As the direct to DVD sequels to Tremors rumble ever onward, it’s good to know that even someone as jaded as I can be surprised from time to time by a random cheapjack follow up trying to shoot for the moon. It’s even nicer when that cheapjack follow up turns out to be a Tremors sequel as I’ve always been one to root for the continuing adventures of Burt Gummer and the carnivorous giant worms known to the world as Graboids.
The announcement that a long running series is choosing to go the prequel route and set its story in an entirely news time period is usually news that make me want to opt out, but where this often just seems like a ploy just so filmmakers don’t have to continue paying a returning main cast an inflated rate (cough* Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans *cough), Tremors instead uses this to try and tunnel into something new…
The year is 1889 and a hundred years before the Graboids assaulted the small, dust streaked town of Perfection, the place was a small, struggling mining community dubbed Rejection. However, mining for silver has to abruptly stop when seventeen miners involved down tools indefinitely due to an extreme case of being eaten by an infant species of worm-creatures that tunnel beneath the ground and hunts by sound. The only survivor, Juan Pedilla, makes it back to Rejection with the unbelievable news and a call is sent out to the mines owner to come and sort things out.
Enter Hiram Gummer; a prissy moustachioed dandy who also happens to be the great, great grandfather of Tremors’ resident gun nut, Burt Gummer, who comes to town woefully unprepared for life in the wild west in general, let alone ready to risk his life fighting man eating worms.
The townsfolk, who include tough innkeeper Christine Lord, store owning, Chinese immigrants the Chang family (ancestors of Walter Chang from the first film) and native American handyman Tecopa, remain steadily unconvinced that Hiram is going to be able to rectify their worm problem, but even though he abhors the use of firearms, he is wealthy enough to hire a gunslinger to do it for him.
Thus the sinister Black Hand Kelly enters the fray, but even this seasoned gun for hire is unprepared for what’s laying in wait for them as those dog-sized worms have grown into bus-sized predators that can swallow a grown man whole if he’s not careful.
Can these raggedy-yet-gutsy folk band together and halt the Graboid threat before they’re all literal worm-food and the creature decide to move on to Carson city to chow down?
While I wasn’t particularly wasn’t to the charms of the previous installment (fun as they were, the Ass Blasters were a step too far for me), one of the most endearing aspects about this continued life for the Tremors franchise is that it’s a definate tryer; and while its stripped back budgets frequently let the side down, it’s that can-do spirit that the movies have that manage to save the day. This is especially the case of Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, a movie that aims to give us an origin of the Graboids (some eggs hatch – that’s about it) while simultaneously taking the franchise back to its worm-only roots (no Shriekers or Ass Blasters here) and taking the series to the Wild West to add something new.
Yes, it’s an accurate statement to say that the limited funds means that the The Legend Begins has limited appeal to a broader audience, but for long-time Graboid fans, this fourth go-round contains many, legitimately sweet call backs with the main one being the return of franchise main-stay Michael Gross.
Usually appearing as the outspoken, gun toting survivalist turned Graboid hunter, Burt Gummer, Gross get to change things up a little by portraying Burt’s delicate ancestor Hiram who, in an amusing 180 twist is the only man in town who doesn’t own a firearm. His panicked, up tight performance is a constant source of fun as he gleefully sends up his own character and it’s an adorable way to skip things back the odd hundred years and still manage to keep a loysl sense of continuity.
The rest of the cast don’t fare quite as well as a lot of them wind up just being variants of characters we’ve already seen, but Brent Roam’s plucky miner and Billy Drago’s reptilian gunslinger are noticable stand outs.
However, the real draws here are still the Graboids and the carnage they wreak on unsuspecting desert dwellers, but its here that opinions may slightly differ. While the big, smelly bastards are still reassuringly practical and mostly full-sized, they’re far more sparingly used than usual and the usually complicated games of cat and mouse (or should that be worm and human) the movies tend to play are sadly simplified this time round. While excessive gore has never really been Tremors’ bag, the body count is nothing really to write home about with victims usually falling out of frame in clouds of dust only to turn up later as a partially buried severed head or something. However, the movie does feature is some gratifying worm-kills will one being satisfyingly blown away by a gargantuan firearm the size of a maypole dubbed the Punt Gun.
While we’re still a long way from the majesty of the original movie, by this point it’s obvious those halcyon days are long gone, but there’s still nuggets to cherish in this franchise that’s weathered time better than other such low-rent franchise extensions such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Starship Troopers and The Lost Boys. Sure Tremors 4 may now only go to prove that the series may truly be for fans only, but there’s still enough love there along with an honest desire to please that makes this entry far less painful than you’d think.
The franchise ain’t worm food just yet.