Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

“And THAT’S why we’re at the top of the food chain!”

Justin’s rating: But where were all the Tremors action figures, I ask you? Why wasn’t I playing with slimy worms on Christmas morning?

Justin’s review: One thing I dearly love about the Tremors series is that it actually made an effort to establish and stick to continuity throughout its three-decade run. Most movie series that get to film seven have usually rebooted or side-queled along the way, but not Tremors. This is in part thanks to the writing efforts of S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, who together worked on the first four Tremors films and the 2003 TV series. (Fun fact: They also wrote both Short Circuits.) It’s also thanks to many of the actors being willing to come back — even for direct-to-video projects.

And these factors are very apparent in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, because while Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward rode off into the sunset years ago, Michael Gross (who plays survivalist Burt Gummer) and many of the surviving townspeople from the first movie come back for this entry. It’s been years since the precambrian tunnel-digging graboids put the little town of Perfection, Nevada on the map. Real estate developers are moving in to carve up the valley, tour guides are taking people across the desert hoping to get a peek, and the few residents are willing to make a cheap buck by trading in on the events of over a decade ago. The only thing that isn’t on the move in the area are the beasties — who haven’t been seen in quite some time.

In the midst of all of this, native son and expert graboid hunter Burt returns home and observes the sorry state of the town. Well, it gets a lot sorrier — and deadlier — when actual graboids show up pretty much on the same day, turning a “Scooby Doo tour” into the real thing. Things go from bad to worse when the graboids beget shriekers and something new, an airborne threat known as “ass-blasters.” That’s Tremors for you, always keeping things classy and mature.

While Burt wants to go on the offensive and wipe the creatures out, the feds come swoop in to protect this “endangered species.” They threaten to take Perfection away via eminent domain if Burt doesn’t help them capture a monster, and so he reluctantly agrees to help. It’s a toss-up who you want the graboids to eat more: the government agents or Jack, the irresponsible showboat of a tour guide. Eat ’em all, I say, and let the monsters poop them out.

There’s a real joy in the reunion atmosphere of Tremors 3. As I said in the first film, the writers did a great job giving us a raft of likable characters that you genuinely wanted to see survive, and I’m happy to see several of them return here, including smarmy Melvin (sorry, “Mel”). The strength of this series has always rested on the humor juxtaposed against the monster horror, and that’s still galloping strong. This cast leans into the exponentially ridiculous events, making this for a genuinely entertaining romp.

But the highlight is, if you couldn’t guess, is Burt. For a character that got promoted from side billing to the main star, Michael Gross does a fabulous job shouldering the increased responsibility. Burt’s distrust of the government, his extreme capability, and his enthusiasm for guns (the bigger, the better) all get milked for all their worth, and he give us the hero this kind of creature feature demands. He also gets most of the quotable lines, usually when he’s extremely exasperated with the situation and/or the people around him.

I don’t want to oversell this movie, because it’s not without a few notable flaws. The CGI on the creatures is really poor and makes you dearly miss the much better puppetry of the first two films. Plus, you can’t argue that this third form of the creatures is that menacing or interesting. In my opinion, the best graboid is the original giant worm graboid — not these lesser gimmicky spawn. And while it’s great to see the cast collaborate to handle this threat — “teamwork” is a staple of this series — Tremors 3 is too long, too meandering, and too dark in places.

So while Tremors 3 isn’t scary or even that tense (it’s PG, after all), it is a fairly enjoyable ride as long as you’re focused more on the characters than the critters. It proves that the creature B-movie genre that had gone out of fashion back in the 1960s can still offer a great time, especially with the help of witty writers who aren’t afraid to get a little campy.

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