Franchise with Me: Tremors w/ Michael Kohn

They don’t make monster movies like they used to in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but back in 1990, S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock brought back that lost genre with the insanely fun and stupid romp, Tremors. It was a throwback to an earlier time when monster movies could exist solely as entertainment without having to be all metaphorical and depressing (Alien & Aliens – corporate greed, The Thing – fear of communism, Terminator 2 – back to corporate greed).

I recently saw Tremors for the first time in early 2019 and really enjoyed how breezy and low stakes it was. I figured I should also check out the sequels because, how bad could they really be?

Tremors, the original, is the only decent film in the entire 7 film franchise. CORRECTION – Tremors, the original, is the only film in the entire 7 film franchise that isn’t tear your fucking eyeballs out terrible. Not only terrible, Tremors is a mind-numbingly boring series, that just repeats its formula over and over and over again, missing every storytelling opportunity available and not even a move like pivoting the story to the 1800s or South Africa or snow-covered Canada can save it. And once Jamie Kennedy hops on board your franchise, you know you’re in deep shit. And once Jamie Kennedy gets replaced by fucking Napoleon Dynamite in your franchise, you know you’re in even deeper shit.

For this article, I could think of no one better to accompany me for my descent into cinema hell than my co-worker, sketch comedy writing partner and seriously one of my best friends, Michael Paul Kohn. Some of you may know him as Pastor Mike but none of you know him late for a greasy sack lunch from Wendy’s.

Throughout this article the text in BLUE will represent my analysis while the text in RED will represent his.

Let’s get started with the movie that started it all…

Tremors

directed by: Ron Underwood ; screenplay by: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock

starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Victor Wong, Bobby Jacoby, Arianna Richards.

runtime: 96 minutes (shortest entry)

release date: January 19, 1990

other movies released that year: Home Alone, GoodFellas, Pretty Woman, Total Recall, Dances with Wolves, The Witches, Arachnophobia, Jacob’s Ladder, Ghost, Misery, Problem Child, Miller’s Crossing, Days of Thunder, The Hunt for Red October, Dick Tracy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kindergarten Cop, Gremlins 2, Joe Versus the Volcano.

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

I think it’s hilarious that the shortest entry of this franchise is the original, but it totally makes sense. Ron Underwood’s 1990 sci-fi classic is a lean, mean, thrill-ride machine. Unlike the sequels, it knows it’s not deep and doesn’t even try to be. Tremors only tries (and succeeds) to deliver fun thrills for just over an hour and a half, and that’s really all it needs to do. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward make a winning duo and Victor Wong, Michael Gross and the Queen of Broken Hearts herself Reba McEntire provide passable character work.

Sure there are a few things wrong with it. The lead female character, played by Finn Carter, is so horribly underwritten you forget she exists. I can’t even remember anything she did in the movie, I watched this just three weeks ago. Most of the effects are pretty cheap looking although they are Rick Baker-quality compared to what comes next in the six sequels. Kohn, what did you think?

For a movie that involves underground monsters, 99% of it is on the surface. That is a brilliant turn of phrase, good job Kohn, thanks Kohn. Tremors is silly, stupid, and short. Perfect for a USA or TNT showing on a Sunday afternoon in 1998. It came out at exactly the right time, before 90s action movies inexplicably became 2 hours long. But that is about the only compliment I can give it. The monsters are cool, but the orange guts and the actors constantly referencing to the stench gets tiresome. They also say the word “plan” a noticeable amount in the film, like 20+ times.

Most of the characters in the movie are fairly useless, either serving as worm food or foil. Kevin Bacon’s character, Val, feels like a real person. Maybe it’s the real Kevin, coming up to the surface, like a Graboid. It was a surprise to see a young Ariana Richards running away from prehistoric beasts. Years later she would go on to run away from better-funded prehistoric beasts, as Lex in Jurassic Park. All in all, this is a movie that I thought I loved, but upon re-watch, I think I will pass.

Up next, Fred Ward and Michael Gross are back for the first of many terrible sequels.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks

directed by: S.S. Wilson ; screenplay by: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock.

starring: Fred Ward, Christopher Gartin, Helen Shaver, Marcelo Tubert, Michael Gross.

runtime: 97 minutes

release date: April 9, 1996 (straight to VHS)

other movies released that year: Scream, Twister, Fargo, A Time to Kill, Romeo + Juliet, Mars Attacks!, Swingers, Jack, Dunston Checks In, From Dusk till Dawn, Barb Wire, Space Jam, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Jingle all the Way, The English Patient, The Cable Guy, Joe’s Apartment, Sling Blade, Matilda.

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

Tremors 2: Aftershocks, a movie nobody asked for, but we received anyways. Starring Fred Ward and not Kevin Bacon, this slightly boring $5 bin film is actually not that bad. In this follow up, the Graboids have some new tricks up their sleeves, now they can walk on land and see heat, look out! (Side note: I hate the name “Graboid” and I think it is a big reason the franchise failed as a whole) But let’s get to the real monsters in this film, the casting director, costumer, director, and actor that were all responsible for the character of Grady Hoover.

The moment this Kevin Bacon replacement shows up on screen, I wanted the movie to stop. He is one of the worst characters in cinema history. I hated his bucket hat, open bowling shirt, and fingerless leather gloves. His dialogue was written by a can of Jolt Cola, and his inspiration for the character was a Slim Jim. He is all the worst parts of the 90s rolled into one clove cigarette.

Also they made the female lead a Doctor AND a former Playboy model, because of stupidity.

EXACTLY! Graboids is a terrible name. These things should be called “Tremors” because the fucking franchise is called Tremors! And hey, I know tremors means vibrations/shakes in the ground, but you can also call the creatures that! Why not call the movie Graboids if that was the plan?

Producers really dropped the ball here, much like Fred Ward’s character dropped the ball by having liberal Hollywood screw him out of all of his royalties. At least that’s the vibe I get from this storyline development. I can almost see it now, some four-toothed shit-kicker watching a dirty VHS copy of this with his grandson saying “Yeppp. That’s HollyWEIRD for ya! They take all your hard work and money and use it to fund pizza parlor pedophiles!”

Anyway, this is probably one of the least offensive sequels of the franchise and I think a good debt is owed to the always reliable Fred Ward. The Kevin Bacon replacement is indeed terrible, but doesn’t hold a candle to what came next…

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

directed by: Brent Maddock ; screenplay by: S.S. Wilson, Nancy Roberts.

starring: Michael Gross, Susan Chuang, Shawn Christian, Arianna Richards.

runtime: 104 minutes (longest entry)

release date: October 2, 2001 (straight to VHS)

other movies released this year: Pearl Harbor, Thir13en Ghosts, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Spirited Away, Hannibal, Out Cold, Monsters, Inc., Not Another Teen Movie, Shrek, Mulholland Drive, Memento, A Beautiful Mind, Joe Dirt, Legally Blonde, The Animal, How High.

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

The fact this movie has the scrotes to subtitle itself “Back to Perfection” really makes me want to fan mail Michael Gross pictures of my stretch marks. If “perfection” means a movie so mind-numbingly stupid, obnoxious and glacially paced you actually start looking forward to work the next morning, then I’d say the producers nailed it. If “perfection” means something that is at bare minimum an enjoyable distraction from the never-ending rat race of city life, then I’d beg to differ.

“Perfection” is also the name of the small town in Nevada where the original takes place, so I’m starting to realize maybe it just means they’re starting back at square one. Great idea in theory, seeing as though the first sequel was trash, but this ends up being even worse. And by worse, I mean the single worst entry of the entire franchise. This might be one of the worst films ever made.

The first in a long list of mistakes is transitioning Michael Gross’ gun-toting, Libertarian jackass front and center as the franchise lead. He’s probably the fifth or sixth most interesting character in the original film, and for some reason he’s the Jesus producers have chosen to lead the franchise into the promised land. Basically a less animated and funny Dale Gribble, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) is a paranoid, self-aggrandizing moron you could definitely see accosting you in Walmart for wearing a mask.

While it’s a relief the franchise decided to drop their Kevin Bacon replacement, the horribly annoying Grady Hoover (Christopher Gratin), they’ve replaced him with someone even more grating. Enter Susan Chuang as Jodi Chang, an actress who performs every moment like she showed up fall over drunk to an open casting call. Her loud screechy voice and terrible comedic timing, make her prime Graboid-Meal material, but alas, the film doesn’t kill her.

Rounding out the cast is the little girl from Jurassic Park, who reprises her role in the original as some girl, now a woman who lives in town? Sorry, the writers don’t really give her a lot depth. We also get another appearance from the troublemaking boy of the original, now a successful land developer who comes back to buy the town and make a cuck out of Burt Gummer. Finally, we are introduced to a new and controversial breed of graboids called the “Ass Blasters” whose fiery methane diarrhea propel them into the sky to fly.

This is terrible, terrible, garbage, a movie where I felt myself actively aging while watching. I felt my bones getting weaker, my skin getting looser and I think I might have even gotten a grey hair. I hate this movie and would rather watch Halloween: Resurrection three times in a row than revisit it. Kohn, what did you think?

I couldn’t agree more with Margetis. Michael is one of my closest friends, and I really enjoy watching movies with him. But I don’t think either of us experienced an ounce of enjoyment sitting through this movie. We usually crack some jokes, laugh, but I am pretty sure we were silent for 99% of the runtime. And I legitimately cannot remember anything specific thing from this film other than it was terrible.

It cemented Michael Gross as the hero of the franchise and a Libertarian nightmare. Truly a man without country, and a franchise without demographic. Who is this movie for? Kids? old men? manifesto authors? The jokes are literally all farts once the ass-blasters show up and the plot is the EXACT SAME as the first movie. And the filmmakers expected us to be amazed that all the old characters are back (minus Bacon/Ward/Carter). Who gives a shit? Oh wow, Burt Gummer’s basement, I remember that! Shout out to the re-used footage of a Graboid exploding out of the ground from the first movie.

One of the worst movie experiences I have ever had.

Up next, Tremors goes back in time the wild wild west!

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

directed by: S.S. Wilson ; screenplay by: Scott Buck.

starring: Michael Gross, Sara Botsford, Brent Roam, Ming Lo, Lydia Look, Sam Ly, J.E. Freeman, Billy Drago, August Schellenberg.

runtime: 101 minutes

release date: January 2, 2004 (straight to DVD)

other movies released that year: Sideways, Arizona Summer, Million Dollar Baby, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Day After Tomorrow, The Village, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Polar Express, The Butterfly Effect, Ladder 49, Dodgeball, 13 Going on 30, The Notebook, Eurotrip, Anchorman, Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Saw, The Passion of the Christ.

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

The Tremors franchise goes back in time for this overly long trek through a rented ghost town in California. With nowhere to go, the franchise makes a somewhat clever move and sets our tale 100 years before the events of the first movie. Michael Gross plays his own great grandfather but this time he hates guns?!?! Holy cow Tremors fans!

In all seriousness, after the sheer torture that was Tremors 3, this was a breath of fresh air. It gains back a touch of charm, and was quite watchable. Sure the plot is nonsense, and the fact that no record remains of the Graboids (stupid name) post-incident make no sense, but it was fun damn it. It has inside jokes and running gags galore, and it feels like it was made for true fans of the franchise, whoever they are.

This is my favorite sequel of the franchise while still being a piece of shit. It was hilarious that Michael Gross’ Gummer ancestor character hated guns and it was also super refreshing that he was doing a new character. I wonder how much the decision to set this in the past was Gross, the franchise lead, wanting to do something different. It’s so nice to see Gross not ranting about the government or his fair share or blue lives mattering.

Also on board is delightfully creepy character actor Billy Drago (Frank Nitti from The Untouchables and 6 episodes of Charmed) as badass gunfighter, Black Hand Kelly. Drago is the only actor involved besides Gross to actually do any character work. It’s a shame he dies so early, but you soon forget about him when a Gatling gun is introduced to fuck up the Graboids.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is the best sequel by default, because it’s the only one to do something slightly different.

Up next, Tremors 5: Bloodlines introduces new blood in the franchise with Jamie Kennedy. Time for a blood transfusion, I guess.

Tremors 5: Bloodlines

directed by: Don Michael Paul ; screenplay by: William Truesmith, M.A. Deuce, John Whelpley, C.J. Strebor.

starring: Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Pearl Thusi, Brandan Auret, Ian Roberts, Natalie Becker.

runtime: 99 minutes

release date: October 6, 2015 (straight to streaming)

other movies released that year: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Martian, Spotlight, The Revenant, Inside Out, Anomalisa, Carol, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Witch, The Big Short, Spy, The Hateful Eight.

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

Eleven years after Tremors 4, the best but still bad sequel, they decided to bring back the franchise with Tremors 5: Bloodlines. This installment gives the world of action franchises its’ least interesting character in Jamie Kennedy as Gross’ estranged son, Travis Walker. If Grady’s dialogue in Tremors 2 was written by a can of Jolt Cola, the dialogue of Travis Walker is written by a novelty Bart Simpson quote book from the mid 90s.

The movie is set in South Africa where Graboids have been knocking people off, and it seems like it’s trying to tell a bunch of different stories that just don’t mesh with the Graboid narrative The effects are terrible, the father/son bonding/relationship building scenes are forced and there’s a huge missed opportunity with Burt Gummer’s new reality TV show. Most importantly though, it’s so instantly forgettable. I’m struggling to write this because I barely remember this movie.

The only plus is that the South African setting gives local actors good paychecks and exposure they otherwise might not have had. Besides that, fuck this piece of shit. Kohn, you really loved this one right?

Loved it so much that I got to the end before realizing that I had seen the movie before. I sat through 75% of the movie before remembering that I had seen it a few years prior. That is how forgettable, plot-starved, poorly acted, and redundant this movie is. Everything in it you have seen 100 times before in these movies. Raining guts, some stupid gun talk, Michael Gross’ political asides, and a scene where they fire 1000 bullets. But this time, Jamie Kennedy joins the fray. We are supposed to believe the bloated corpse of Malibu’s Most Wanted is a daredevil videographer who has been “in the shit” in the Middle East. Okey dokey! Fun fact: Jamie Kennedy liked an Instagram post of mine once. So what does that say about me?

Seriously though, Jamie Kennedy is not a bad guy that I know of. He seemingly tries hard. He dated Jennifer Love Hewitt. In all honesty, I admire Jamie Kennedy. Despite everyone telling him to go away, he made it…sort of. It is hard to be a comedian, and even harder to last. So, even if you don’t like him or his work (I don’t), you have to admit, he did it. Guy has been a working actor since an uncredited role as an extra in 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society. People like to shit all over him (myself included), but I bet the dude is pretty happy with himself, and he should be.

Fuck this movie though.

And now we transition from the mud to the snow….

Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell

directed by: Don Michael Paul ; screenplay by: John Whelpley

starring: Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Tanya Van Graan, Jamie Lee-Money, Kairoshan Naidoo.

runtime: 98 minutes

release date: May 1, 2018 (straight to streaming)

other movies released that year: Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Jurassic Park: The Fallen Kingdom, Bohemian Rhapsody, Aquaman, The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, Deadpool 2, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Hereditary, Halloween 2018, Mandy, Annihilation, Burning, Insidious: The Last Key, The Cloverfield Paradox

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

This movie is fascinating. Every character, every line, every directorial choice, every budgetary limitation. Let’s address the elephant in the room, yes this is Tremors On Ice and yes Jamie Kennedy is back. Buckle up, its going to be a stupid ride. Right off the bat, you know you are in for a treat because they shot the ONE snow scene they had in the movie….ON SAND….also you can’t see anyone’s breath.

Then they have to go to the tundra of Canada to stop the Graboids (worst name ever). So they show them flying somewhere, then they are in the forest. But since we established that they are in the tundra, we don’t need to show cold things anymore, just the forest. Nobody wears gloves. Everyone is a cartoon. A man pisses off a tower for 60 seconds. Michael Gross is extra Libertarian.

I truly hate this one, it’s probably the most boring entry of the entire series. Not only is Jamie Kennedy back, we get a forced emotional “don’t you die on me scene” between Kennedy and Gross in the Alaska hospital that is so fucking far from being anything close to resembling emotional.

The other thing I want to point out is this movie’s hatred for doctors, scientists and intellectuals in general. The most cowardly dipshit character is a doctor who has the gall to be afraid of this giant monsters that will most likely kill them all. The amount of swipes they take out doctors and science is depressing. I guess they are playing to their main audience of beer-guzzling, Q-loving, no mask no how proud boys that believe bullets do their thinkin’ for ’em.

Not as bad as 3, but seriously fuck this one.

And now we take a paid vacation to sunny Shrieker Island, the battleground for the final showdown between Gummer and the Graboids.

Tremors 7: Shrieker Island

directed by: Don Michael Paul ; screenplay by: Brian Brightly, Don Michael Paul.

starring: Michael Gross, Jon Heder, Richard Brake, Jackie Cruz, Caroline Langrishe.

runtime: 103 minutes

release date: October 20, 2020 (straight to streaming)

other movies released that year: NOT Dune, NOT Halloween Kills, NOT James Bond, APPARENTLY? Wonder Woman 1984, Tenet, NOT Candyman, NOT A Quiet Place 2, NOT Black Widow, NOT The Conjuring 3, NOT Fast & Furious 9, NOT The French Dispatch, First Cow

BLUE = Margetis ; RED = Kohn

Wow, hot diggity! This one has better production value than the original. Must be that Netflix money. Besides being well shot, there’s really nothing to recommend about this seventh (and possibly last?) entry. It’s terribly written, the effects are garbage and the acting is as eye-gougingly insufferable as ever.

This one takes place at an exclusive rich people island resort where a billionaire playboy (Mandy and 3 From Hell‘s Richard Brake – usually great, quite bad here) has wrangled up a bunch of grabboids and ass-blasters for his wealthy guests to safely hunt in confined spaces a la Dick Cheney. As you probably already guessed, the plan backfires and they have to bring in Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) to sort things out.

Jamie Kennedy is gone and has been replaced by Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder. Heder is super lame and really makes you appreciate Kennedy. His lines here are so stupid they made my brain melt, but not nearly as stupid as the Gummer zingers – “Does a wild bear shit in the woods and wipe its ass with a white rabbit?” Gummer jokes as if us imagining a bunny covered head to toe in bear feces is supposed to make us forget about the war in Iraq.

Finally, after 7 films and 20 years in the franchise, old Mr. Gross hangs his hat up. Burt Gummer is eaten by a Graboid, and for a character I straight up hated for 7 films…I feel sad. It’s truly the end of an era. I will always question the government’s motives in his honor.

As much as I loathe these movies, I hope they do one more. I hope they bring back Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Reba McEntire to attend Gummer’s funeral, except Gummer is now re-incarnated as a Graboid, but a good Graboid that helps them fight other Graboids attacking the funeral. The Gummeroid would be like a slimy, fat and non-speaking version of Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Reba would even have a striptease scene with him. What do you think, Kohn, of both my assessment of Tremors 7 as well as my pitch for Tremors 8: Gummeroid’s Gummeral?

Not to get too wistful, but Michael Gross’ somewhat unceremonious exit from the Tremors franchise made me sad. It made me feel sad for him. He clearly loved playing Burt Gummer for the last 30 years, and people loved him in the role. I have been thinking a lot lately about getting older and the end of this movie struck a chord with me. Michael Gross is 73 years old, by no means a dead man, but also not much of an action star anymore. He runs slow, he is stiff and brittle. But it makes me sad to imagine him, upset that he won’t be coming back. Who knows though, maybe he is done, has plenty of money, and doesn’t care.

I don’t know. Maybe I am putting too much thought into a movie franchise that sucks? But I can’t help but think that one day, each of us will see our own real-life Burt Gummer for the last time. Be it a faithful pet, a pal, a parent, or a partner, there will be one last time with someone who we always expected would be there. Worst part is, you never know when that last moment is happening before it is already gone, and Michael Gross is being swallowed by a giant CGI pre-Cambrian life form. God speed Burt. I cried writing this. Hug your loved ones.

Damn dude, you really loved these movies.

FINAL WORDS & RANKING

While it might not be representative of the worst humanity has to offer, it’s definitely representative of the worst cinema has to offer. I’m not being a hyperbole fuck boi when I say this is hands down the most insufferable franchise I’ve ever fought and clawed to get my way through. These sequels aren’t just bad, they’re soul-crushing and a chilling reminder of the vibrant stupidity of our moviegoing neighbors. They walk among us, guzzling Mountain Dew and doing Borat impressions, and they must be stopped. By force and by law.

Grade: F

  1. Tremors (1990) – 7/10
  2. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004) – 3.5/10
  3. Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996) – 3/10
  4. Tremors 7: Shrieker Island (2020) – 2/10
  5. Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015) – 1.5/10
  6. Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell (2017) – 1/10
  7. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001) – 1/10

This movie franchise is terrible. Flat out awful. I would never watch any of these movies again. But it put things into perspective for me. We can’t understand the things others hold dear, and somewhere out there, these are someone’s favorite 7 films of all time. I will never understand that person, probably would never be friends with that person, but I respect that person. However, I do not respect the writers and directors that worked on this franchise and couldn’t come up with any other ideas except “now they can fly” “now that can sense heat” “now it is in the snow”. These movies were written by a child with a potato gun in his hand, Cheetos dust on his fingers, and skidmarks in his underwear.

Grade: F

  1. Tremors (1990) – 6.5/10
  2. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004) – 4.5/10
  3. Tremors 7: Shrieker Island (2020) – 3.5/10
  4. Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996) – 3/10
  5. Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015) – 2/10
  6. Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell (2017) – 1/10
  7. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001) – 1/10

On the Next Franchise with Me

My former Dawson’s Queefer and life long friend, Ty Thursby and his 2-year-old daughter, Ella, join me for all 5 of the Home Alone movies. Yes, they made 5.

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