Tremendous Trilogy (Plus One)

Given a fair chance, it’s dern near impossible NOT to crack a smile during the Tremors movies. There’s an underlying charm and down-home humor to them that dovetails perfectly with their time-tested creature feature formula. However, the filmmakers always manage to upset convention just enough to create genuine surprises — either to thrill, or amuse. It’s that smidgen of effort that has kept fans thirsting for more, while other franchises have long since run their keg dry.

These crafty folks even CAST against expectation. Take "Family Ties" weenie Michael Gross (right) as an ultra-paranoid survivalist with more firepower than most sovereign countries — it’s inconceivable not to LOVE this guy. In fact, due to fan fervor, he’s risen from a supporting role to become the Captain Ahab of the franchise in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. "Like so much else in the Tremors lexicon, it is preposterous," Mr. Gross says of the sequel. "That’s one of the reasons, I think, fans come back to see Tremors, because you never quite know what bizarre tale these writers are going to do next."

He’s absolutely right. We’re also lured back by those gloriously oversized nightcrawlers by FX gurus Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics. Their critters just keep getting weirder, thanks in part to a successful marriage of practical creature effects and flashy CGI.

Tremors

4 of 5 stars / 1989

TremorsThe sleepy desert community of Perfection, Nevada can no longer contain the wanderlust of its rednecked sons Val and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward). Yet just as their truck rattles them toward a new life, nature radically conspires against their exodus in the form of giant worm-like creatures that burrow beneath the ground and gobble unsuspecting humans like McNuggets. Because of the killers’ stealthy attacks, folks aren’t quite sure what the devil’s going on. It’s actually Val and Earl who literally unearth the truth when they accidentally pancake one of the 30-foot worms into a concrete culvert while fleeing for their lives. After scratching their heads in disbelief, a brainy seismogal (Finn Carter) from the university — who just happens to be in the area — tells the boys that she fears there’s evidence of the rumbling presence of MORE of these "Graboids." That nickname comes from Perfection grocer Walter Chang (Victor Wong) whose shop becomes the resilient townsfolk’s rallying point even as they’re chased onto its rooftop. Val, Earl and Friends don’t cower for long before noodling the best way to whup the worms back into the stone age. CineSchlockers will remember that pogoin’ munchkin Ariana Richards went on to tangle with more prehistoric terrors in Jurassic Park.

Notables: No breasts. 10 corpses. Gratuitous urination. Excessive seismograph footage. Septic tank eruption. Station wagon munching. Pole vaulting. Two-fisted gun shooting. Gratuitous Reba McEntire. Multiple explosions. Sheep molestation. Three games of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Quotables: Val realizes there’s trouble underfoot in Perfection, "Man, we decided to leave this place just ONE day too late!" And he knows his Graboid anatomy, "Check this out! I found the ass end!!!" Burt’s license plate reads, "UZI-4U." And after a lengthy gun battle he crows over a bullet-riddled carcass, "Broke in the wrong goddamn rec room didn’t you, you bastard!"

Time codes: Val describes his ideal mate (4:28). First actual tremor of the series (8:40). Little Mindy rocks out on her pogo stick (6:04). Sequel bait (28:32). First clean look at these critters (32:55). How they got their name (46:55). The gang goes fishing — in the desert (1:22:33). Puke worthy focus-group ending (1:31:30).

Tremors 2: Aftershocks

4 of 5 stars / 1996

Tremors 2: AftershocksEarl was supposed to be stinkin’ rich after discovering a new species and all, but he’s managed to fritter away the most lucrative ventures in favor of a lame scheme to raise ostriches. Meanwhile, Mexican oilmen are getting sucked underground by a whole new crop of Graboids, so it’s not long before Earl gets a GENEROUS offer to come on down and solve their problem. The original’s winning formula demands a sidekick and Christopher Gartin fills the bill. Immediately, the two start blasting worm guts all over to the point they decide the really could use some help, and invite gun enthusiast Burt Gummer down to join the fun. The three men begin a friendly competition seeing who can chalk up the most kills in this subterranean buffalo hunt when something odd happens. Earl and Grady wander upon a Graboid above the ground behaving like a beached whale. They watch, they wait, and when they finally muster the courage to attempt to capture the beast, they find that SOMETHING has burst out of its gut. That’s when things get real interesting, and it’s also when Burt gets to showcase his impressive arsenal. As the object of Earl’s lust is Helen Shaver who plays a scientist, or something. Helen has starred in all sorts of B-pictures including the generally overrated Amittyville Horror.

Notables: No breasts. Three corpses. Graboid arcade game. Puking. Multiple high-intensity explosions. Wild driving. Fire extinguisher hosedown. MRE munching. High-tech seismograph footage. Three games of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Quotables: Burt explains Reba’s absence, "She’s still visiting her sister. You know, she actually blames our problems on the collapse of the Soviet Union?! She said I was too hard to live with. Said I couldn’t handle life without the threat of global war! What kind of thing is THAT to say to a man?!" And his weaponry is no less impressive, "Man, Burt, you put a whole new shine on the word overkill."

Time codes: First feast of dirt demons (3:33). Our love interests ogle each other’s hind quarters (16:55). Earl has a plan (22:45). The ultimate hunter’s trophy (33:15). Critters learn to roar (44:27). The worms have turned (58:00). Disgusting delivery of a slimy newborn (1:11:11).

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

4 of 5 stars / 2001

Tremors 3: Back to PerfectionWith both Val and Earl now enjoying romantic fulfillment, the stage is set for Burt to reunite with his one true love — firepower. He starts the sequel off with an earth-shaking display of military might, as he mans twin .50 caliber machine guns and hamburgers a stampede of Shriekers in South America. Then it’s back to Perfection and his home sweet compound atop a ridge and surrounded by a newly poured concrete beastie barrier. Eleven years after the first film, the sleepy valley has been completely given over to thrill-seeking tourists anxious to experience worm mania first hand. There’s a new Chang in town (Susan Chuang) selling souvenirs out of the grocery, but what’s more interesting is this fella (Shawn Christian) who takes folks out on Graboid safaris, complete with a phony attack that strands them on a rock in the hot sun. Fortunately, he can offer the tour beverages for a nominal fee. Burt is disgusted by Jack and his sleazy opportunistic dealings, but when REAL beasties return to the valley, they’re forced to work together to fend off a NEW and highly explosive twist of evolution. Oddly, the screenwriters employ two allusions to seafaring literature, the most obvious being that Burt is stalked throughout the desert by an enormous WHITE worm. CineSchlockers will appreciate the return of stars from the original including Charlotte Stewart as Mrs. Sterngood (Mindy’s mom) and Tony Genaro as the loveable Miguel. Alas, Miguel, we hardly knew ye.

Notables: No breasts. Five corpses. Truckload O’ chickens. Tiny hula girl. Gratuitous government goons. Chainsaw resurrection. Zenish quips. Multiple explosions.

Quotables: Burt’s still paranoid, "You put in a barcode reader?! They can use that to build a profile on all my purchases! Next they’ll want a sample of my DNA!" Psycho babble doesn’t go far around here, "I think if I had an inner voice, it’d be telling me to tell you to get lost!" Burt barks, "Is your head up your ass for WARMTH!?!"

Time codes: First sign of trouble (4:08). Sign welcomes fans back to Perfection (6:05). Behold, Mindy is all grow’d up (16:25). First graboid appears (22:00). Jonah, er, Burt and the Whale (43:28). Naming the latest carnivorous critter (1:06:45).

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

2.5 of 5 stars / 2004

Tremors 4: The Legend BeginsIf the Tremors franchise weren’t so grounded within Mother Earth, this would’ve been the requisite "In Space" sequel, but they’ve instead opted for the double-twist — a WESTERN PREQUEL!!! So, diehards mount up, while casual viewers should get the heck out of Dodge — make that Perfection, no, REJECTION as it’s known in the olden days. It’s a far more fitting name, especially once Graboids make combo meals of unsuspecting silver miners. In fact, this is what draws the attention of the great, great, great, great grand pappy of Burt Gummer, Tremors’ notorious survivalist and one-man army, played with always-amusing conviction by Michael Gross (no kin of yours truly). Here, he’s returned to his "Family Ties" roots as a COMPLETE WEENIE forced to call upon a hired gun, CineSchlocker fave Billy Drago as the gloriously grizzled Black Hand Kelly, if there’s any prayer of reopening Gummer’s mine. After Part 3’s Ass Blasters, there’s not much here to contribute to the subterranean beastie lexicon — Graboid hatchlings!?! — but, goldang it, the series’ infectious charm still abounds. CineSchlockers will especially find themselves plum tickled by Hiram’s late-blooming celebration of what’d become the Gummer family passion: apocalyptic firepower!

Notables: No breasts. 22 corpses. Decapitation. Gratuitous Alamo humor. Excessive chaw spitting. Gunfighter guzzling. Pitiful horsemanship. Multiple explosions.

Quotable: Perhaps the best Graboid description of the franchise: "They spring from the ground like some DEMONIC TROUT!!!"

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