Tremors (aka The Original)
It’s been close to 30 years now since those giant worm-like creatures first wreaked havoc on a remote town in Nevada called Perfection.
It was one of those lightning in a bottle movies that had the right blend of character chemistry coupled with a unique threat that trod that fine-line between b-movie horror and mainstream fodder.
Isolating the threat to one location, helped to contain the fear and tension on-screen whilst keeping the dialogue light and feel-good with central characters the viewer could identify with. Namely Kevin Bacon’s Valentine McKee and Fred Ward’s Earl Bassett as they try to out-alpha each other, usually through rock, paper, scissors.
In fact, there’s a good balance of support players involved here which add to the overall quality of the film, starting with love interest, Rhonda (who also happens to be a seismologist), to gun wielding Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his wife Heather (Reba McEntire) who cone packed with heavy artillery to blow these Graboids to kingdom come.
Added to the mix is the whole Graboids get smarter act, which isn’t a new concept but in this instance it forces our heroes to keep one step ahead of the underground threat and thinking on their toes about different ways to survive and ultimately defeat them.
This is a testament and smarts of screenwriter S.S. Wilson, to use the characters guile and prowess to worm their way out of a tricky situation.
It pays to have the right kind of attention paid to the plot line and the characters and lends itself to Tremors being the cult favourite that it is today. It is also why there have been a further 5 films to date, including a series and a coupe of failed pilots.
So let’s unearth the following movies and discuss the trail they have left in the franchise since its early days.
Tremors 2: Aftershocks (aka The one with the Shriekers)
Transport the action to Mexico, a few players returned for this direct-to-video feature from the original. Wilson would switch his writing chair for directing, and for his leads Fred Ward and Burt Gummer. It’s this movie that would cement Gross’ iconic character in the franchise and the reason the creators would seek him to carry the Graboid torch from movie to movie. It’s good choice but potentially overused. More about that later.
Sadly lacking in this feature is some of the chemistry that made the original so strong. The missing ingredient it would appear to be would be Kevin Bacon, who was tied up with shooting a little known feature called Apollo 13.
Whilst they do try and inject some much-needed female identity with Helen Shaver’s (The Amityville Horror) Kate, who feels like she’s crowbarred in as a love interest for Earl.
The weight of this movie’s appeal though hangs in the creatures. Film critics and fans will venture to say that the secret to any decent sequel lies in that it offers the same as its predecessor but with enough of a twist that makes it strong in its own right. Enter the Shriekers, who despite their shrivelled cock-like appearance actually offer a spin on the original by transmorphing into above land creatures, sprouting legs and using heat to guide them instead of sound.
It’s a great concept and this coupled with the Gummer factor, plus a decent turnover in sales gave enough impetus for the producers to release…
Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. (aka The one with the Ass Blasters)
Another direct-to-video release that would see Gummer back on home soil in Perfection along with the survivors of the original movie, chief among them Ariana Richard’s Mindy (a far cry from her breakout gig in Jurassic Park) and Robert Jayne’s Melvin Plug, all grown up and playing a real estate tycoon.
With the need of an action-based sidekick and with no Earl or Valentine in the mix, Gummer would need some new blood in his fight with the Graboids. In step Jack Sawyer played by Shawn Christian, but with all due respect, delivers a paint-by-numbers performance.
Instead, it’s down to the creatures to lift this feature off the ground, which they do so with the hilarious Ass Blasters, who use ignited methane to propel them into the air in order to seek out and attack their prey. This franchise is nothing short of adding another trick to the creatures to develop the danger further and despite its laughable proposition, the circle is complete in the Graboids metamorphosis and you have to applaud the writers’ use of stretching the story as far as it will go. Which leads us to…
Tremors: The Series
Sandwiched between the sextet of Tremors came a TV series set in the town of Perfection and picking up where the third one left off. Once again Burt Gummer strings the residents along against the threat from below the surface Lasting for just one season, after the Sci-Fi Channel pulled the plug. Mainly this came down to poor marketing, as audiences believed that this was to be a replacement to the successful Farscape series. It wasn’t but by then, the damage was already done. Whilst it does look dated today, some of the episodes aren’t too bad despite the odd MacGyver tech wizardry that occurs. Plus it does boast Christopher Lloyd in its cast as a local scientist.
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (aka The Western or the prequel)
It has to happen at some point in a franchise. Either you cast the whole thing in space, or you go back to its origins and the latter is what happens here for the fourth instalment of the franchise. If anything it serves to carve out some American history and pit Burt Gummer’s ancestor, Hiram against the underground creatures when a silver mine awakens them from their slumber. Michael Gross does offer up an alternative to the gun-totting Burt, showcasing Hiram as a timid and prudish businessman who has never held a gun before. And Billy Drago (The Untouchables) delivers a solid performance as the hired gun Black Hand Kelly called in to rid the town of Graboids
This sequel sees S.S. Wilson back in the director’s chair and even though he tries to capture some of the original charm, it is left wanting and never threatens to break out of its direct-to-video stereotype.
It would be another 11 years before the underground threat would be unearthed again with…
Tremors 5: Bloodlines (aka The one in South Africa)
The movie opens up with Burt Gummer as a star of his own survivalist series in the vein of Bear Grylls, in what promised to be an interesting break to formula. Instead it falls back into the ‘normal’ narrative, except he now has to fly to South Africa, where a new Graboid sighting has been recorded.
Joining him on his escapade is his new cameraman, Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy) who offers up some much-needed humour to the franchise and coincidentally is revealed to be Burt’s son, much to Gummer’s disappointment. Of course, Travis would need to prove himself in the eyes of his father, as they seek out the Queen’s nest to destroy them once and for all.
Some of the movie falls prey to two-dimensional characters, particularly the South African tribal characters, which is a shame because it could have ventured outside the box and offered something original.
Despite this, it’s a watchable movie and moves somewhat back into familiar territory that pleased some of the fan base.
Which brings us to the latest release…
Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell (aka The one in the snow…kind of)
Once again, the opening of this movie offered some interesting potential, projecting the Graboids to a remote part of Canada when they attack a trio of scientist in the snow covered mountains. It was refreshing to see this new take on the genre in what could have been delivered as The Graboids Assault on Precinct 13/ Snow Station 13. Instead, we see the characters stuck at a remote station set on rocky terrain and we move away from the opening premise, which was a little disappointing.
We do get to see a new twist into the mix. Back in Tremors 3, Burt was actually swallowed by a Graboid, only to fight his way to freedom. His journey inside the creature though would find him contaminated with Graboid venom that begins to take a death defying effect on his body. What this does is sideline him a little and allow Travis (Jamie Kennedy once again returning) to take centre stage and prove his worth once more. This actually works in favour of the movie and with a nod to the original movie as we’re also introduced to a new character in Valerie McKee. The surname may be a give away to enthusiasts, as she is the daughter of Kevin Bacon’s Valentine. Jamie-Lee Money delivers a solid performance in this role with enough smarts to make her a potential returning character if there does prove to be life beyond this movie.
There is a bit of a love interest moment too between Travis and another new character in Dr Rita Sims, which is borderline ewww herritory, but kinda works too.
It’s still a little formulaic, but surprisingly this latest instalment manages to push the franchise further into a positive direction as a result.
Roll on the new series with the return of Kevin Bacon huh??
But with Syfy pulling the plug on the pilot, it seems the Graboids may need to dig their way into an alternate route if they are to terrorise the screens once more.
– Saul Muerte