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Beneath Perfection: Thoughts on the Entire TREMORS Franchise

Tremors was a film I constantly watched as a kid. I remember going to the video store every weekend, just to rent the first two movies for the 100th time. That was back when there were only two to watch. Now there are seven films. Seven! Who would have thought there would be seven Tremors flicks (AND a series)?!?

So here’s the thing…I’m very passionate about this series. My love for these films has only grown over the years, and although I do have my criticisms, I always find myself watching the entire series again every couple of months. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to talk about it initially. A ranking from best to worst? Not really my style. An in-depth essay about each film? I don’t think anyone has time for all that. Scrapping the article and just watching the movies again? No, that wouldn’t be fair to all you amazing readers.

Instead, I’ve decided to just give my brief thoughts on each film. Nothing too deep into the productions or the technical aspects. Just how I feel about them in general. With that being said, let’s load up our elephant guns and bag us a worm!

1. Tremors

(Directed by Ron Underwood; Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter; 1990)

“Natives of a small isolated town defend themselves against strange underground creatures which are killing them one by one.” – via IMDB.

What can I say about this classic that hasn’t been brought up before? Really, what else is there? Do I talk about how the story is a charming love letter to the creature features of the ‘50s? A lot of people like to bring that one up. How about the designs and practical effects of the “Graboids”? Those are pretty damn cool, but that’s been talked about endlessly. The characters? Fantastically well-acted and lovable, but you already know that. How about the one time Kevin Bacon broke down and thought his career had peaked because he was in a “movie about underground worms”? He’s warmed up to the film since then, and went on to say it was the “single most fun time” he ever had making a movie.

I’ll just leave you with this: Every time I see the part where Reba McEntire and the dad from Family Ties blow away a Graboid with an arsenal big enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush, I get the biggest smile on my face. Pure, genuine joy. Every time. I truly believe this film should be watched by everyone, at least once.

You can watch it digitally here or pick it up physically here.

2. Tremors 2: Aftershocks

(Directed by S.S. Wilson; Starring Fred Ward, Chris Gartin, Helen Shaver; 1996)

“Earl Bassett, now a washed-up ex-celebrity, is hired by a Mexican oil company to eradicate a Graboid epidemic that’s killing more people each day. However, the humans aren’t the only one with a new battle plan.” – via IMDB.

It’s not often that a sequel can stand on its own (let alone one that’s direct-to-video), but director S.S. Wilson manages to do so in flying colors (or orange worm guts, whichever you prefer). Given that he helped write the first film, that’s not too surprising.

It’s a familiar story at first: A bunch of giant worms are terrorizing people, and it’s up to our heroes to stop them once again. By the halfway mark, however, new rules are set that shake up how our beloved cast must confront the situation. This not only keeps the plot extremely fresh, but (more importantly) adds new and exciting lore for Tremors nerds like myself!

Pair all that with Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) saying some of the best lines ever written (“I feel I was denied critical, need-to-know information!”) then blowing away an “ugly toad” with a .50 Caliber Grizzly Rifle, and it’s impossible for me not to recommend this flick to everyone who crosses my path! Seriously, it’s the first thing I do when I meet someone new…it’s that good!

Fun Fact: Originally, Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) was going to return to help the gang in their exploits, not Burt Gummer. However, due to Reba’s singing career soaring off at the time, she wasn’t able to join in on the production. She wanted to, though!

Catch it digitally here, or physically here.

3. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

(Directed by Brent Maddock; Starring Michael Gross, Shawn Christian, Susan Chuang; 2001)

“The now famous Burt Gummer returns to his hometown of Perfection, Nevada for the first time in years, but the deadliest Graboid evolution yet forces him to save the town he swore to protect.” – via IMDB.

When I initially saw this film as a kid, I didn’t think too much about it. It wasn’t bad, I just felt it wasn’t quite on the same level as the others. Now that I’m an adult (for the most part), I find myself warming up to it a little more after each watch. Despite its flaws, I can just tell it was made with the same love and creativity Stampede Entertainment (the franchise’s creators) had for the other two films. Something I feel has sadly been lost in recent efforts, but I’ll get to that later.

To start off on a positive note, this film solidifies Burt Gummer as the official main protagonist of the series. This is shown in the very first scene where he decimates an entire horde of beasties with a pair of heavy machine guns (the best scene of the entire film, in my completely biased opinion). To say Michael Gross steals the show is a bit of an understatement…mostly because he is the show for the entire runtime. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that…you know…it’s Burt! It’s hard to compete against that! At this point, we’re all here to watch Burt Gummer do what he does best.

My biggest gripe with the flick (other than the budget-necessary-but-still-disappointing move from practical to CGI effects) is the new twist on the Graboid life cycle.  The previous film’s twist was fun, interesting, comedic at some points, but overall could still be taken seriously in the film’s context. This one…eh…it’s a bit too silly for me. It could’ve been an interesting idea…probably…I’m warming up to it, but it’s still a hurdle to get over. That being said, I commend Stampede for trying something new instead of just rehashing the same ideas over again.

Find it digitally here, or physically here.

4. Tremors: The Series

(Created by Brent Maddock, Nancy Roberts, S.S. Wilson; Starring Michael Gross, Victor Browne, Gladise Jiminez; 2003)

“Perfection Valley, Nevada is a quaint little town. The inhabitants live peaceful, tranquil lives. Most of the time. Perfection is home to the Graboid, El Blanco. El Blanco is a thirty-foot worm creature who hunts prey by sound. It is an endangered species, so as long as El Blanco is around, Perfection can’t be bulldozed by any greedy developers. To protect their home, the people of Perfection must co-exist with El Blanco, dealing with him when necessary, as well as other strange situations that come their way.” – via IMDB.

You didn’t really think I was going to skip this, did you? It would be a crime against my morals to do so! Especially since this might be my favorite part of the franchise (besides the first two films). It’s a shame it was cut short, because you can tell that the creators were having a blast making it.

So, there’s something I love about the Tremors franchise that I don’t really see brought up often. That being the sense of camaraderie that’s shown throughout every entry of the saga. In each of the films, the characters work together to beat the Graboid threat, using their combined skills and smarts to come out winning in the end. It’s never one person with a big gun taking on the monsters alone (like many other movies do). Oh no…it’s a person with a big gun AND his equally (but differently) talented friends that save the day! That idea of unity is no better expressed than in this show.

Every character, every resident of Perfection, Nevada is as important as Burt Gummer himself.  Tyler Reed’s (Victor Browne) racecar driving expertise, Jodi Chang’s (Lela Lee) business intelligence, Rosalita Sanchez’s (Gladise Jiminez) street smarts; everyone has something they’re good at, and they all participate in dealing with whatever trouble comes to their town. You get the feeling that these are actual people, an actual community, and I love every bit of it.

You can watch the entire show for FREE (courtesy of the official Tremors YouTube page) digitally here, or pick the show up physically here.

5. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

(Directed by S.S. Wilson; Starring Michael Gross, Sara Botsford, Billy Drago; 2004)

“A prequel to Tremors (1990), this movie tells us about how the town of Perfection, Nevada became founded and how they defended it against the Graboids with the help of Burt Gummer’s ancestor, Hiram.” – via IMDB.

Back in the day, I went to Blockbuster with my grandfather, picking up Jeepers Creepers because I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. Then, just as we checked out, I saw it on the “New Releases” shelf…Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. I have no idea how I missed I; I didn’t even know it was a thing, but I can say that there are very few things in my life that I’ve pleaded harder to have…I’m sure that says a lot about me. Anyway, my pleas were heard and my loving grandfather rented it for me. Was it worth it, you ask? To that, I ask you…does a Graboid have tentacles?

Truth be told, my love for this film is based completely in the biases of my own interests. For starters, I love Tremors, so that’s a checkmark right there. Second, I love Westerns¸ so that’s another check. Third, I love the idea of taking already established premises and just throwing them in the Wild West for no particular reason (we’ll get to From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter one day). Basically, this film hits all my marks.

If that wasn’t enough, turns out that this movie is very well made, too! S.S. Wilson’s in the director’s helm again, and man, does he make the most of it. The story is entertaining and creative, having fun with the idea of “Dirt Dragons” in the Wild West. The characters are well developed and a joy to watch, especially Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross) and Black Hand Kelly (Billy Drago). Even the effects are great, including way more practical ones this time around. Everything works well together, and I’m happy to say this ended up being a favorite of mine.

You know the deal, digitally here and physically here.

Tremors 5: Bloodlines

(Directed by Don Michael Paul; Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Brandon Auret; 2015)

“The giant, man-eating Graboids are back and even deadlier than before, terrorizing the inhabitants of a South African wildlife reserve as they attack from below-and above.” – via IMDB.

After the fourth film and the (premature) cancellation of the TV series, the chances of another Tremors film being made seemed slim (if non-existent). It was a bummer to be sure, but not too much of a surprise. At the time, I was just grateful that we got as much content as we did. A decade later, an announcement was made…Tremors 5: Bloodlines was going to hit shelves the following year. You can imagine how ecstatic I was at hearing the news (very much so!). At least, until more details started popping up.

Michael Gross was reprising his role as Burt Gummer, which is always a good thing. His Graboid-hunting companion this time? Jamie Kennedy…huh…alright, sure, I liked him in Scream. I’ll give him a shot.

 A new breed of Graboid, brought to life almost completely with CGI? Okay, I can deal with that. It sounds like a cool concept. Sure, I’d prefer more practical effects, but the CGI looked pretty decent in the trailer.

Stampede Entertainment is in no way involved with the film?…that could be a problem. Tremors was Stampede’s baby, and they gave so much to it over the years. Hell, if you go to the FAQs on their website, you’ll see that they still answer fan questions about the series, giving additional lore not found in the films. They’re so passionate about the franchise that they keep world-building (long after their last film) purely for the fans that support them. To me, that’s just beautiful. That’s why it particularly sucks that Universal Studios only offered them a producer credit when it came to the fifth film. No creative control, no input on the story or characters, just a producer credit…Stampede declined, and I can’t blame them. Still, despite this, I tried to be positive. Who knows? Maybe it would be good?

 It’s fine. I don’t love it, but it’s completely fine. Burt Gummer is back (although a bit more angry and macho than before), this time paired up with Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy), the “hip” new partner who’s super rad and snarky and has all these convenient traits (ex-NSA, ex-wartime photographer, ex-motorcross, etc.) that make him useful in any situation ever…if you can’t tell, I’m not particularly a fan of this character, or his connection to Burt. Everyone else in the film is serviceable, but not as memorable as previous casts.

The Graboids look impressive, I’m not going to lie. They really shelled out for the CGI, and it looks great. I’m not big on the whole “giant-worms-jumping-out-of-the-ground-like whales-to-eat-people” angle, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. Overall, the CGI is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a direct-to-video release (and even better than some higher-budgeted films).

Check it out digitally here, physically here.

7. Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell

(Directed by Don Michael Paul; Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Jay Antsey; 2018)

“The new sequel finds Burt Gummer, who’s dying from Graboid poison, and his son Travis at a remote research station in Canada’s Nunavut Territory, where they must go up against a new batch of Graboids to save Burt’s life.”- via IMDB.

I do not like this movie. After seeing the fifth film, I was cautiously optimistic about the new direction the series was going in. I knew they weren’t going to be as well-crafted or loved as Stampede’s entries, but they could still be fun in their own way. Graboids in the Arctic? Sign me up, I want to see some snow worms! Then it came out…

Burt’s back, even angrier and more macho this time. He’s still fun to watch, and Gross is clearly having fun with the role. He just seems more like a fan’s interpretation of the character, and less like how he was originally intended to be portrayed (probably close to the truth, honestly). Anyways, it doesn’t matter too much, because that whole “Graboid venom” plotline essentially takes him out of the film about halfway in.

That’s right, this is Travis Welker’s time to shine, and…I don’t like him. In the last movie, he was annoying, but not unbearable. Here, they attempt to lay the groundwork for him becoming the new main protagonist carrying the series forward. I’d be okay with it if he was a well-written character…but he’s not. He’s unfunny, the “cool” things he does are not cool, and he just doesn’t seem as genuine as other characters from previous features…that could go for a good portion of the cast, now that I think about it.

As far as the new “Snow Graboids” go, that’s a whole other disappointment. They filmed this in South Africa, so they just put a blue filter over everything. The only snow shown is in the beginning, and it’s sand made to “look” like snow…but it’s obviously sand…just digitally altered to look white…if you couldn’t shoot in a place that visibly doubles as the Arctic, why would you set the film in the Arctic?

You can watch this if you want to digitally here (also on Netflix), or buy it like I did just so you can have the complete collection physically here.

8. Tremors: Shrieker Island

(Directed by Don Michael Paul; Starring Michael Gross, Jon Heder, Richard Brake; 2020)

“When a group of hunters genetically modify Graboid eggs, they face an all-out war against the larger, terrifyingly intelligent Graboids, and the swiftly multiplying Shriekers.” – via IMDB.

This is my favorite out of the new Tremors trilogy, truth be told. I wasn’t sure we were going to get another one after A Cold Day in Hell, but apparently it did well enough to warrant a sequel. Big game hunters and Graboids on a tropical island? That sounds awesome, I’m down! Richard Brake is playing the human antagonist this time around? Hell yeah, I love that guy!  Jamie Kennedy’s character is nowhere to be seen? I just ordered 7 copies of the Blu Ray!

This trilogy’s version of Burt is back, and (unsurprisingly) he’s still a blast to watch. Teaming up with him this time is Jimmy (Jon Heder)…no last name, just Jimmy. Compared to Travis Welker, this guy is a much needed breath of fresh air. Unlike his predecessor, he’s actually funny and charming. I feel he better compliments Burt’s personality, with his naïve and comical nature balancing out Burt’s more serious attitude.

As far as Richard Brake goes…I mean, its Richard Brake. The way he talks, the way he moves, the way he gives people that sleazy smile like he’s about to bash in their head with a rock…all fantastic. Unlike his more recent roles, he’s not outlandishly evil in this outing. He’s just a billionaire big game hunter that wants the head of a giant worm on his wall…I mean, Burt had one, why can’t he?! I’d even say that he’s the highlight of this film, and I wish we could see more of him in future sequels (I highly doubt that’ll happen, though).

Related Article: Exclusive: Richard Brake Talks Joining the Firefly Clan in 3 FROM HELL + DOOM-HEAD Spinoff

It’s nice they brought the “Shriekers” back out to play, and their new looks aren’t too shabby. For a movie called Shrieker Island, though, I feel that there was a noticeable lack of the ugly bi-pedal toads. They do have their time to shine, but it’s few and far between. That’s my biggest gripe with the film, and it’s not a huge one.

Watch it digitally here (also on Netflix), physically here.

Well, it took a bit, but we made it through my thoughts on the entire Tremors franchise. Definitely more long winded than my other articles, that’s for sure. If you’d like to know more about the production of the franchise, there’s a great book called Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors that goes all into it. If you’d like a more in-depth look into the movies, In Praise of Shadows did a fantastic retrospective video that I encourage you to check out.

Also, check out Stampede Entertainment’s website if you are itching for more of that sweet Tremors lore. Well, I think it’s time to call it in. Remember, no vibrations, stay on the rocks, and hide your heat signature. Be safe out there! Ciao, friends!

Written by Giallo Julian

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