Tremors Attack Pack (1989 - 2003)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 27. 2009  | 
DVD
Universal (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, (T, T3, T4), Spanish DD 2.0, French DD 2.0 (T, T2), English DD 2.0 (T2). English (FHI) Subtitles. 402 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Directors: Ron Underwood; S.S. Wilson; Brent Maddock; S.S. Wilson
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire; Fred Ward, Christopher Gartin, Helen Shaver, Michael Gross; Michael Gross, Shawn Christian, Susan Chuang, Ariana Richards; Michael Gross, Sara Botsford, Brent Roam, Ming Lo, Lydia Look, Sam Ly, J.E. Freeman, August Schellenberg, Billy Drago
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Perfection, Nevada, population 14 is one of those western US towns that if you drove through it, it'd be a blink and you'd miss it kind of a place. Trouble is, you see, Perfection just doesn't live up to its name – it's a dying town, literally, plagued by "Graboids", 30 foot long subterranean carnivorous worms. As a franchise, we're not talking the grimness of de Ossorio's Blind Dead tetralogy here. Nor are we sitting through repetitive stalk and slash clichés of Friday the 13th. Naw, with the Tremors series of films, think the fun-filled giant bug romps of the 50s mixed with the knowing black humour (yet still playing it dead straight, admittedly with the occasional wink to camera) of Larry Cohen's It's Alive flicks, with the action adventure elements, oddly nostalgic atmosphere and charming naivete of Don Coscarelli's brilliant Phantasm films.

Tremors

Shot on a pretty modest budget by a first time director, Tremors is one of those films that if you saw it back in the day as a young tacker, you probably still have a certain degree of fondness for. It completely lacks pretention of any sort and wants you to enjoy it for what it is: a highly entertaining and enjoyable popcorn-muncher which delivers laughs and edge-of-the-seat tension in equal amounts.

Val (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) are the local handymen who are pretty damned dissatisfied with their lot in life. Putting up barbed wire fences, collecting garbage, pumping sewage – it just ain't enough for them. They want out – they want the glitz and glamour of big city life.

Enter: Rhonda (Carter), a grad student interested in seismology who's been getting some pretty weird readings on her equipment. Earl is a good buddy to Val, he wants his younger pal to do better for himself, and early on he seems to think that Rhonda, with all that book-learning, might be that something better. Val ain't listening, being fixated on the shallower desires of the male of the species. He is, as Earl puts it, a victim of his pecker.

We also meet early on Burt Gummer (Michael Gross from Family Ties playing so against type it'll make your head spin, and your colon collapse, with laughter) and his wife Heather (Country and Western singer Reba McEntire) – a pair of fruitcake survivalists with an arsenal to make Arnie's John Matrix in Commando look like the rankest of amateurs.

We have our principle characters sorted? Fuckin' go man, go! The director wastes no time getting into the action. Val and Earl decide to leave to leave town and head to the bright lights and big city of Bixby for good – they even turn down payment in free beer – but they're stymied at every turn by finding corpses on their way out of the "city" limits. The town drunk is found up an electricity pylon, dehydrated and clutching a rifle, a local farmer is discovered buried up to his neck in sand (although on closer investigation, turns out there ain't nothing below the neck…), some local road-workers meet a sticky end – and Rhonda's seismographs have been going nuts in the meantime. There's something suspicious going on, and it's probably been going on below ground…

Our boys have found a monster, but things haven't got as bad as they're going to – oh no. It's worth mentioning a few other things at this point: Ward and Bacon's comic interplay is pretty damned funny, given some good dialogue by a whip-smart script delivered by some top-notch character actors, and the relentless, practically delirious, pace of the story keeps the audience pinned to their chairs waiting for the next big boo-scare. And best of all, all the special effects are on-screen ones, prosthetic, appliance and scale model – not a hint of CGI to be seen. The goo and the gore (the PG13 version thereof the film provides us with, at any rate) have a weight to them that CG can only hope for. And fail in delivering.

The director has the good common sense to keep the monster off-screen for the first few reels – just like back in the 50s. But when they put in an appearance, it's some good ol' fashioned frightfare like from back in the day. When our rag-tag bunch of heroes realise that their problem is a little bigger than they thought, that's when the story really gets going (and when they realise the scale of their problem) – believe me, it's been no fuckin' slouch up until this point.

And then we realise that there's more than one of these things. And, oh boy, do they stink. And that these here bad boys hunt via vibration. Not too cool when you consider that when we walk on the face of the planet, we make vibrations…

We then get the expository dialogue scene every 1950s sci-fi horror flick has prepared us for – what are they? Where do they come from? And this is one thing I love about these films – there's no answer given. There can't be given the low level of technology/information we have – are they radioactive mutations? Are they from outer space? Bio-weapons developed by the military? Are they prehistoric creatures suddenly re-awakened? Who knows? And in terms of enjoying this film, who cares?! Now it's a matter of survival that's paramount. And do we have time for a cockamamie half-baked plan? Of course we do! It's a creature feature after all!

This is about the point where I really fell in love with this film. We get to see Michael Gross the stanchion of PC parenting in Family Ties turn into a gun-obsessed nutcase whose prime motivation is high-velocity fire-power. Fuck that hippy-throwback TV sit-com shit in its stupid arse – here is violence! Favourite line of the movie: "You didn't get penetration, even with the elephant gun!" Why does this make me laugh so much?!

By the time you've got to the end of this film, if you don't have a big ol' smile across your face and a spring in your step – you've got problems – it's 50s horror done for the early 90s, and done well.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks

The scene has shifted to Petromaya Oil Field, Chiapas, Mexico, some 7 years after the events of the first film. We see some poor schmoe trying to negotiate his way across the field without treading on the ground, and then some just sub-soil burrowing following him, Guess who's paying the unlucky miners an unexpected and decidedly unwelcome visit?

Speaking of visits, old Earl (reprised by Fred Ward from the first film) is about to be paid one back in Perfection. Earl's become an ostrich farmer, and a spectacularly bad job he's making of it, too. We find out that Earl and Val briefly became celebrities after eliminating the Graboid colony under Perfection, and so Ortega, the boss of the company who own Petroyama, wants to employ him as a Graboid hunter, offering a bounty of $50 000 for each carcass, and $100 000 for a live one. And they'll have the support of the Mexican army. Grady, Ortega's chauffer becomes Earl's partner, lacking all the laconic charm Kevin Bacon brought to the role of Val.

The boys get to Mexico, and get to work. The pacing is not as taut as the first film, and the script and camerawork lack the flair Underwood brought to the original as well. I'm not saying it's a bad film, but it does lack a certain something, even three chapters into the film. Earl and Grady meet the other main players – Julio, a scientist, Pedro, a miner who speaks no English, and Kate, a seismologist (two seismologists in two films – who'd a thunk it?).

Earl and Grady go Graboid-hunting, but things have gotten a little more high-tech since last time – a little more… Earl, now possessing a large amount of dynamite courtesy of the Mexican army uses a remote controlled toy car to deliver it straight into the slimy maw of the Graboids they encounter – and a rain of guts ensues. A cheap laugh, but a good one every time. However, the boys eventually find themselves greatly outnumbered – who can they call for reinforcements? The Mexican Army? Naaah. A crazed and depressed survivalist whose wife has just left him? You betcha baby! Time for Burt Gummer to put in a much valued re- appearance – it's Michael Gross in full loony mode to the rescue! And the arsenal he brings with him makes that in the first film look like a couple of ten-ball shooters and a Catherine wheel.

And this is about the point where the sequel adds a new dimension to the Graboids. We get introduced to how the Graboids reproduce, and how they can evolve – it's a nifty idea, I must say. Kinda like the way in which Amando de Ossorio kept trying to re-invent his Templars in each film, well, the same kind of thing happens in the Tremors films, too. Am I gonna tell you how they've evolved? No.

What I will tell you is that the monsters have now become more numerous, and our heroes are in a greater plight than before, numbers-wise. And after a wild night's escapade, Burt, for the first time in his life, is out of ammo! Things are looking grim…

And then there's a third stage of evolution revealed to us – no, I'm not telling what that is either – all I'm saying is: don't feed the motherfuckers!

As we lead to our climactic showdown, all that this reviewer can say is poorly rendered CGI really sucks. It jars you out of the movie once you realise you're looking at something that doesn't actually exist in a physical form off-screen. And this stuff with the (as they're referred to) "shriekers" really doesn't look even three fifths realistic. Michael Gross and Fred Ward carry this film – charisma counts for a lot.

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

We start off in El Chaco, Argentina, 11 years after the events of the first film, and Burt has finally (Reggie Bannister-style) become the hero, emulating the tactics of both Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn, and Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in the North African campaign (odd choices for an American, I would have thought). With his twin .50 calibre machine guns, he fucks up a whole bunch of shriekers and basically becomes the Big Man. But when he returns to Perfection, he becomes rapidly annoyed by the fact that the people have not kept up their duties in watching for future Graboid infestations. Instead, they've cashed in on the whole deal – not the done thing. That's human self-interest for you.

Not only that, but some slimy real estate arseholes (has their ever been a sympathetic cinematic depiction of a real estate agent?) are planning on carving up Perfection Valley and turning it into a series of housing development areas (remember how that worked to a similar effect in Poltergeist?). Anyway, one of the prime profit-offenders is Desert Jack (Burt: "Who is this yahoo?") with his partner-in-slime, the witless Buford, a cheap huckster who runs a Graboid theme-park, and takes people out on bogus Graboid Safaris to turn a quick buck.

In the time that Burt has been gone, he's had himself built an anti-Graboid bunker, lots of reinforced concrete below, steel fence above, and plenty of surprises for any unwary subterranean intruders. Even though the townsfolk deride him for it, homeboy knows what's what, and even if Michael Gross hams up the portrayal of everyone's favourite survivalist for all that he's worth, it's still tremendously entertaining over-the-top stuff.

For the fans, we get many of the cast of the original film back on board, which is kind of nice for a bit of a nostalgia kick (let me tell you Mindy grew up real nice…), kind of like when the original Michael came back for Phantasm 3. And while this does give the film a bit of credence it might otherwise have lacked, it doesn't make up for the flabby pace or the all-too-obvious satire on consumer-culture the film beats us over the head with.

The Graboids of course return, and thankfully, we plunge straight back into action-land. Burt, of course, has seismographic equipment and knows to get down to brass tacks straight away. It's time for a Graboid hunt! And they're going with all the latest in remote-controlled car technology – and Burt's special blend of explosives. The Feds turn up telling Burt and co that the Graboids are an endangered species (another great cliché of our time – just like the EPA guy Peck in Ghostbusters or Carter Burke in Aliens, authority trying to protect the bad-guys – harking back also to the evil scientist stereotype of the 1950s, trying to protect the monster for the sake of science), and banning the good guys from killing them, due to an alternate agenda.

The options are simple – either the Feds capture a Graboid, or the townsfolk have to get re-located, due to eminent domain. Jack negotiates a deal to do so with the J Edgars, which leads to Burt delivering the best line of the entire series to him: "Just one question…is your head up your ass for the warmth?" Zing! The hunt is initially unsuccessful (that is such a euphemism), but Burt manages the most revolting escape from the Graboids possible. Chainsaws, is there anything they can't do?

So now we have Graboids and Shriekers – uncool to the max for our heroes. I must say at this point, that the CG is mildly better than the second film, but still not great, and does tend to make you go, "hmm". Oh, how I look back on the halcyon days of on-screen effects. Around this point, we have the notion raised that albino livestock can't raise families, and it's an important plot-point, people! Pay attention! One of the Graboids is albino (who they nick-name "El Blanco"), and therefore…

Anyway, there's another phase in the Graboids evolutionary cycle that we get to be privy to (will I tell you – nope), and the story gets even more grim. Just when you think you're safe – wrong motherfucker! The CG rendering is still fucking awful, by the way. But I guess when the new bad guys are named "Ass-blasters", you know you're in the presence of greatness.

I've never seen a port-a-loo as an impenetrable fortress before and I probably never will again apart from in this film. Our heroes get down to a desperate last stand, really McGuyvering their weapons out of practically nothing, and you kinda know how it's going to end, given the 50s bug movie feel, but despite that, the tension is still there. All's said and done, this is as silly and goofy as the previous two films in the cycle, but the DTV nature of it does tend to lessen the impact. Most of the film is carried by Michael Gross' bravura performance as Burt – without him it would have been a bit of a sub-standard pot-boiler. He somehow manages to make it more than that.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

Ahhh, the prequel. What I like about this film is that is set in the late 19th century – cowboys versus Graboids? Fuck yeah! And it still stars Michael Gross? FUCK yeah!!! This is the business. I mean, it's not Deadwood, but it's Tremors set in the Wild Weird West. Again there's the DTV feel, but it's not exclusive to pleasure.

Nevada, 1889. The town is now called "Rejection" (not the most inviting of names), but the Graboid problem is still the same. Rejection is a mining town, and the miners are being picked off by something nasty that lives underground. Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross, in God-mode again) turns up to make sure that the mine still keeps turning over a profit. Of course, everybody else has fucked off by this point, so his presence should be seen as redundant, but I guess that we're looking at things with a more Marxist viewpoint now.

This previous incarnation of Burt wants all of the miners present, so as to make it plain the miners aren't at risk – a pipe-dream, to put it mildly. And so he leads 'em into the mine, his being a big city slicker and all, and not having a full understanding of the whole situation. Camping down for the whole night with accordion accompaniment appears to be the best idea. Except that the Graboids hunt via sound, of course. We know it, but the boys don't. Splatter ensues.

So, we're in the Wild West and need someone to take care of the Graboids? Let's hire us a gunslinger! Enter: Billy Drago as Black Hand Kelly, uber-bad-ass gunfighter. He'll show us what to do! Of course, it takes longer than a month for him to arrive, and all the while we have to imagine Graboid badness is happening.

We do tend to attend patiently while time passes in horror films, but here it's kind of overt, and annoying. It's not building tension, it's drawing out the running time. But in terms of this particular franchise, it's amusing to watch Burt's pacifist ancestor being taught how to kill things, especially by Billy Drago, everyone's favourite psychopath. It's kind of wryly amusing to hear a bunch of lines directed at Hiram by Kelly, which Burt spouts earlier on in the series.

Hiram leaves town, but returns in spectacular fashion with a cache of arms even the Terminator would be proud of. So it's terrans versus the subteranneans for the final (in terms of this film franchise) time. And it's an amusing splatter-filled climax. Next film, please!

Apparently there has been talk of another Tremors film and there was even a 13 episode TV spin-off, but film-wise, nothing has eventuated as of yet. Y'know, on reflection, I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
Video
Good. Each film in the series is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. And a sharp picture it is, too, on all 4 films (with the first one you get a very clear idea when watching the doco or the trailer exactly how much the picture has been cleaned up).
Audio
Also good. The 5.1 is probably the way to go in the films that have it; just so as you can feel the action as it's going on. The 2.0 on the others is adequate. Tremors, Tremors 3 and Tremors 4 come with 5.1 options, while it's 2.0 only for Part 2.
Extra Features
Tremors: The Making of Tremors (an interesting one for the fans, due to its comprehensive nature for the first film only – at just under an hour long, it's worth your watch), a featurette from back in the day when the film was made (also a decent watch, even if the narrator sounds like he's talking to the terminally retarded), some outtakes (some interesting things for the real completists), the theatrical trailers, Production photos, on-set profiles for Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire (where was Fred Ward's?), and a trailer for Tremors 2: Aftershocks. Speaking of which, Tremors 2: Aftershocks has basically no Extras, just the same trailer – again. Annoying. I started to be reminded of my R4 box set of Friday the 13th 1-8, where there's a cool doco on the disc of the first movie, and then the other seven are essentially vanilla discs, with the occasional extra feature here or there. Anyway, with Tremors 3: Back to Perfection we get a bit of a featurette (filmed on-set for some part, off-set for most of it), and trailers for Tremors, Tremors 2: Aftershocks and Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. With Tremors 4: The Legend Begins you actually get a full length feature commentary with the director, as well as a featurette: You're on the set of Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. All over it's not an offensively bad feature package, but I've seen better.
The Verdict
A fun-filled pack of entertainment, the Tremors Attack Pack is well worth picking up. You'll have many laughs, leap off your seats at all the appropriate moments and generally have a whale of a time. Buy it and have a blast.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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