning scene afterwards, with all the tauntaun guts everywhere

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO if the worms in the first film were so damn smart, I wonder what the chances are they’ll adapt to the RC fishing tactic in this one? Please, again, dear sequel gods, show me the writers were smart enough…

Oh dammit, the sidekick is gonna get eaten cuz his stupid fucking umbrella blew awayOr not, but still, I wanted them (the writers) to be way smarter and roll with the quick-learner concept

orrrrrThey could just go for a sideshow scene where the worm drags the truck across the desert, only THEN does the worm get smart enough to pull the truck into a rock

ok, it makes sense, they got smart, but I think they just got luck

heh earl says the same thing when they get marooned

Oh damn, “what does that do to your disposition?

that be a lot of worms

HA ok, the crazy NRA dude is back too

We also have to explain why Reba isn’t in this one either…gotta love how only the absolute b-siders in the first film are back in force

Well that’s fun – burt has a taxidermied worm on the wall in his “rec room”

wouldn’t you think he’d swear off those things for a while?

FOR SOME REASON NOW we have science, with words like “Precambrian” and the likeOh ha ha it is pretty funny how earl’s bummed they aren’t from outer spaceTruck full of explosives…I like it

also like the geologists laugh

“Thermite, CFC, TNT, high explosive – HE.” Gotta love Dale’s redneck ass

Goddamn, Earl is looking pretty old

This film’s attempts at sentiment, or at least meaningful callback to the characters of the original, are pretty flat – Burt’s heart to heart with Earl about Reba seems painfully forced, especially before and after the explosives talk. Just let this film be stupidly uh stupid

Huh… whereas Dale was kind of a jokey gun nut/right winger in the first one, here, they give a lot of facetime to his survivalist bent. It’s kinda funny, but not quite hitting the mark

Ok, the recurring truck cleaning (ugh clunky phrase) still manages to be funny

Even if we aren’t seeing many worm kills yet…at least, we haven’t seen any humans killed by worms in a minute

****One major benefit of the original: It was almost perfectly paced. It never ran out of steam, problems piled on top of problems, weird solutions piled on top of other weird solutions…it worked well

unforuntaely, this film is poorly paced. It also isn’t the best example of the old, jaded hunter/veteran formula

I don’t quite have a specific reason yet, but it’s just kinda flat and boringWhelp, the worms look the exact same as they did before. Guess the Kevin Bacon replacement is the only upgradeWE GOT A LIVE ONEOk, didn’t see this coming – they now have to spend a night on top of the truck, waiting for the pickup for the live worm“something’s wrong with our worm, earl”

one of the strangest lines ever writtenOh damn, the worm was eaten (or just burst, can’t be sure) from the inside out

LIKE ALIEN!!!!!

Sigh….as usual with these rambling films, I keep seeing allusions to other, better, more entertaining films, the sort I’d rather be watching, even if for the thousandth time. I’m such a creature of habit that wayYet again we have to walk a far distance across open ground

this is a relatively uninspired rehash of the first one…

maybe…

I don’t know, it just seemed like such a threat in the last one, whereas in this one the worms are even more strategically dumb and/or preternaturally smart

Meh, stop thinking and just enjoy it for what it isAnd now Dale reminds us that “they do get smarter

so we can’t just assume they will – we’ll be told

just in case you missed that whole concept in the first oneSidekick is freaking the hell out…how very un-Kevin Bacon of himWell how about that, it’s a footed worm

Also “It sure as hell ain’t no ostrich” astute, Earl, astute

Huh…nice touch that it whimpers like a dog when shot dead

Also, it dies pretty fucking easily for a worm, the sort of worm that was fucking hilarious when dale and reba unloaded into it in the first oneJurassic park redux: The footed worms hunt in packs, like that deadliest of predators, the velociraptor

they also sound oddly similar with all the clucking and cawing…Nice first kill for the footed worms (still not sure what to call them)….velocitremors? Worm dogs?

Ok, the sidekick wondering about their smarts is pretty bad…

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