You can have too much of a good thing, it seems. The law of diminishing returns could once upon a time be exemplified by the Highlander franchise: a great original movie, sullied by some dull and pointless sequels, spin-off TV shows, and even an animated series aimed at children. If there has ever been a serious contender, however, then it would have to be the Tremors saga.
The original Tremors, released 30 years ago, was a fun and entertaining B-movie pastiche with a comic-horror twist, pitting Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward against giant carnivorous wormlike creatures terrorising the small town of Perfection, Nevada. The film was enough of a success to spawn a Bacon-less sequel, which led to a whole slew of direct-to-video (or DVD) follow-ups, along with a short-lived TV series, as well as an untransmitted pilot (starring Kevin Bacon) for another Tremors show.
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Despite the original film having showcased the double act of Bacon and Ward, the breakout character was the gun-toting doomsday prepper and survivalist Burt Gummer (played by Michael Gross), who – alongside his equally heavily-armed wife Heather (Reba McEntire) – took on the deadly Graboids and helped save the town. The subsequent continuations of the first movie have pushed Burt to the fore, making him the lead character, and the common thread running through the franchise.
Despite the best efforts of the makers, however, nothing has come close enough to capturing the lightning in a bottle that was the original Tremors. Credit must be given for the game efforts to try and expand the scope of the series, by adding in new evolutions of the Graboid creatures, in the form of Ass-Blasters and Shriekers; in addition, a few different gimmicks have been employed, such as making a prequel set in the Old West, along with moving the action to other locations, such as South Africa and Canada’s Nunavut Territory.
However, each return visit has increasingly felt less special, risking tarnishing the first movie by stretching the material too thinly. Still, Hollywood has never traditionally worried about dragging a franchise out beyond its natural longevity if there is still a fast buck to be made, which brings us rather thanklessly to the latest entry in the run, Tremors: Shrieker Island. The wonder of having the feature presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 is that you can hear with crystal clarity every last nail being hammered into the Tremors coffin.
With Tremors: Shrieker Island, we basically have a take on The Most Dangerous Game, using the central idea of a big-game hunt on a remote island, and adding in Graboids and the titular Shriekers. Heading the island trophy hunt is Bill (Richard Brake), the head of a biotech company which has been experimenting on Graboid eggs to genetically modify them. However, things very quickly start to go south when the creatures make their way to an adjoining island, where a scientific expedition has set up a research facility.
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The expedition’s leader – Dr. Jasmine ‘Jas’ Welker (Caroline Langrishe) – realises there is only one man who can help in saving the day: her old flame Burt Gummer. However, as he has gone to ground, she sends her second-in-command – Jimmy (Jon Heder) to find Burt and bring him to the island, before it ends up being too late. Jas, Burt and Jimmy have to go up against not just the smarter and more evolved Graboids and Shriekers, but also the self-absorbed Bill and his party of wealthy amateur hunters.
If you ever found yourself wondering what would happen if there was to be a crossover between Tremors and Napoleon Dynamite, then this is the closest you will likely get, thanks to the presence of Heder, who seems perpetually tarred with the brush which came in the form of playing that geeky lead character. Heder constantly struggles throughout to match the performance levels of other cast, particularly Langrishe, although she does seem at times to be doing it more for the paycheck than any acting cachet or kudos.
As for Brake in the big villain role, his turn could not be any cheesier if he was physically sculpted out of cheddar. With Gross as Gummer, you pretty much know what to expect if you have seen the previous Tremors films or the TV series, and he certainly delivers what the audience wants; however, he also manages to slip in a certain world-weariness, which one might perhaps expect after three decades of fighting off massive killer worms. Too often, continuing series are wont to try and preserve their heroes in aspic, so fair play here for actually acknowledging the passage of time.
The remote location – very Isla Nublar, helped by genetically altered creatures running amok here as in Jurassic Park – is a way of making the whole production look and feel far more expensive than the budget would likely otherwise enable. It also must be said that the VFX work is competently realised, with constant advances in effects technology meaning that straight-to-video (or, nowadays, streaming too) movies are easily capable of holding their own when compared to more expensive theatrical counterparts.
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However, the whole endeavour lacks the distinctiveness or fun to make Tremors: Shrieker Island feel like a worthwhile enterprise, rather than a wholly unnecessary trip to milk an already heavily drained cash cow. The series’ format comes away feeling even more tired than before, and the further it literally gets away from Perfection, the more it also ends up doing so metaphorically. While Tremors: Shrieker Island is by no means a reinvention of the wheel, it does simply leave one wondering whether having added a seventh wheel was absolutely necessary.
With this septenary outing for both Burt Gummer and the Graboids sadly adding nothing other than a natural break point in which to finally (and, perhaps, thankfully) call it a day, Tremors: Shrieker Island brings little of real value to the table. This latest addition to the Tremors saga is quite simply no great shakes.
Tremors: Shrieker Island is is available to own on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD from 16th November from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.