Over the month of October 2015 all of the Tremor movies were reviewed on The B-Movies Podcast. A podcast worth listening too. I had always wanted to see the first Tremors and my interest in the franchise was piqued by podcast so I figured why not watch them all. So I did and now you fine folks can read about it.
I debated on whether or not to put the synopsis of all 5 films at the beginning or the end of this post. Since my thoughts are on the franchise as a whole, with a deeper dive into the 5th film, I decided to put the synopsis at the top in case anyone hasn’t see all of the films or needs a refresher. Feel free to skip to the main review.
Tremors: (1990) The nowhere town of Perfection, Nevada is under attack from giant, ground dwelling creatures. Valentine and Fred are the towns go-to guys when it comes to work about town. The two men finally decide to pack it in and try their luck in another, more thriving town but their attempt to leave Perfection is met with several road blocks. The biggest of which are the giant worms, a.k.a Graboids, that have shown up. It is now up to Valentine and Fred to find a way to protect the remaining handful of town folks and find a way to defeat the Graboids.
The movie stars Kevin Bacon, as Valentine McKee, Fred Ward, as Earl Bassette, Finn Cater, as Rhonda LeBeck, and Micheal Gross, as Burt Gummer. Ok, so Micheal Gross is more supporting cast but I put him there as he is a consistent throughout the franchise. The movie also features the familiar faces of Reba McEntire, Victor Wong and Ariana Richards.
Tremors 2: Aftershock: (1996) Earl Bassette, down on his luck, travels to a Mexico oil refinery to help eliminate an infestation of Graboids. He quickly find out that he’s in for more than he bargained for when he discovers that the Graboids turn into Shriekers; a bi-pedal creature that tracks its prey through a heat sensor on its head. The Shriekers also let out a high pitch scream, thus the name, to alert other Shriekers when they have found food. Earl calls reaches out to the recently divorced Burt Gummer to come down for some much needed support.
Fred Ward and Micheal Gross reprise their roles as Earl and Burt. Chris Gartin, as Grady Hoover, and Helen Shaver, as Kate Reilly, join the supporting cast of characters.
Tremors 3: Back to Perfection: (2001) Burt Gummer returns home to Perfection, Nevada after hunting Graboids abroad to find Melvin Plug has returned to the town in hopes of buying up the land and developing the area into a thriving metropolis. Burt also discovers Desert Jack Sawyer has come to town and set up a business where he gives tourists Graboid tours. The tours start out as elaborate hoaxes but Perfection soon finds itself in the midst of another Graboid attack and it is up to Burt and Desert Jack to save the town.
This movie introduces us to the 3rd evolutionary form of the Graboids known as Ass-Blasters or Lightening Birds. These creatures have a set of wings and produce a form of methane that they are able to ignite which allows them to take off and glide through the air.
Michael Gorss returns as does Robert Jayne, briefly reprising his role as Melvin Plug. Desert Jack Sawyer is played by Shawn Christian. Tremors 3 also sees the return of Charlotte Stewart, Ariana Richards and Tony Genaro reprising their roles from the first Tremors movie.
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins: (2004) It is 1889 in the mining town of Rejection, Nevada. The men working at the local silver mine have been under attack from an unknown creature and as a result everyone’s moving out. Hiram Gummer, a distant relative of Burt Gummer, is the owner of the mine who’s come to town to sort things out in order to get his mine up and running again.
This movie introduces the Dirt Dragons or Shooter which are the baby versions of adult Graboids.
Michael Gross returns as Hirum Gummer. Billy Drago, Sara Botsford and Brent Roam help make up the supporting cast.
Tremors 5: Bloodlines: (2015) Burt Gummer, Survivalist, travels to Africa to tangle with the Graboids. At his side is his new camera man Travis Welker. The Graboids in Africa are bigger, have detachable tentacles and able to leap out of the ground. Not to mention that the man who hired them is not all that he appears to be. Dun dun dun!
Micheal Gross returns as Burt Gummer and Jamie Kennedy plays Travis Welker. Brandon Auret and Natalie Becker help make up the supporting cast.
The Tremors series is a fun, family friendly, monster/horror franchise; for the most part. The franchise is a siege story by way of a monster movie. Though the focus is more on character then the monster. We watch as everyone bands together to figure out a way to survive and defeat the Graboids. I heartily recommend the first three movies. They are solid films that really build on the world created by the by the previous movie as well as evolving the Graboids in order to keep them as a viable threat.
One of the big stands out of the first Tremors is the friendship between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward characters. Their relationship is genial and light, much in the vain of a traditional buddy film. Think Riggs and Murtaugh mixed with Turner and Hooch. They bicker and fight but when it comes down to it they work well together and really care for each other. Their friendship sets the tone, not only for the first movie but most of the series. This tone is supported by the wonderful supporting cast.
In Tremors 2 Fred Ward and Micheal Gross reprise their roles, Earl and Burt respectively, and instead of trying to recreate the relationship between Bacon and Ward the movie embraces Earl and Burt letting them develop their own working relationship. They compliment each other well while still embracing the madcap feeling of the first movie. Helen Shaver, who plays Kate, is brought on as a love interest for Earl and is a nice addition to the cast.
One of the things that we learn at the beginning of Tremors 2 is that the world is aware and in love with Graboids. They have been merchandised out the ying-yang from arcade game to comics. Perfection is a tourist destination though its more tourist trap. I believe Rhonda received some notoriety due to her research on the Graboids. So graboids are a thing but the franchise never delves too deeply into the cultural relevance of the Graboids. This is a smart move allows the franchise a certain level of freedom in terms of story building and world development. They are well known enough that they can travel abroad to deal with a Graboid infestation but its not so extreme that you question why the military is not being called in to deal with these creatures.
A great thread that runs throughout most of the franchise is the need to problem solve. In most monster movies problems are solved with sheer brute force. This is not to say that this isn’t the case here but the characters in the Tremor movies are often going up against an unknown creature. Tremors 2 brings this back with the introduction of the Shriekers we Fred and Burt need to assess how they operate in order to destroy them. A large part of the films are spent in trail and error which is a great way to keep a story moving and interesting.
This need to problem solve is driven by the fact that the creatures continue to evolve which is a great story telling trick. The rules of game are changing in every movie so the knowledge the characters, mainly Burt, have is no longer applicable. This leads to some pretty funny and clever moments in 2 and 3. This is also where 4 runs into a bit of trouble as it takes place in the past so they characters don’t have a knowledge base to build on nor is there anything new that we are seeing. As a viewer we are a head of the characters in terms of what we know so the movie becomes repetitive and is the most boring in the franchise.
Tremors 3 is Tremors except this time Burt’s the lead. It’s biggest sin is being redundant though the nice things about 3 is how many people from the original supporting cast came back for the film. Not much new or exciting happens but its not a bad time.
Tremors 4 build around the gimmick of Micheal Gross playing Hiram Gummer, the supposed great-great-great grandpa of Burt Gummer. Hiram is a refined city man with little knowledge of the west or guns which is the exact opposite of Burt. So very clever. As I said the movie is my least favorite but there is a fun performance by Billy Drago as Black Hand Kelly, a gunslinger Hiram hires to take out the Graboids.
Ok, lets talk about Tremors 5: Bloodlines. There will be spoilers here because this movie actually has things to spoil. Also if you don’t want to see this movie you can find out what happens and go watching something else, like Pumpkinhead. Have you seen Pumpkinhead? Well you should cause its a lot of fun…
Right, I got off track. Back to 5.
This movie is all over the map. It’s a mystery, a drama, a fish out of water story, and a monster movie. The opening makes nods to internet celebrity and the extreme sports fad of the early 2000’s. Back when Jamie Kennedy was popular. There’s also an homage to the first Jurassic Park later in the film.
The movie opens with that Burt Gummer’s Youtube/internet show called the Survivalist where he talks about how to be a survivalist and sells his line of condiments. This opening is inner-cut with with a person riding a dirt bike through the desert and pulling some sweet moves. The two collide. The rider is Travis Welker, played by Jamie Kennedy, who is Burts new cameraman. Travis wants this job even though Burt, as Travis points out, has zero twitter followers, which I find hard to believe as he has a show, on-line, that has been running for some period of time. What could Travis really want?
Two minutes after they meet Erich Van Wyk, from the South Africa Wildlife Ministry, shows up asking for Burts help in dealing some Graboids. So they are off to Africa. This happens all in the first 1o minutes and other than them going to Africa none of what we’ve seen has any pay off. Travis intermittently points a handheld camera at Burt but shows no interest in actually capturing something of substance. A Pomeranian would have made a more suitable and engaged cameraman.
What I will say in the movies favor is that Natalie Becker and Ian Roberts give two really great performances. Natalie Becker plays the sort of love interest, this too doesn’t really go anywhere, but more than that she is a bad-ass and a mother who takes down Graboids using her bow and arrow. Ian Roberts plays the eccentric old man role and is having a lot of fun doing it.
I would have been more than happy if Tremors 5 was set entirely in Africa and did not involve Burt or Travis as the supporting characters in this movie would have been strong enough to carry it. Tremors 5 is a direct to DVD so it doesn’t really needed a big name to carry it, not that Micheal Gross or Jamie Kennedy would be considered big names today.
In case it is not clear I cannot stand Jamie Kennedy in this movie. He simply does not belong in this world and doesn’t seem to care that he is there. He makes no effort. None.
The biggest problem with the film is that it’s really mean spirited. As I mentioned, one of the franchises strengths was its light, genial tone and the fact that people are coming together to solve a problem. Tremors 5 desperately wants to be a gritty, R rated film that’s forced to abide by PG-13 rating. There is a scene where a paleontologist couple are attacked by a Graboid while they are in their make-shift shower. The attack is filmed like a sex scene as blood flies everywhere. It’s soft-core horror porn.
The characters are constantly sniping at each other and trying to prove they have the biggest package. It turns out that Eric Van Wyk does not work for the Wildlife Ministry but a poacher, gasp, and is trying to sell the Graboids on the black market. At one point Burt is locked in a cage and left in the middle of the Safari where, at one point, he gets pissed on by a lion. Seriously Michael Gross, you’re better than this. When Travis shows up to save Burt, a Graboid is on its ways to get them so the cage is hooked behind the truck and dragged for miles as they outrun the Graboid. Hilarious.
Also, turns out that Travis is Burt’s estranged son. Who cares? Not me. It adds nothing to the story but really exemplifies how this movie is not working from the blue prints laid out by the previous four. This would not have been a bad thing if the movie had been good or had something interesting on its mind. I applaud any movie that tries to do something different or re-energize a long running franchise however this one brings no new ideas to the table and instead relies of obvious twists and snipping as a form of drama.
Lets end on a more positive note, I enjoy the franchises use of practical effects. I am not sure about 5, but I believe all of the other films have some level of practical effects which always look better to me. The creature is there on set, the actors can react to it and it just works. The CGI in Tremors 2 is real noticeable but it is mixed with great practical effects. I didn’t find it too distracting. I will always been in favor of practical over digital effects though that being said the CGI in Tremors 5 look great.
In terms of ranking the films I will say that I like them in order of their release. The first being the best and the fifth being my least favorite. If another Tremors film comes out I would definitely check it out; Tremors 5 has not spoiled me on the franchise. Though I would be interested to see a film that did not involve any of the characters from the previous films.