Pitching a movie about a desert town filled with no-hopers who encounter a strange beast rumbling around below the earth and combat them by blowing them up like pumpkins (and they literally seem to be made of pumpkin flesh), seems to be quite a tough idea. With the top billing going to two little-known (at least at the time) actors and the story a mix of horror and farce, how did anybody ever think this movie was going to work? Funnily enough Tremors turned out to be something of a cult classic, a truly enjoyable little b-movie and so popular that it spawned not one but three sequels. Is that such a good thing however?
The first movie introduces us to Earl and Valentine, two good for nothing jack of all trades, master of none cowboys who are desperate to escape their lives out in the middle of the desert, in a valley misleadingly called Perfection. Just as they are on their way out, however, they find that something is amiss - the latest seismologist is down taking readings which are off the chart and the 'townsfolk' keep dying in mysterious circumstances. Pretty soon they discover giant worm-like beasts tunnelling below the ground, sensing movement above and bursting out through the earth to massacre whatever they come across and it is up to them and a few other innovative locals to save the day.
Considering the limited budget and relatively thin story, Tremors is actually a great little b-movie classic. Funny, gory and enjoyable throughout, it works mainly because of the relationship between the two leads (played by a young Kevin Bacon and an older Fred Ward) and the way in which in never quite takes itself too seriously (even if its leads do). The creature looks like something out of Empire Strikes Back and the effects are sometimes little more than gas being blasted out of the earth to make it look like there is a creature riding around underground but none of that really matters because the movie is a whole lot of fun.
Tremors 2: Aftershock picks up some time after the end of the first movie. When the now so-called 'Graboids' reappear in Mexico and start causing trouble, Earl is recruited, reluctantly, to go hunting. He joins forces with a motley crew of young morons and gets tooled up by the Mexican Army, riding around taking down the beasts for cash. Earl even gets a love interest this time, although given the character's (and the actor's) age, she isn't exactly the 'babe' that they call her. The Graboids also evolve into a strange CGI cross between something out of Jurassic Park and a chicken and look much worse than they did even in low budget model form.
The movie is considerably worse than the first one, with Fred Ward unable to carry the story even over its short duration and exhibiting only a fraction of the verve of his former self. It does not help that the plot is much worse (anything involving remote control cars with bombs strapped to them is scraping the barrel - as the fifth Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool, clearly showed) and that the whole movie looks much more low budget (even if it was probably made on comparatively the same sum, it is far less stylish). Also, the young replacement for Kevin Bacon is lame and the aforementioned 'babe' looks like she is pushing fifty (and she's no Michelle Pfeiffer). Michael Gross' Burt also returns, making the movie slightly more interesting, but he still can't save what is ultimately a vastly inferior sequel.
Tremors 3: Back to Perfection sees only one 'central' character return, Michael Gross' gun-obsessed Burt from the previous movies, although we also get two of the previous minor child characters (the girl - Ariana Richards - and boy - Robert Jayne - from the first movie) now all grown up and trying to carry the plot themselves this time. The story follows Burt's return home to Perfection Valley, where he finds that - not only have the Graboids (and their chicken-like spawn, the Shriekers) returned - but they have further evolved into, wait for it, flight. Yes, they can fly. Worse still, I think one of the characters even suggests that they call them 'ass blasters'.
Hmmm, this is a terrible movie that really has nothing good going for it. Even the sequel tried to run with a slightly different story but, especially since this is back in the same town, this movie plays just like a poorer rehash of the first, with the townsfolk fending off the creatures from atop their crumbling rooftops. Lame.
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is a prequel to the other movies, set in the Wild West era where we see the town of Perfection (then called Rejection) was still beset by the creatures even way back when. After some mineworkers are attacked, the dirt town looks to be on the brink of death when a wealthy stranger arrives. This arrogant, posh idiot blusters his way around town, trying to get to the bottom of the reason why nobody wants to go back in the mine and, of course, eventually suffers some kind of Scrooge-like rejuvenation to redeem himself in the process.
Michael Gross returns for this movie, this time as Hiram Gummer, his previous character - Burt's - Great-grandfather and he is actually slightly more interesting as a prim-and-proper variation of his former self than he was in the other movies, which is actually quite fortunate because he has absolutely no noteworthy support from the other cast members. The story plods along at an overly slow pace (which they could have easily avoided by trimming it down to ninety minutes) but the creature effects are slightly better than the overly obvious CGI of the third movie in particular. In comparison with the other sequels, it is not quite as bad as you would expect, but it is still a paltry effort when compared with the original classic.