Tremors is a series that I’ve always felt nostalgic about. There’s just something about seeing Kevin Bacon running from graboids that spells out a good time for me. I know, I know; graboids might be the stupidest monsters of all time. They’re threat is pretty limited since they’re just giant desert worms that can be tricked with toy cars and explosives. Really, they’re no match for the similar, but much spookier black and white Martian sand worms of Beetlejuice. Still, I’ll watch a graboids pull shenanegans on idiotic Hollywooders on any fine Sunday afternoon, and I’ll do it with a smile on my face…at least for the first two installments of the series.
Of course, the first problem with this series is that Kevin Bacon is only in the first feature, and as the series goes on more and more cast members drop out, except for one: the unshakable Michael Gross as Burt. Burt just never gives up, even when the movies go back in time (though, I’m getting ahead of myself). So, for the first two movies, the graboids are the same: big ol’ sand worms that are attracted to sound and travel at surprisingly high speeds in order to eat you where you stand. Naturally, objects that buffer out the sound keep you safe: like big rocks or the tops of buildings. There’s a lot to be said for these installments. The writing, though corny, is amusing, especially on the part of Kevin Bacon, and his banter with Fred Ward. These guys are your standard old fella’ teaches the new dog his best tricks kind of team. The graboids also really don’t look that bad. There’s a real lack of CG to the original graboids, and we get to see big latex wormies pop out of the ground and devour various things. Even when the graboids are blown up, we see real rubber chunks fly through the air (deflected of course by umbrellas. How Chaplinesque), and sprays of orange monster blood blorting all over the desert floor. There are few things that can ruin a good horror movie more than bad computer generated effects, and I’m glad that Tremors at least started out without them. Unfortunately, the later movies in the series fall victim to CG as their budget grows tighter, and the directorial reins are passed on your newer and less knowledgeable filmmakers. By the time we get to movie three, not only are the effects over-extended, but so is the whole concept. It wasn’t enough to introduce the second evolution of graboids in the first sequel, shreikers. Shreikers are basically little dinosaur looking critters, that can walk upright, and unlike graboids they aren’t sensitive to sounds, but instead hunt based on heat signature. Think Predator-vision. Even though this creature is getting a bit far away from the original monster’s charm of underground attacks, it’s still not a huge departure, and allows for some new gags. Unfortunately, installment three of Tremors takes it too far by creating ass-blasters, which are shriekers who can propel themselves using butt-induced explosions of gas. I don’t think I need to explain the problem with this creature. Not only is the overall concept of ass-blasters stupid, but the creatures themselves are rendered in some pretty dodgy CG. Essentially, and campyness that made the original Tremors funny is ripped away by the total absurdity of these later evolutions.
In true beat a dead movie horse form, the Tremors series is topped off by a prequel that sends us back in time to see the founders of Rejection Valley, the first people to have to defend themselves against the graboids. Remember how I said Michael Gross is basically an unfireable employee? Well, in this last installment, he shows up again, not as Burt, but as one of Burt’s distant relatives, Hiram Gummer. This is the movie when Michael Gross gets to try and stand on his own. Sadly, he was given a really lame premise to work with. Tremors is just a really good example of a franchise that runs itself into the ground (haha, pun not intended, but was a delightful happenstance), and ultimately jumps the shark with the final sin of going back in time to try and give the story something new to work with. The thing is, this trope just doesn’t work. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even finish Tremors Four. I got about ten minutes into the bad cowboy accents and couldn’t take it any more. If you’re into forced comedy, maybe it’s your thing.
So, my advice is to watch the first two Tremors flicks, and leave it at that. There’s nothing so special in the subsequent sequels that you need to subject yourself to the digital eye knives that are the movies’ sins. There really is a lot to be enjoyed about the first two parts of the series though, and for those of us who grew up in the age of graboids (word up to the other Generation Xers), there is a serious amount of nostalgia as well. Can someone sew be a graboid pillow?
Here’s a taste: