Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020)

“You go Rambo. I’ve got the chainsaw, I’m going Evil Dead.”

Justin’s rating: Welcome to… Jurassic Park Jr.

Justin’s review: Let’s talk about the evolution and iteration of Tremors’ signature monster. In the first movie, we simply got giant tunneling underground worms. In the second, the worms — somehow — turned into three walking shriekers apiece. In the third, we got the aerial variety as the final form. And then… then the movies stopped doing anything new or interesting with the critters. Oh, they’d make noise that *this* time they were fiercer or, ooh, now their grabbing tongues can detach, but honestly, we’re heading into seven movies with littler variation in the graboid camp.

Apparently the occupants of these movies felt that nature needed a bit of a helping hand, because in Tremors: Shrieker Island, hunters are genetically tinkering with the monsters. Because that worked well for the Jurassic World franchise, so why not here? Nobody ever genetically tinkers with man-killers to make them more cute and fluffy. It’s usually, “let’s give sharks super-brains” this and “why not arm sloths with over-the-shoulder rocket launchers!”

Shrieker Island, the seventh in the three decades-long Tremors series, continues the franchise’s tradition of outright ripping off bigger budget ideas and giving them a low-fi makeover. So if the jungles and vaguely dinosaurian beasts are giving you specific flashbacks, the filmmakers hope that it enhances rather than detracts from your experience.

After Nevada, Mexico, Africa, and Canada, our Graboid World Tour now takes us to the Solomon Islands, why not. With bad guys making bad creatures even badder using bad science, only one antidote for the situation is required: Mr. Burt Gummer (Michael Gross). For those like myself who still wake up with nightmares of Jamie Kennedy’s pasty face looming above us, the good news is that Travis is completely absent this time around (rumor is, he’s in jail).

That leaves an open spot for a comic sidekick who is available and desperate enough to co-star in the seventh movie of a B-movie horror franchise. Oh hey, Jon Heder! Wanna be in a flick? Happily, Heder is the best sidekick that Gummer’s had yet, funny without being grating and capable enough to avoid being totally useless.

I know I’ve made a few Jurassic Park references so far, but that’s completely unavoidable with this movie. It’s not so much an homage as a shot-for-shot remake at times (such as a guy in a flimsy outdoor bathroom getting chomped). And because the comparisons are so heavy-handed, it’s really distracting because all you’re thinking is, “Hey, I should be watching that other movie, not Tremors Presents Jon Heder. What am I doing with my life?”

As the real name of the film suggests, we actually get the return of the shriekers — the first time since the third movie. And while they were pretty underwhelming in the second and third installments, here there is some effort to make them acceptable velociraptors stunt doubles. Plus, now they can scream so loud that they incapacitate their victims, which is problematic for the humans. As rich hunters track them down, the graboids and shriekers hunt them back. You’d think that Burt would be happy to let them wipe each other out, but unfortunately there are innocents in the crossfire, and so he inserts himself into the fray.

Now over 70 years of age, Michael Gross still carries himself well as the acidic hunter (who happens to wear an adorable Cubbies hat). When we first meet him in Shrieker Island, he’s living on a beach with the most amazing beard. I dearly wanted him to keep it for the rest of the running time, but no dice. At least he’s still bringing his swaggering sarcasm and love for all firearms. And this time around, he’s also getting a bit of a love story with the lead scientist on the island. Have you ever noticed that these movies are up to their pits in scientists? Trust me, when you watch all seven movies in a week’s time, that sort of thing pops out at you.

As much as the scriptwriters want you to see this as the greatest graboid threat to date, the truth is that we’re getting a reheated formula that’s the backbone of the series. There’s a likable enough group of good guys who put together all sorts of devices to bring down worms, there are a few graboid killings to ratchet up the body count, and in the end, there’ll be graboid explosions that will geyser up like someone dynamited a Double Dare goop stash. Even with the Jurassic Park overlay, Shrieker Island doesn’t veer off course from this template.

Yet it actually shows signs of dialing up the quality in the newer run of the Tremors movies. Bloodlines was a disappointment, but I actually liked A Cold Day in Hell, and I have to say that Shrieker Island easily tops that. It’s still mindless low-budget filler that should never be compared to the masterpiece of the original, but it’s funny, tense, and easy on the eyes. That’s not a terrible note to end a movie marathon — or, God willing, a movie series.

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