'Tremors: Shrieker Island' Could Mark the End of the Long-Running Franchise (But Probably Not)
(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series where we explore the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition we return once more to the world of Tremors with the sixth (!) sequel, which is currently available on Netflix.)
It’s a new year, and the world of home video sequels continues its slow-motion spread through pop culture. Perhaps fittingly, we start 2021 with a sequel to a long-running franchise that’s now over 30 years old. Impressive! You’d think an article covering a whopping five DTV sequels to the still fantastic Tremors (1990) would be the last word on the topic, but no. Our friends at Universal 1440 Entertainment are back at it with a new entry once again pitting fools against monsters.
And before you ask, yes, of course Michael Gross is back as Graboid hunter extraordinaire, Burt Gummer. Now keep reading for a look at the latest film to feature characters saying the words “ass blaster” with a straight face, Tremors: Shrieker Island!
As explored in more detail elsewhere, the Tremors franchise began at its high point with the 1990 original before dropping into the realm of subpar sequels. They traded down from A-list talent to far less familiar names both in front of and behind the camera, but the stories have remained fairly consistent across those first five sequels – where Graboids go, Burt Gummer follows. The hunt has taken him to Mexico, South Africa, the Canadian Arctic, and even into the past via a sequel (the worst of the bunch by a wide margin) set in 1889, and through it all he’s beat back the monster infestations while cracking wise and complaining at every turn. The creatures have popped up naturally over the years, but humans have played a role before with poor judgement and attempted military applications magnifying the problem again and again.
The DTV Plot
That same mentality kicks off Tremors: Shrieker Island as a biotech engineer turned big game hunter has created an elite hunting experience for extremely wealthy clients. “Biotech is my day job,” says Bill (Richard Brake; Mandy, 2018), “but hunting, that is my passion.” His passion has casualties, though, as the genetically modified Graboids he’s let loose on a remote island have grown, mutated, and spawned an army of Shriekers. The island nearby is home to an elephant rehabilitation center (or something) run by Jas Welker (Caroline Langrishe; Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, 1978) – mother to Burt’s son, Travis – and she immediately calls Burt back into action.
He’s reluctant and living on his own desert island, but Jas’ assistant Jimmy (Jon Heder; Monster House, 2006) makes a compelling argument that he’s needed. By the time they reach the island, though, Bill has already taken control, destroyed the communications equipment, and declared that the hunt must go on. “That ass clown’s a skidmark on our collective underwear,” says Burt, and it’s impossible to disagree with his ridiculous rhetoric. Soon the Graboids and Shriekers are chewing and chomping their way through the island’s human population, and with a lack of serious weaponry to choose from Burt and the others are forced to improvise in their fight for survival.
As is typical of the Tremors sequels, the only returning actor is Gross, who once again dials the hamminess all the way to eleven as the hard-ass Burt. The rest of the cast is new to the franchise, but this time we at least get a few more familiar faces. Heder hasn’t said no to a single acting gig since breaking through with Napoleon Dynamite in 2004, and he does his expected goofy guy shtick here. Brake adds one more villain to his filmography, and while this one’s on the silly side he still gnashes his evil teeth with style. And last but far from least, Orange Is the New Black‘s Jackie Cruz takes on a badass supporting role here as a researcher who grew up on California’s “Murder Mountain.”
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Jamie Kennedy who played Burt’s son Travis in both Tremors 5: Bloodlines and Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018), and it’s because he does not return this time around. His character’s mentioned as being in jail somewhere, and literally nobody seems to care.
On the directing side of things, you’ll be surprised to discover that our old friend Don Michael Paul is once again calling the shots. The man’s grip on the DTV market feels like a monopoly of some sort, albeit over a business few people take notice of, and this marks his eleventh – I said eleventh! – direct-to-video sequel. It’s also his third go in the world of Tremors, and he’s arguably showing a sliver of improvement? Did I end that with a question mark as I can’t quite commit to the statement? Maybe.
How the Sequel Respects What Came Before
Fans of the franchise – they must exist as this thing’s been going for over thirty years – will find more of what they apparently like here. Burt’s still delivering words of wisdom, from “I don’t get women, too many moving parts” to “See, this is the trouble with not having guns.” He’s as endearing as he is obnoxious, and while he was still at his best as a supporting character opposite Reba McEntire he has his charms.
Paul doesn’t go crazy with his visuals, but the move to a tropical locale – beautiful Thailand standing in for the Solomon Islands – raises the film’s look considerably from the past outings (and it’s good to see it move beyond South Africa where the last two were shot). The creature set-pieces are executed well enough, and Paul even introduces the giant Graboid with a low budget version of those memorable Godzilla: King of Monsters visuals as it’s seen against a green flare-lit sky. Toss in some flamethrower and chainsaw carnage, and you have a perfectly okay PG-13 monster movie.
How the Sequel Shits on What Came Before
As with the the previous sequels, well, aside from the garbage one set in the 19th century, it’s hard to really jump all over Shrieker Island with criticisms. It once again can’t compete with the original film, but it stands pretty on par with the other sequels as a series of throwaway characters are fed to the monsters while our likable heroes save the day.
That said, the CG is once again less than stellar and guaranteed to leave viewers craving the still fantastic practical effects of the original. Worse, and what’s missing from the film, though, is a lack of creativity. Previous sequels introduced new Graboid variations in Shriekers and Ass Blasters, one of which saw them take to the skies as flying beasties, but there’s nothing really new on that front here. We’re told about genetic manipulation, but rather than deliver a new species, the evolution has instead resulted in… a bigger Graboid and Shriekers that have weaponized their vocal chords? It’s kinda lame.
Is this the last Tremors sequel? Doubtful. But the film’s ending does feature the demise of a certain character – who I won’t name – that might suggest otherwise. Who could it be?! I’ll never tell. If it is the end of the Ass Blaster era, though, it arguably goes out with its head held high-ish as it delivers a mildly entertaining creature feature that keeps things moving with an attractive landscape, almost funny quips, and exploding monsters. What more could you ask for in a Tremors sequel?
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