Movies & TV / News

A Bloody Good Time: Ranking the Tremors Franchise

May 18, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Earlier this month, we got a brand new Tremors movie with Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell. It’s the sixth in the series and more than likely the only continuation now that Syfy has passed on the show starring Kevin Bacon. If you happen to have Netflix, it’s available on there right now. I’ll get to my thoughts a little later, because we’re about to rank all six films in the franchise.

I’m not sure Tremors was ever meant to be more than one movie, but Universal has taken a surprising amount of care with it in terms of not rebooting it or messing up continuity. Since they did the same with Chucky, I guess they’re just friendly to horror. It make sense, as horror put Universal on the map.

For those that somehow aren’t aware, Tremors is a series of films about gigantic carniverous worms that live underground and hunt by sound. Eventually they evolve into sleeker monsters, even with the ability to fly. The one constant in all six films has been Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, a paranoid gun nut survivalist who is obsessed with killing them all. Most people remember the first film the most, but there are fans of the others as well. It even had a short-lived TV show on the Sci-Fi channel that didn’t do well enough to avoid cancellation.

Anyway, we’re ranking them so let’s get to the worst right away.

#6: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

I only watched this one recently, and I’m a little glad for that because I think it would have soured my opinion on the whole franchise if I watched it then. That’s because this is a boring retread of the original film set in the 1800s, with an “ancestor” of Burt that’s not exactly who we want when we watch a Tremors movie. I’ll give it this, Michael Gross is able to stretch his legs by playing a more cowardly character with a redemption arc, but it’s lost in this slog of a movie.

If you’ve seen the first Tremors, it’s basically the same here. The only difference is that there’s not as much technology and the only actor you’ll recognize is Gross. Well, maybe Billy Drago, but he doesn’t stick around long enough to be a factor. The Graboid action is fine but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. I guess if you really need to know how Perfection got its name, this is the movie for you. Otherwise, it has little to do with the rest of the series so skip it.

#5: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

So, I’m probably in the minority here but I think “ass-blasters” are kind of a jump-the-shark type deal. Not that it’s an entirely-bad concept. I think another evolution in the Graboid life-cycle is a good way to set up a third film. But there’s something about the thought of monsters flying with their farts that takes this from a horror-comedy into almost farce. Maybe it just takes some getting used to, because I didn’t mind it as much in the later sequels. But here it just sounds like an excuse to say “ass” over and over.

That’s not to say this is a bad movie. It’s not great, but there are some good moments. Seeing most of the original cast ten years later is nice. Burt actually getting eaten and then cut out of a graboid is an all-time moment for this series. I just think it kinda falters with going a bit too immature, even for this series and runs a little too long for what it is. That said, it was a solid start for Michael Gross as the star of this franchise.

#4: Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

I think everyone thought the franchise was dead and buried before this one was announced. Anyway, this one opens with Burt enjoying his life as the host of a survivalist show when he’s approached by Jamie Kennedy. They go to South Africa where Graboids are running loose, even though Burt thought they were contained to North America. The Graboids look different here, but that’s explained by the movie itself, which is a touch of continuity I appreciated. They’re a mutated breed from a different region of the world.

This movie is actually full of attention to detail. There are a lot of references to Tremors past, including how the Graboids work. When they do something new, Burt complains about how he doesn’t have his need to know information. There are even references to Heather Gummer and his artillery from the first film. Three guesses as to which he misses the most. It feels like it was made by someone who loves Tremors, not someone who’s a hired gun making a cheap, low-budget cash grab.

The thing I was most worried about was how the Graboids would be presented. I knew going in that they would be CG, because no one does puppets anymore. Thankfully, the visual effects look pretty good. The only problem I had with it was Jamie Kennedy. His performance and the character of Travis in general are just super annoying and they never. shut. up. There’s a twist that you’ll probably be able to see coming. Michael Gross manages to balance that out by easily slipping back into the role of Burt and playing it like he never stopped. The highest compliment I can give is that it’s a Tremors movie. It definitely belongs in this series.

#3: Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell

At first glance, this felt a lot like the fifth one which irritated me. The fact that it promoted itself as an “arctic” Tremors movie and didn’t deliver also irritated me. But once I got over that, I got a film that actually manages to improve upon what didn’t work in Bloodlines and make for an entertaining romp.

First of all, Jamie Kennedy has improved a lot since the last one. He still has his annoying moments, but it seems more like he’s leaning into that as a character trait than him doing bad improv. I mean when Burt himself is constantly pointing it out, it has to be intentional. Plus their bond as father and son is explored more, with Travis (Kennedy) revealing he actually cares for his father and Burt begrudingly going along with it. The subplot of Burt possibly dying had me worried they were gonna pass the franchise off to Travis, but well, I won’t spoil how that one is resolved.

It’s the usual Tremors action you’ve come to expect, with more nods to past films and Michael Gross playing a role he could do in his sleep at this point. As long as he’s game to keep making these movies, I’ll keep watching them.

#2: Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

I have a really soft spot for this movie. I saw it not long after I caught the first on television, and while I did miss the presence of Kevin Bacon, at least it had Burt and Earl back. Grady is okay, and you start to like him more as Earl does. The montage at the opening of them effortlessly killing Graboids is great, not because it treats them like jokes but because it sets up what comes later: shriekers.

Shiekers are a bipedal evolution of the Graboids that can see heat. They also multiply rapidly when they eat, like gremlins. I thought this was a fantastic way to keep things going and it’s a shame that the movies have more or less dropped shriekers. They could always be a threat as soon as they get food. It’s a way for graboids to still be threatening even when you think you’ve figured them out. Earl deciding to spray himself with a fire extinguisher so he can enter a nest of them is one of my favorite franchise moments.

It’s a good sequel because it does it expands, with the expansion being a purpose. Assblasters in Back to Perfection were just a retread of this, with a sillier concept.

#1: Tremors (1990)

I mean, come on. You’ve seen Tremors. It’s one of the best horror-comedies of all time. It has a great cast where everyone pulls their weight and the pairing of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward is a fun one. The monsters, done entirely with practical effects, look amazing. The jokes land almost all the time and it actually has some tension, which is something that even the best of the sequels lacked.

I rewatched it in anticipation of this column and it holds up 100%. In my mind it’s one of the essential American monster movies, especially of the modern era where we don’t get as many good ones as we used to. It’s like Sharknado if Syfy wasn’t so smug about it. It’s a fun concept that works because it treats it seriously, even while including plenty of jokes. We’re not laughing at the movie, we’re laughing at the characters’ reactions. It just works on every level and remains one of my favorites. Enough gushing. Go see it!

Ending Notes:

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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