What’s this? Burt is back in TREMORS 5!!!
I’m stunned that Tremors has now made it to 5 movies and a TV series. Stunned. Who would have thought the original Jaws in the desert premise could sustain a franchise of this duration- it’s almost 30 years old now, and still going strong. Sure, K-Bacs and Fred Ward abandoned ship long ago, but there’s one man that’s held on: Michael Gross has almost turned Burt Gummer into a cottage industry, and is still playing the grizzled survivalist and paranoid nutter, even he’s approaching Paul Kersey age.
Contains Daddy issues (ugh) and Spoilers below
A quick recap of the series to date: the first Tremors film featured Earl (Fred Ward) and Val (Kevin Bacon), disgruntled Jack of all Trades types and their attempt to survive the attack of the Graboids in the misbegotten town of Perfection, Nevada. The sequel featured Grady and Earl again on a hunting mission in Mexico, assisted by Burt, and the transformation of Graboids into Shriekers. Tremors 3 returned to Perfection, and starred Burt as they fended off Graboids (including albino Graboid El Blanco), Shriekers and their third incarnation the Ass Blaster. The fourth was a prequel played for larks about the first Graboid appearance in the 19th century, and the TV series featured the ongoing adventures of Burt and gang in Perfection. While there was a notable decline in quality between the original and the rest, every incarnation of the franchise so far had something to give enjoyment- even the TV series had the wonderful episode with Burt accused of being a government agent and featured a batty Christopher Lloyd in a mad scientist role. So, the 5th incarnation of a feature-length Tremors is here, and has two problems that instantly become apparent. The first is that it’s called Bloodlines- and nothing, ever, good is called Bloodlines. Secondly, and more worryingly it’s set in South Africa. Nothing screams “CHEAPO” like filming there, not to mention the potential for loads of patronising “noble African” shite is huge.
Funnily enough, it starts off in a very, very promising way. Burt is filming his own survivalist show (events in Tremors 3 eliminated his wealth and he’s now skint- something they carried through the series, and it’s nice to see the franchise referenced here) out in the Mojave desert. He’s approached by a fat “XTREEEEEEME” type called Travis to be his new Cameraman (a very chubby, and virtually unrecognisable Jamie Kennedy), and then, because this is very much an “AND THEN” film, a dodgy South African guy called Van Wyk (Daniel Janks) pitches up looking to hire Burt to deal with an Ass Blaster infestation.
Blithely ignoring Burt’s wise “If you’ve got Ass Blasters, you’ve got Graboids” Van Wyk pilots them to the middle of nowhere and leaves them woefully under prepared (much to Burt’s disgust). Things go completely pear-shaped, and Van Wyk is revealed as an evil poacher looking to sell Graboid eggs on the black market. What follows is easily the most entertaining bit of the film, as he leaves Burt buck naked in a metal cage to be cooked by the sun. Burt endures this trauma with the aid of his video camera, going completely delirious in the heat and recording messages to Reba and his favourite gun. Eventually, he’s rescued by Travis and the hunt begins anew.
So, shenanigans take place, this time the Graboid tentacles can detach, which I’m more than a little bit “meh” about, and, distressingly, Travis is revealed to be Burt’s son- the result of a filthy one night stand at a gun show in Florida. Cue loads of faux-angst from the pair, not to mention some shite dialogue, and a show down against “Queen Bitch” Graboid. Naturally, our intrepid father and son team (and I feel dirty typing that) emerge victorious and finish the movie as the stars of their own reality TV series hunting monsters around the globe.
This is a Tremors film, and not just in name only. There’s real effort paid to make sure that it dovetails with the rest of the franchise, despite being set in Africa, and both the motivation and performance of Burt are spot on. You can genuinely believe that he’s forced to film himself eating snake in the desert because he’s skint, because that’s the sort of thing he would do. Furthermore, Gross plays it in such a way that not only is he doing this, but he likes doing it- it’s the kind of daft enterprise that fits right in with the character that we know so far. It assumes knowledge of the earlier entries in the series without the need for a full prologue, as, quite rightly, they understand that nobody is going to watch Tremors 5 if they haven’t seen the rest of them. Even Travis, who should be the most problematic and franchise killing character, fits right in- he’s gung-ho and gun obsessed and could quite easily be the offspring of Burt. Although, initially, he is grating but eventually he grew on me over the course of the film- although the daddy issues shite makes my ears bleed.
There are a handful of fun sequences- notably the machete v Ass Blaster fight and the grizzled pilot being swallowed whole (referencing the third film), and, as is appropriate for the series, it’s almost entirely bloodless. All in all, this is a solid addition to the franchise and one that I enjoyed for the most part. Nevertheless, I do have some quibbles about the film.
Firstly, the Ass Blaster and Graboid design has clearly been deemed as not intimidating enough so has been redone to be more scary. They dismiss this incongruity with crap about it being the African strain, but really, guys, meh- don’t do this. Particularly when our new Pre-Cambrian lifeform on steroids looks, well, kind of shit and over-engineered. The Ass Blaster in particular looks like a monster out of a video game rather than the simple and more elegant design of the original version. Maybe I’m being pointlessly nostalgic for something that, frankly, wasn’t that good (I’m more than willing to concede that Ass Blasters are a) juvenile and not particularly funny, and b) crap CGI), but this:
is simply too much.
Secondly, the script could have been better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s decent, and some of it verges on inspired (Travis signposting being Burt’s son in the first scene with the reference to his “private collection” and fondness for ridiculous weaponry is both funny and clever), but it misses the original Stampede team. Simply put, the new writers don’t have a handle on Burt’s dialogue, and as such he doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of awesome one-liners that he usually gets. Sure, there’s still a version of the “essential need to know information” line, but it’s a bit mangled, and there’s nothing here that Burt has that’s really on the same level as previous installments. However, having said that, although Gross looks every day of his 69 years of age, he lets the Burty goodness flow and we’ve got the same paranoid nutjob that we’ve grown to love over the rest of the series shining through.
Talking about the performances, Gross is, obviously, good, but so is Jamie Kennedy and Pearl Thusi (Doctor African love interest). Which is just as well, because the narrative is split and both Kennedy and Thusi have as much screen time in their own individual narratives as Burt has. This, incidentally, isn’t a bad thing, as I always feel that Burt shouldn’t really be the hero- he’s a fantastic supporting character, but I don’t believe he was ever intended to have to carry the whole story himself. He’s, dare I say it, a touch one-note and it’s good to see that this film doesn’t make the same mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean films made when they elevated Jack Sparrow to front and centre.
I’ve mentioned being a bit worried about the film wheeling out every single “Africa” trope, and, sadly, it does. There’s an early sequence with the Pilot (Ian Roberts- some kind of cheapo pissed up Burt) relating a shite “everything runs in Africa” story before spitting on his palm to shake Burt’s hand that made me cringe, there’s a dreadful great white hunter type guide, Travis is conned into eating a worm because it’s Africa and therefore everyone eats weird gross shit, and a frankly embarrassing tribal party scene, but I almost think there’s been an opportunity missed. I really, really wanted to see the Graboid eat some wildlife- how cool would it have been to see it chomp down on a fucking Wildebeest or something? If you’re going to wheel out this patronising bollocks, then don’t miss the chance to do the one cool thing the setting allowed.
Having said that, though, after a bit I kind of just let the Africa nonsense wash over me. It’s a strange thing to say, but it feels almost natural to have Graboids as a sort of most dangerous game type animal to hunt, and, therefore, the stealing eggs to flog on the black market schtick sort of made sense to me. What didn’t make sense was that this is South Africa, so there is absolutely no fucking way that Burt would not be able to procure decent Graboid killing weapons, and the film’s weak “the Government confiscated it” nonsense is delivered in such a way that you can tell nobody buys it.
I’m aware that I’m harping on the negative aspects of the film a bit too much here, so I’ll just put this disclaimer in- this is the fifth film in the series, it barely had a budget and the original that spawned the entire franchise wasn’t that successful. Therefore, to even be of any standard at all is a rare old achievement, and to be as actually good as this film is to allow me to nitpick to this extent is a frankly a top draw effort. We always hear from various directors/ writers attached to a much-loved franchise how they were the world’s biggest fan of it, but in this case I actually believe them- there’s a lot of care and attention paid to not shit over everything that preceded this film. Not to mention that there’s no little heart- it’s clearly been a bit of a labour of love.
Overall, Tremors 5 (I’m refusing to call it Bloodlines) is decent. In fact, I’d almost go as far as saying it’s the best of the sequels. It’s not a classic, and nowhere near on the same level as the original, but it’s been made with love, care, and a lot of heart, even if it is missing Stampede entertainment and S.S. Wilson. Therefore, I’m giving it 3 changs and a recommendation- this is a perfectly decent addition to the series, and arguably the best of the sequels so far. Certainly, it’s on a par with 2 and 3 and better than 4 and the TV series.
It’s rare to see a Franchise stumble into the 5th installment (ignoring the TV series for a minute) and still maintain a level of quality- Star Wars couldn’t do it, Alien couldn’t do it, pretty much no Horror Franchise could do it, and I’m stunned that something spawned by a little monster movie over 25 years ago is still going this strong. Personally, I’m hoping that we get a continuation of this, as Tremors 5 is a fine place to start a new chapter of the series and it was simply miles better than it should have been.
Until next time,