JULY 25, 2009
In a way, it’s sort of admirable that the Tremors series has always involved the writing/producing and, with the exception of the first film, directing of S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. Few horror series get that far with the original creators on board; even Whannell and Wan left the Saw series after the 3rd film. But as I watched Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was precisely the series’ problem.
While technically better than the 3rd film, the 4th is structured so familiarly that I got bored before the graboids even showed up (though, it’s worth noting, it takes longer for them to appear than usual, which didn’t help). As always, they can take care of one fairly easily, only to have to constantly think of different ways to stop the “learning” monsters. People stand on secure ground, the market is attacked, an elder character is killed... all the same things that happened in all of the other movies happens again here, beat for beat, scene for scene. I was hoping that by setting it in the Old West that it would inject some fresh blood to the proceedings, but since the town of Perfection has always been a bit out of date by design, it hardly even feels different when the steam engines and horses aren’t on screen.
See, the problem is, they kept changing up the monsters, when it’s the locale itself that had gotten old. Why not send them to suburbia, or a metropolis, or even a lake somewhere? Who the hell cares if they can make smaller ones that fart? This one, being a hundred years ago, more or less keeps the giant ones from the first movie, except they have some tongue type things. And, I am guessing due to the lower budget, they don’t really appear much. There’s an opening scene in which you see nothing, and then two minor attack scenes in the middle before the somewhat abrupt climax.
Instead, we spend most of our time with the characters, who are easily the least interesting group yet. Michael Gross plays Burt’s great grandfather, but he’s sort of an asshole, and the movie is designed to explain why the Gummer family is so interested in guns, as if we really needed to know that. Billy Drago is a hoot as a gunslinger, but he is only in the film for a 25 minute stretch. The only other bright spot is August Schellenberg, who plays a laconic Indian who claims that he was the inspiration for the familiar cigar store Indian statue. This and other moments provide the bulk of the humor, and I should note that it’s easily the least humorous of the series, which is another sore spot. The nice thing about the first and most of the 2nd films was that even when the monsters weren’t around, it was still fun. Not the case here, since the characters aren’t interesting or fun enough to distract you from the lack of graboid action.
I also didn’t buy the end, where the surviving characters agree never to tell anyone about the graboids, thus providing the thinnest possible explanation for how all of this happened without them being discovered (my idea? Just kill all of the humans at the end of this one.). Not only is it generic, but it also doesn’t make much sense - I can see why they wouldn’t tell people from out of town, but why wouldn’t Gummer tell his children, especially when his whole thing is about being prepared? Kind of silly. Killing Gummer at the end, after knocking a woman up to ensure his bloodline, would have made more sense. Of course, that would be a total downer ending for an easy-going, fun series like this, but so what? Mix it up a little!
It’s not a total loss, at least. The score is terrific, not something you can often say about the 3rd DTV sequel to a horror movie. And a few of the little callbacks to the series are worth a grin (I particularly liked seeing how the market came to be). The effects are also the best of the DTV films, utilizing miniatures and puppets while keeping the CGI to a minimum. And even though the monster action itself is largely repetitive, Wilson comes up with a few nice shots to make up for it, like when a wagon goes over a bridge as a graboid smashes its way under it. There’s also a terrific, if a bit preposterous, kill with a giant saw blade stuck into the ground.
But moments do not make a movie. Maybe if this was the only sequel, it would be more of a success, but after 3 movies of this stuff, changing the time period is simply not enough to keep it from feeling like you’ve seen it all before. In fact, the biggest surprise is a commentary track (by Wilson), as I believe it’s the first of the series to have one. It’s not a particularly interesting track; he points out a few bits that have been planned for earlier films (such as a guy on the top of a telephone pole that is being swallowed by a graboid) and interesting shooting locations (under the Hollywood sign!), but he’s also quiet and mellow, so good luck staying awake through the whole thing. The only other extra is a typical and clip-heavy EPK making-of, which is entirely skippable unless you wholeheartedly love the film.
What say you?