The Tremors franchise has shown remarkable staying power. Since the first film’s release in 1990, the franchise has seen four sequels and a 13-episode TV series see the light of day. Supposedly, Amazon has another TV series on the way, this time featuring original star Kevin Bacon. Tremors and Tremors 2: Aftershocks get most of the praise from fans but Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, which celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this week, deserves some respect as well. It may embrace the comedic elements of the franchise more so than its predecessors, but its heart is in the right place and provides some solid entertainment for a direct-to-video creature feature.
The Tremors franchise actually has a special place in my heart. Since I wasn’t old enough to watch R-rated movies, I would roam Blockbuster and look for as many PG-13 horror movies that I could. I eventually stumbled across the first Tremors film and it quickly became one of those movies that I rented at least once a month. Tremors 2 eventually joined it and I double-featured them constantly (Critters was the other big PG-13 horror franchise to get frequent air time in my house). Nostalgia plays a big part in my liking for Tremors 3.
Tremors 3 follows fan favorite Michael Gross’s Burt Gummer back to Perfection, Nevada, the setting of the first film. Since the events of the first film, the town has now become a tourist attraction thanks to “Desert” Jack Sawyer (Shawn Christian), who has created mock-Graboid attack tours for gullible visitors. Though Graboids have been absent from Perfection for over a decade, Burt’s return brings them back. It isn’t long before they begin to evolve again, this time into something even deadlier than Graboids or Shriekers (Except not really; the Ass Blasters are just plain goofy).
Something that has always been admirable about the Tremors franchise has been its regard for continuity. Tremors 3 is even better about that then Tremors 2, seeing several cast members from the first film return. On top of franchise staple Burt Gummer, you’ve got the return of Mindy Sterngood (Ariana Richards, aka Lex from Jurassic Park), Nancy Sterngood (Charlotte Stewart), Miguel (the late Tony Genaro) and even Melvin Plug (Robert Jayne). Screenwriter John Whelpley even introduces Jodi Chang (Susan Chuang), the niece of the first film’s Walter Chang (Victor Wong, who passed away shortly before the film’s release). The actors are game for all of the ridiculousness that is thrown their way, which helps elevate the film above its mediocre script and somewhat limited budget.
Your affinity for Tremors 3 hinges on how much humor you like in your Tremors and how amusing you find the newest Graboid evolution, the Ass Blaster, to be. After all, this creature’s defining characteristic is that it flies after shooting a flame-filled fart out of its butt. Yes, you read that right. Tremors has a comedic element to it, but it mixes in a significant dose of horror to keep it from getting too silly. Even Tremors 2 has some truly frightening moments (the severed arms holding the car window always gave me the willies). Tremors 3 completely eschews the horror elements of the first two films and goes straight for camp. It’s a pure comedy, with the movie emphasizing meta humor even more than the first two (“It’s called a Graboid,” Jack corrects a tourist when he asks to have his picture taken with a “tremor”).
There are some pretty decent set pieces in Tremors 3, the best of which sees Burt hide inside a metal barrel only to be swallowed by a Graboid. Jack proceeds to use a chainsaw to cut Burt out of the Graboid’s stomach. It’s a great bit of gross-out humor, especially for a PG-rated film (and yes, Tremors 3 is rated PG). The climactic battle in the junkyard goes on for a little too long but still contains plenty of amusing moments. Another thing Tremors 3 has going for it is its one-liners. We’re not talking Shakesperean dialogue here, but there’s something inherently funny about Jodi yelling “Ha! Ass Blaster! Blast your own damn ass!” when she kills an Ass Blaster.
It’s not all great in Tremors 3 though. There is some horrendous CGI (close-up shots of the creatures feature practical effects but wide shots and action shots see the aforementioned computer-generated effects) and stilted dialogue mixed in with some questionable acting, but it could be said that that’s part of the movie’s charm. Tremors 3 had a reported budget of $6 million though (pretty high for a DTV release) so it’s disappointing to see the film introduce CGI to the franchise when it probably had the money to get a bit more creative with its practical effects. The pacing of the movie isn’t as tight as that of its predecessors either. It runs about 20 minutes too long (104 minutes) and it takes over an hour for the Ass Blasters to make their first appearance (the Shriekers from Tremors 2 barely factor into the film).
Tremors 3 isn’t high art, but it is a lot of fun and everyone involved has their heart in the right place. You have to admire the commitment and affection everyone seems to have for the film. After 15 years, it’s about time Tremors 3 was shown some damn respect.