After 2004’s genuinely sweet, wild west set prequel of part four, it seemed that the Tremors franchise was content to burrow down deep in to the bowels of the earth and hibernate indefinitely. Yet, thanks to Universal still seeing potential in those stinky, tunnelling, man eating Graboids and their bonkers life cycle, those pesky worms resurfaced again in 2015 to claim more victims (and direct to DVD sales) but without the original creative team involved.
Keeping the goofy humour, but choosing to refer the creatures fully in CGI and upping the gore content noticably, could this franchise re-launch maintain the breezy comedy of the original movie or the plucky, can-do spirit of the sequels?
If anything could mantain a semblance of quality control, surely it could be the presence of a man who is the very essence of preparation and execution. That’s right, citizens, the Graboids may have a slick, CGI makeover, but OG worm killer Burt Gummer is back.
We rejoin Burt Gummer as the star of his own, threadbare, survivalist web-series, but his determined attempts to normalise eating snake and trying to hoc his own-brand cactus juice is interrupted when his regular cameraman is suddenly switched out with dirt-biking, man-child Travis Welker. In the best of circumstances, Burt and Travis would struggle to get on, but almost immediately after they meet, they’re approached South African Wildlife agent Erick Van Wyk who has disturbing reports of an Ass-Blaster attack abroad. Sceptical that any of the Graboid life cycle has managed to make it out of their usual feeding area, Burt – followed by Travis – heads off to South Africa to discover that the breed of Ass-Blaster that’s made its home in the cradle of humankind is not like the ones he’s tangled with back home.
Teaming with Van Wyk’s sneering right hand man, Basson and Nandi Montabu a local doctor who is impressively capable with a bow and arrow, Burt and Travis’ attempt to capture an Ass-Blaster uncovers that the African variant is far bigger, more spikier and incredibly more vicious than the ones the survivalist is used to and thanks to his heavy weaponry being impounded by the South African government, Burt has to make do with some worryingly ineffectual firearms.
Matter get even worse when A) it’s revealed that the Ass-Blasters have been hording Graboid eggs in a mass nest; B) Van Wyk isn’t who he seems at all, and C) full sized African Graboids are just as jacked up as the Ass-Blasters and certainly not to be fucked with.
With a full-blown Graboid infestation seemingly imminent, the humans scrabble to formulate a plan to turn these worms; but there’s one more revelation to come thanks to Travis and it’ll rock Burt’s world just as much as a ground churning predator.
I’ve been an adoring fan of the original Tremors even since I first saw it and that goodwill even stretched to the direct to video sequels that followed in the late nineties, even though the production values where straining like a hamster pulling a dump truck and yet when I heard that Universal was resurrecting the franchise in 2015, I couldn’t help but dramatically roll my eyes. Was there really a need for the studio to go all out and jump start the franchise again simply to milk the Graboids dry (now there’s an image)? On top of that, even with Michael Gross still returning as the world’s only tolerable, conspiracy spouting survivalist, the reported upping of gore threatened to skewer the friendly, easy going nature of the franchise in general – and don’t even get me started on the lack of practical effects.
Well, I have to say, when I finally got round to watching Bloodlines I was very pleasantly surprised. Yes, there’s a slightly harder edge and the creature’s redesign looks like it’s gone through the Michael Bay/Transformers route (everything is a least 47% more pointier), but this is still, very much a Tremors movie. A huge reson for this is once agsin the invaluable input of the loyal Michael Gross, who once again grows out that moustache and slaps on that Atlanta Hawks cap to play Burt Gummer once again to delightful effect. Whether pissing and moaning about stringent gun laws or having a magnificent scene where he gradually goes bugshit while locked in a cage in the hot African sun (urine plays a big part in his survival – and not just his), Gross obviously is still having tremendous fun. Slightly less successful is Jamie Kennedy’s sidekick, Travis, who weirdly resembles a pre-bleached Guy Fieri, wears motorcycle gear in blazing temperatures and generally fills the know-it-all, younger, partner slot that the franchise has regularly employed.
The other characters who round out the cast are your usual plucky line-up of typical Tremors-esque style small town types, but aren’t particularly that memorable when compared to the original if I’m being brutally honest.
However, alongside Gross, Bloodlines’ biggest boon is the surprisingly slick production values that sees the studio pushing the boat out big time on some impressively polished digital monsters for a direct to video flick. While fans of the classic Graboid designs may understandably yearn for the blubbery, bulky originals, the filmmakers go the Daft Punk route and go Harder, Better, Faster Stronger with their new selection of creature and stage some complex sequences that see Graboids launching into the air like dolphins and an Ass-Blaster stalking through a kitchen in a cheeky nod to Jurassic Park. Not all of it works; the Ass-Blasters look nothing like the original creatures and, if anything, seen over designed while the fact that the Graboids can now detach their snake-like tongues simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
If you think my glowing review is born chiefly from the surprise that this shiny facelift of a 90’s franchise didn’t drive the concept into the ground then you might be onto something, but the more muscular monsters and Gross’ old school scene chewing means that this new breed retains a lot of the old charm while learning some nifty new tricks that ensure that this series avoids becoming worm food…