While the landscape has certainly changed since Tremors first surfaced back in 1990, the jocular killer worm franchise has managed to get a lot of mileage from having the dad from Family Ties repeatedly butting heads with subterranean, precambrian lifeforms. Essentially leapfrogging over the first film’s lead Kevin Bacon, and then again over part 2’s lead Fred Ward, Michael Gross’ highly paranoid survivalist, Burt Gummer, became the face of the series that included a prequel, a short lived TV series and even a whole new generation of surprisingly slick movies starting in 2015.
But after twenty years of worm wrestling (ew) what more can possibly said about Gummer’s seemingly endless quest to make the human gobbling Graboids and their various different forms extinct? This was a question that the most resent entry, Shrieker Island, had no choice but to answer and it did so with a genuinely surprising method. Well, surprising for a decades old killer worm franchise, anyway.
Big game hunter, Bill, is conveniently also head of a morals-free Bio Tech company and has unwisely been breeding genetically modified Graboids in order for millionaires to hunt them on his private island because why should Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos be the only rich dudes with insane pastimes? However, on the mainland, reserchers Dr Jasmine Welker and uber-slacker Jimmy figure out what their boss is up to and send for legendary Graboid killer, Burt Gummer who has finally renounced the human race (and their invasive governments, naturally) and is living like a grizzled, Robinson Crusoe-style hermit while wolfing down grubs on a beach in Papa New Guinea.
Convinced to go one more round with his subterranean nemesis’, Gummer arrives at Bill’s island for an awkward reunion with Welker who is revealed to be the mother of Burt’s illegitimate son Travis (apparently cooling his heels in a Mexican jail to explain Jaime Kennedy’s lack of appearance) and sort of bonds with the clueless Jimmy and tomboy Freddie while trying to come to terms with the fact that the research centre has no real weapons to speak of.
Meanwhile, some of the Graboids have already entered their second stage, disgorging a clutch of bipedal, screaming Shriekers onto Bill’s hapless customers, which means that if Gummer and co. don’t get there skates on, the creatures will soon reach their third, airborne form and escape off the island to multiply anew.
Can Gummer – hardly a spring chicken to be fair – endure yet another round with this voracious species, or will his luck (and considerable prep skills) finally run out as the worm turns on final time.
Since it’s resurrection back in 2015 with the fifth installment, this new batch of Tremors movies has stuck to a fairly rigid formula that has meant that the only real difference between films has been a radical change in location that somehow doesn’t effect the story in the least. While Bloodlines brought the voracious invertebrates to South Africa and A Cold Day In Hell transported them to a far chillier Canada, Shrieker Island dumped everyone in a island in the middle of the South Pacific, which means returning director Don Michael Paul (also the helmer of direct to video sequels for such franchises such as Lake Placid, The Scorpion King, Jarhead and Death Race) gets to have himself another banger of a busman’s holiday, but it also show’s up that he’s kind of run out of tricks. Whereas the shift from amiable 50’s creature feature throwback to slick horror/action/comedy was initially quite cool with all the suprisingly polished CGI and explosions that came with it, now it’s just the same old stuff regurgitated over and over. Not only to we keep getting the same shots of modified Graboids launching themselves into a spiraling death spear to land on their victims like a shark with a rocket up its fishy backside, but we get no less than (count ’em) five shots of Gummer walking away from an explosion in slo-mo in order to generate some iconic footage of Gross’ leathery hero. However, a kick delve into spoiler territory actually reveals the reason for this as this particular Tremors adventure, despite being as derivative as they come, actually ends with something of a shocker as this could very well mean that our government avoiding hero has finally reached the end of the line.
It certainly feels like the end, even though the no-show of Travis Welker means that the swapping out Jamie Kennedy’s illegitimate Burt-spawn with Napoleon Dynamite means we lose a bit of emotional punch, the Burt Gummer tribute that plays over the credits actually succeeds in kick starting some surprising nostalgia.
It’s helped along mostly by the fact that Gross obviously still loves playing the crap out of this mildly deranged fart and his genius introduction as a wild-eyed hermit, living off the land ranks as a franchise high point. Still spitting out measured one-liners from under his trusty baseball cap and moustache such as – “That ass clown’s a skid mark on our collective underwear!” while fucking up Shriekers with a flamethrower that would make Sigourney Weaver jealous, Gummer’s still a joy to spend time with and actually is more fun than all of the standard Graboid attack scenes that grow more reminiscent of Jaws or Jurassic Park as the movie goes on.
Most of the supporting cast kind of disappears into the background, especially Jamie Kennedy stand in and Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder and you kind of wished that spunky fan-girl Frankie, played by Orange Is The New Black’s Jackie Cruz, was the chainsaw wielding, supporting lead instead, as her gung-ho, lets-blow-shit-up character has far more promise. The movie benefits from actually having a fairly memorable human villain in the form of the curious dental work of genre stalwart Richard Brake, but despite vaguely looking like Billy Ray Cyrus gene sliced with Dog the Bounty Hunter, this owner of a bio firm ends up being openly dumber than a Jersey Shore themed episode of Mastermind.
So, as the Tremors franchise finally runs out of steam, Burt seemingly goes to that great Guns & Ammo depot in the sky and if this really means the end of the Graboids, I guess it’s a fair comment to say that those large, stinky, tunneling bastards has quite a good run. It’s just a shame that the only original idea this supposedly final installment has to offer is a shock death of a major character that still somehow feels abrupt even after twenty years of tentacle dodging.
It’s been fun, but the Tremors franchise is seemingly now in the ground…