Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

PG-13, 99 minutes, Monster

Starring: Michael GrossJamie KennedyPearl Thusi

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s finally here!  Finding an opening in my schedule has proven a little difficult what with the holiday season beginning, but I finally managed to watch the fifth installment in the Tremors franchise I’ve been fawning over for the past month.

Burt is back!  And this time the graboid hunt has taken him to South Africa where an ass blaster has made a sudden appearance.  Having believed he contained graboids and their kin to the North American continent, Burt rushes across the world to take on the new threat.  He takes along his new videographer, Travis (Jamie Kennedy), but when the two arrive they find a new menace lurking in the night.  To make matters worse, Burt’s guns have been confiscated by local authorities and his tried and true methods of hunting aren’t going to work on the beasts.

Forget my previous posts, this movie has the highest production value in the Tremors series.  The camera work is crisp, the acting is corn free, and the CG is dramatically improved.  Sadly, however, it has come to the point where they’re no longer using puppets…  But we are still given guts!

While the new monsters are impressive, I was notably disappointed by the lack of previous storyline.  One character is mentioned and another is parodied in a graphic, but we’re never shown Perfection, El Blanco’s name is never uttered, and the Mixmaster arc is obviously said and done.  If you were expecting something, I’m in the same boat as you.  My only hope is that somehow these elements are at least given a proper burial in the upcoming Tremors television series.

The movie isn’t a disappointment.  Not at all.  I enjoyed it.  Aside from the lack of E.B. my only real complaint is the additional characters.  I realized that the original creative team had nothing to do with this installment, but Tremors is typically a buddy team up.  This time ’round we’re given two locals and a little girl–characters I know full well we’ll never see again.  The focus shift between them and Burt’s team is a little on the awkward side as I found myself not caring because, well, Burt.

It seems like every few years, just when I’ve run out of patience and begin combing the net for news on the series, something new has sprung up.  I’ve had my fill, but knowing there is more to come continues to make me eager.  To the crew in charge of Tremors:  I look forward to viewing your work.  Please just don’t forget about ol’ Burt.

Rating: Watch it, even if you’re unfamiliar with the series.

tl;dr
Watch:  Because Tremors.
Don’t watch: If you don’t like the series.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

PG-13, 101 minutes, Monster

Starring: Michael GrossBrent RoamSara Botsford

Along with the entire last half of the franchise, Tremors 4 also came as a surprise to me.  Sitting there some Christmas past, pealing back the torn paper of a carefully present, my thoughts travel back a couple of decades to movie posters and worms.  My eyes devour the words “franchise collection” and a wicked smile crosses my face.  Instead of just owning the third movie, I held what was then the whole run.  But four movies?  What the heck is the prequel thing?

The importance of these two characters is demonstrated by height.
The importance of these two characters is demonstrated by height.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins takes us back to 1889 during the days of the Old West.  If you’re counting, that’s exactly one hundred years before the first movie (going by copyright date, not release date).  After several miners die from animals attacks in a silver mine outside of Rejection, Nevada, the town residents begin to clear out.  Dissatisfied with the decline in productivity, Hiram Gummer, owner of the mine, arrives in town to resolve the problem.  And yes, Gummer.  Ancestor of good ol’ Burt.

After a botched investigation, Hiram and the only other survivor, Juan, discover the animals are actually a large borrowing insect capable of jumping through the air.  Returning to town the next day, the haggard escapees wire for a gunslinger.  A month passes before the hair-trigger Black Hand Kelly arrives on the scene, but in that time the creatures in the mine have grown into full blown graboids.  It’s up to the remaining citizens of Rejection to make their last stand against the swarm of oncoming dirt dragons using only their wit and 19th century technology.

HHEEEEEEEYYY!!!
HHEEEEEEEYYY!!!

We’ve come full circle with this movie.  Rejection, being the original name of Perfection, is just getting started.  The trademark Chang’s Market doesn’t stands without solid walls and the Gummer family arrives to start it’s century-long sentry over the valley.  Hiram, being a meek individual uninterested in both guns and work, eventually develops the personality Burt demonstrates throughout the rest of the series.  Additionally, the graboid life cycle explored in previous entries has been finalized with the introduction of their larval stage.

The production value of this made-for-television movie is actually fairly high.  Higher than the last movie.  Higher than the television series.  In fact, the quality is the highest in the series outside of the original.  Better sets, better graphics, slightly better music.  More than having better funding, it feels as though the production crew actually tried harder this time ’round.  Even with the digital revolution movies experienced in the mid ’90s they STILL use puppets.  Heck yes.

The family obsession with oversized firearms begins.
The family obsession with oversized firearms begins.

I still find the first film the most enjoyable and The Legend Begins would be little more than a low budget oddball without the rest of the series, but really, the effort put into this chapter shows.  And where, if anywhere, would Tremors be without the utterly faithful Michael Gross?  His devotion to the series has kept it alive and made it what it is today.  Unfortunately, Gross had to miss out on the last three episodes of the television series in order to film Tremors 4, but that’s more of a mark against the show.  Granted, Tremors may not be very well known–a shadow of a memory to most people my age–but it’s still one of the greatest Universal monster series out there.

Rating: Own it.

tl;dr
Watch:  For the heightened production value and well, graboids.  Duh.
Don’t watch:  If you hate TV movies and aren’t familiar with the franchise.

Special note:  I regret to say it, but as of this post I do not own the fifth movie in the series…  It came out just this month, but I do not have the funds to procure it.   Therefore, I cannot review at this time.  But it will come.  Someday.

Tremors (2003)

TV-MA , 13 episodes/557 minutes, Monster

Starring: Michael GrossVictor Browne

Oh, the glorious wonders of the great and merciful Bargain Bin.  That’s right, it’s now a proper noun.  BB for short, because why not?  *ahem*  While VHS tapes collect dust in thrift stores and garages across the nation and high definition stuff continues to remain both costly and unnecessary, in my eyes DVDs continue to be the modern cinephile’s best bet for physical media entertainment.  They’re everywhere and they’re affordable.  And for a Tremors fanboy finding out that 1) there was a Tremors television series and 2) the complete thing is like five bucks, BB and DVD make for good friends.

Yup, there was a Tremors television series.  After the original movie, the idea had been thrown around, but the dreaded Development Hell ensured that progress would get gummed up for over a decade.  It feels like that was the trend in the ’90s: make a movie, make a TV show out of it.  I mean what genius thought making a cartoon out of Robocop, a bloody and swear-laden flurry of childhood nightmares, was a good idea?  Hey kids, remember when Murphy was shot into a bloody pulp?  Or how about the time the bad guys chopped him in pieces and dumped the parts in the street?  The ’90s was a weird, weird time.  DIGRESSION!

TremorsTV3
Bug Killer meets Time Traveler.

Continuing where the third movie left off, Tremors takes place only a year or two after the graboid reappeared in Perfection.  As with most television series, the story had multiple plot lines.  The most of important of them revolved around the emergence of bizarre killer creatures that threatened the valley’s residents on a regular basis.  Mix in the occasional assaults from shriekers and ol’ El Blanco himself and you’ll wonder how the characters ever get any sleep.

The chaos begins after a new guy, Tyler, moves into town to take over Desert Jack’s tour business.  Tyler impresses Burt with his gun handling skills so the two of them make up the focus of this series while they handle the extermination work.  Jodi still runs Chang’s market and Nancy still makes pottery, though her daughter, Mindy, has gone off to college.  Miguel’s ranch has been taken over by his niece, Rosalita, and a crass government agent, Twitchell, regularly checks up on the town.  Together, the group faces off against a new menace every episode.  Why don’t they just move out?  Because reasons.

Not even El Blanco wants to deal with 4-12's crap.
Not even El Blanco wants to deal with 4-12’s crap.
Twitch has crabs.  Better let them know over in Chester's Mill.
Twitch has crabs. Better let them know over in Chester’s Mill.

I can’t really complain too much about this show.  Michael Gross is back and that means more of the greatness he has brought to his character.  More puppets.  More bug guts.  Christopher Lloyd even guest stars.  It’s great.  As a fan of the series, my only real complaint is that it was cancelled before the first season even finished airing.  That’s beyond frustrating as it obvious hasn’t been given a proper chance.  Questions will likely go unanswered forever and characters will probably just disappear.  Thanks a lot, Fo–oh wait, wrong network.  Compared to that giant smoking crater of a problem, the other issues are minor.  Quickly, they are: The music is tacky and reminds me of being put on hold; actors from the films did not return; Gladise Jiminez does nothing for this series other than add her nipples to the scene; the gore level has been amped up and now extends to human entrails.  These are more or less things you just notice while watching.  But loose plot lines… Those will haunt you for the rest of your days…

Solid proof we were never intended to look Rosalita directly in the eye.
Solid proof we were never intended to look Rosalita directly in the eye.

I like it.  As much as I hate it, I still like it.  It almost certainly will not hook the vast majority of the population, but fans probably already have this under their belt.  The show represents the single largest chunk of story that’s been entered into the series, with the compliment of having two movies to bookend it.  Back in 1990, it all started with four graboids, but in the early 2000s, Tremors came into its own, if only for a brief couple of years.  Will the show escape the depths of Development Hell once again in a triumphant return?  My guess is no, but that makes what still remains all the sweeter.

Rating:  El Blanco.

tl;dr
Watch:  If you’ve already come this far.  Also, the costume designer doesn’t believe in bras.
Don’t watch:  If you’re getting sick of these posts and you hate gore.

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

PG-13, 104 minutes, Monster

Starring: Michael GrossShawn ChristianSusan Chuang

I buy cheap.  I’m not a downloader and I don’t use online services like Netflix.  I buy to own, but on a tight budget I can’t bother to pay full price for a luxury.  It’s in bargain bins that I find gems and junk alike.  This now long-running habit has exposed me to an odd assortment of films that I otherwise would never even hear of.  It has also rekindled memories.  As much as I explore a tangent movie-present, I occasionally unearth exhibits from the movie-past.  Such was the case when I fished out a copy of the third Tremors movie.  Smiling down at the cut-rate cover with Burt in a tacky commando pose, I realized that I didn’t care about the price anymore.

“For fifty bucks I’ll sell you a Twinkie split open to resemble a graboid. For five-hundred bucks I’ll traumatize your children with pipecleaners and an old Cher album.”

Starting fresh so many years after the original film, Tremors 3 keeps good on its promise to take us back to Perfection, Nevada.  Perfection, now largely empty, has grown quiet since the graboids were killed off.  Earl has made his own fortune and follows in Val’s footsteps, leaving the town overseen by Burt.  Upon returning from a shrieker hunting trip in Argentina, Burt discovers Desert Jack, a swindler who is running a weak tour business that plays out like a mock graboid attack.  To make matters worse, the bratty Melvin grew up and has returned in a bid to fill the valley with housing tracts.  Burt attempts to set them straight, but it’s not until a real graboid appears that the characters are forced to think straight.

The majestic white wha--er, graboid.
The majestic white wha–er, graboid.

Burt gets set for another hunt, but is stopped by government agents who deem the graboids a protected species.  Their natural life cycle kicks in and soon the graboids birth a small army of shriekers.  With the smaller noise-makers remaining unprotected, Burt and the others track them down only to find that they’ve mutated into something far worse.

Tremors 3 acts as a prequel of sorts… despite being in the middle of the series.  With so many years having passed, it was almost necessary to start again.  Many of the survivors from the original movie have returned and what’s amazing is that all of the actors returned to their roles.  While they aren’t exactly big-name actors, it was still quite impressive to see that the casting director went through all the work of reassembling the old group.  For the actors that were missing, new characters had to be plugged in to fill the gaps.

Continuing tradition, the movie once again uses puppets in place of the monsters.  Unfortunately, the graphics used to create full-body monsters in motion have visibly suffered.  It’s not surprising considering the economical production value.  While this movie was released straight to video, it has a bit of a late-night television movie vibe.  This would prove to be an important hint as it sets up many of the elements present in the Tremors television that was released a couple years later.

A.B. equip stats: +3 flight, +5 boost
A.B. equip stats: +3 flight, +5 boost, -2 sight

And then there’s Burt.  Finally in the lead role, Michael Gross is able to make this movie more about the paranoid militant than about the monsters.  Actually, he saves what would have otherwise been a lame chase around the desert.  The fact that the ending is a little blunt in regards to the monsters really leads me to believe that Burt was the bigger beast.  His rapid-fire one liners are the real reason to keep coming back–I’ve been chuckling at them for years.

As with the other Tremors sequels, Tremors 3 is really best consumed with its kin.  It could perhaps be watched in preparation for a helping of the television series, but the constant references to missing characters might go over some viewer’s heads.  Tremors is a series you really need to love from the start, so I’m glad that all those years ago I was exposed to those man-eating dirt dragons.

Rating: Fans should watch this.

tl;dr
Watch: Because you love Michael Gross.
Don’t watch: If you can’t stand gore and guns (yet again).

Tremors II: Aftershocks (1995)

PG-13, 100 minutes, Monster

Starring: Fred WardChris GartinMichael Gross

When my mother first told me, “Tremors II is on.  Do you want to watch it?”  I immediately perked up, wide-eyed and in awe.  “There’s another one?” my dumbfounded mouth managed to spit out.  It was some weekend two decades ago, but I remember watching that thing at least a dozen times on television after that initial viewing.  While I still enjoy the first film more, it’s first sequel has to be the installment I’ve seen the most.

Back in the lonely town of Perfection, Nevada, Mr. You’ve-Got-To-Have-A-Plan Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) has found himself broke and going nowhere.  Val, who is absent from this movie, has run off with his riches and Rhonda, the college student from the original.  Left only with his royalty regrets and a pair of uncooperative ostriches, Earl reluctantly signs up for a graboid hunt at an infested oil refinery in Mexico.

Just blowing up eight foot reptilian worms. No big deal.
Just blowing up eight foot reptilian worms. No big deal.

Joining Earl is Grady (Christopher Gartin) who is at best… a slacker.  The two of them are successful at first and net a large chunk of change for their work, but when a swarm of fresh graboids appear Earl calls in reinforcements.  Burt (Michael Gross), excited by the chance to hunt once again, rushes down with a truckload of guns and explosives ready for action.  After a short competition, Earl and Grady come across the remains of a hollowed out graboid.  A new threat has birthed from within the old foe and has begun multiplying…

Gooey bone flaps are far superior to pixels.
Gooey bone flaps are far superior to pixels.

Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have seen Tremors II up for any awards, but you may have heard of it.  The movie does little to actually add to the franchise, playing off habits from the original even in the absence of Kevin Bacon.  This retro-play creates for awkwardness between the characters and honestly makes Earl seem old, but the sarcastic jabs made at Kevin Bacon’s real-life success that led to him leaving the franchise will put a smile on your face.  Thankfully, the film continues to use puppets, adding the new shrieker monsters to the universe.  This feature also marks the first time that computer generated monsters are used in the franchise, but they are a far cry from the realism of the puppets.

The real hallmark of this film is Burt Gummer.  In the absence of his wife, Heather (due to Reba McEntire’s own success), Burt is less hesitant and more focused than he ever was in the original movie.  He is free to shine as the paranoid gun-nut the character has become known for and takes his first triumphant step into the forefront of the plot.

TremorsII3
We need MORE power! Haugh haugh haugh haugh haugh!

Tremors II is the kind of movie you watch because it’s the sequel to something you liked.  It grows on you, but alone it serves as a reminder of what kind of sequel it could have been.  I don’t hate it.  I don’t think it’s a bad movie.  I do have found memories of watching it as a kid and I still find it enjoyable.  Every time I watch the series, I make sure to do it all together and in order.  However, the original concept for this sequel had it set in Australia and I’ve been waiting years for that to happen.  If I live so long, I’ll happily set myself down in front of the TV with a stack of DVDs and not blink until it’s over.

Rating: The franchise set is cheap, just buy it.

tl;dr
Watch: If you’re a fan of the original.
Don’t watch: If you can’t stand gore and guns (again).

Tremors (1990)

PG-13, 96 minutes, Monster

Starring: Kevin BaconFred WardMichael Gross

When I think about monster movies, one of the first things to come to my mind is Tremors.  Graboids, the giant man-eating worms featured in the film, have always been my favorite in the monster world.  Long before I was exposed to the real monsters from both classic and slasher film lore, I remember my mother turning on the television just to watch bug guts exploding across the screen.

Tremors3
Stage 1: Graboid

Val and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, respectively) are two losers working as handymen in the isolated desert town of Perfection, Nevada.  Sick of letting their dreams get away from the them, they decide to abandon their trailer and move out.  Unfortunately for the two of them, they chose the wrong time.  A series of bizarre deaths leads them to believe that a serial killer is on the loose in the valley.  When they team up with a college student who is studying the odd seismic activity in Perfection, they discover the truth: four colossal worms are tunneling through the ground and eating anything that makes noise, including people.

As luck would have it, among the remaining citizens of Perfection there are two militant survivalists (played by Michael Gross of Family Ties fame and Reba McEntire in her first starring role) who firmly believe in their second amendment rights.  Locked and loaded, the survivors face off against the subterranean menace is an effort to escape and find help.

Tremors2
PEWPEWPEW!!!

While this is certainly a monster movie and does follow the slasher archetype, I can’t see this as really being horror.  It’s too campy for that.  Combine the facts that it’s a buddy movie, has goofy humor, and tawdry country music and the definition of horror seems too far away.  I can’t hate it though.  In fact it’s one of my favorite movies.  The lack of high-end production value adds its own charm to the film.  It takes place in a veritable shanty town, which might make it look cheap, but also it clues you in that the filmmakers are ready to break stuff.

As for the monsters themselves, they’re amazing.  This movie is too old to deal with too much of the CG garbage, instead they’ve created the real deal: massive puppets large enough to fit an actor inside.  There’s also miniature work, real explosions, and creative practical effects that give the sense of something massive burrowing just under the dirt.  And guts.  The graboids are meant to be about eight feet long, so when they’re hit with serious firepower there’s plenty of spray.  I’m not personally a fan of gore, but I have to admit that there is juicy satisfaction in watch these killer bugs go splat.  All of these make for a visual experience that is rarely seen in this century.

Tremors4
It’s important to look stern before doing something stupid.

Tremors is a personal favorite of mine stemming from childhood memories.  It repeatedly played on television during my youth and is one of the few movies that I watched over and over again that I didn’t own a tape of.  In hindsight it has remained something that I wish I had seen on the big screen, more for the nostalgia I would experience in present day than anything else.

Though copyrighted in 1989, the film was actually released in early 1990 making 2015 the 25th anniversary.  The best part for me is that the story doesn’t stop here.  With four sequels to date and a short-lived television series, Tremors still continues to be produced to this day.

Rating: Own it.

tl;dr
Watch: If you think campy monster movies are fun.  Or if you like Kevin Bacon, I guess.
Don’t watch: If you can’t stand gore and guns.