TREMORS 3: BACK TO PERFECTION (2001)
(Directed by Brent Maddock)
(Written by John Whelpley)
(Starring Michael Gross, Shawn Christian and Susan Chuang)
Plot: The town of Perfection has become a monster tourist trap after the events of the first film, but when real Graboids return, it’s up to the resident gun enthusiast Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) to stop them.
I think I was about 10 or 11 years old when I rented “Tremors” for the first time and I can remember falling in love with the misleading box cover…and never feeling anger at the deceptive marketing, as the movie was just too damn awesome to inspire anything but love. It was scary, violent, action packed, funny, quirky creative and adventurous, all in one perfectly mixed bundle. Even though “Tremors 2” wasn’t as great, it still contained everything I adored about the original (minus Bacon), so I was a satisfied fan. But whereas I was prepared for its release thanks to coming across a few previews, I was stunned when I noticed “Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” sitting in the ‘New Releases’ section at my local video store (Hollywood Video) in 2001. I hadn’t seen any trailers or advertisements and Hollywood Video hadn’t included it in the ‘Upcoming’ list. My memory gets a little fuzzy after this, but I think the clerk caught me trying to stuff the VHS copy down my pants? Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to steal it. I was trying to…do other things…to it…But then my flashback immediately jumps to the pure, unadulterated rage I felt as the end credits began to roll, as I had just witnessed a raping of my childhood…even though I was only 15 and I’m pretty sure the movie had already filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against me for the aforementioned pants incident…I hated this movie at the time, although the intensity of my feelings has died down over the years. I’m not entirely sure why, as “Tremors 3” did derail a potential awesome franchise by leading up to an annoying T.V series and an underwhelming prequel, so the combination of its suckitude and destructive legacy should be worthy of my ire…But even before I chose to revisit the second sequel for this review, my anger had turned into indifference. Now I think I can see why…”Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” is not very good, but at least the cast seems to be having fun and I do believe the filmmakers tried their best with very little to work with. I feel like the quality was a casualty of a greedy studio, not the creative minds involved.
“Tremors 3” is much more ‘comedic’ than its predecessors, never even trying to build up suspense or deliver any kind of thrills. I suppose all of our reactions to this decision will be different, as it comes down to what you preferred about “Tremors” and “Tremors 2“. Did you like it/them because of the horror? Or the comedy? If you answer with the latter, then maybe you’ll have an easier time with “Tremors 3“, but I found the genre blending of comedy AND horror to be a large part of the appeal. I spent the majority of my “Tremors 3” viewing experience longing for the unease of encountering some new monstrosity and the intensity of being chased by one. The problem with making the attacks ‘sillier’ is that it becomes too easy to tell who will live and who will die, so why should I become emotionally invested in what is going on? You know that the weirdo and those Government Agents are Graboid food, because they’re not meant to be likable and why else would they be there? We all know that one of the protagonists must perish and it’s easy to tell who it will be, primarily because we were all surprised that he/she survived the events of the first movie! The emphasis on comedy also leads to problems with the tone, as characters will spend one scene mourning for the death of their friend, but the following scene shows them comically trying to come up with names for the beasts that killed him (Ass-blasters). Maybe I would’ve been cool with all of this if I found “Tremors 3” to be funny, but…I didn’t. Some of the jokes are blatantly recycled from its predecessors and others are just lame, although I will concede that there were a few moments where I chuckled. I believe there are a few reasons why “Tremors 3” distanced itself from the horror genre, the first being that “Tremors” and its (first) sequel were HUGELY popular on television. I suspect that someone involved in the production wanted the second sequel to be more ‘TV friendly’, so the (minimal) kills are not very violent. It also probably didn’t help that the times had changed over the course of 10 years and it was harder to include decapitated heads and graphic depictions of being eaten alive in a PG-13 product.
Another likely reason probably stemmed from the drastically reduced production values, as “Tremors 3” looks MUCH cheaper than its predecessors. There are more practical effects than I remembered, which aren’t particularly convincing, but at least don’t look atrocious…usually. When CGI is not involved, The editor and cameraman use quick cuts and shaky camerawork to obscure its monsters, which unfortunately they chose not to do when CGI is involved. The Computer Generated Imagery really sucks and I had to keep reminding myself that this was produced in 2000-2001, when the technology was in its ugliest stage for low budgeted cinema. I suppose some viewers might find the crappy effects to be amusing and…yeah, those surreal shots of flying, rigid CGI ‘Ass-Blasters’ are quite laughable, but I felt embarrassment for the “Tremors” brand. You’d think that the filmmakers would use every trick in the book to keep these effects out of focus, but every shot lingers on the terrible CGI for so long that I begun to wonder if they took pride in these visuals. Even the locations look and feel a lot smaller in scale, which makes me question the decision to bring the story back to the town of Perfection, as I am now forced to make comparisons between the sets. Even the rock formations that offer sanctuary from the Graboids look so much tinier this time around. This is especially interesting as “Tremors 3” favors the visual of the Graboids rising unnaturally high out of the ground, so the filmmakers are drawing attention to the fact that they should be able to snag our heroes right off of these rocks…and yet they never do. And as the ultimate sign of true low budgeted crap, “Tremors 3” even uses some footage from “Tremors“, because they couldn’t afford their own! So maybe it was wise of the filmmakers to drop all pretenses of horror, as if they had tried to be ‘scary’, the fan-rage and mockery likely would’ve killed the franchise. One could even argue that the decision to make “Tremors 3” a comedy was a brilliant strategy to make the most out of a dwindling budget, giving the franchise a longevity that its predecessors couldn’t guarantee. But it is unfortunate that Director Brent Maddock was unable to create the illusion of something more lavish. “Tremors 2” apparently had LESS money to work with, but it had better effects, set pieces and felt a lot more cinematic compared to the ‘made-for-TV’ aesthetic of “Tremors 3“. Maddock is a hit-or-miss writer (he helped pen the first film and “Short Circuit 1-2“, yet he also wrote “Wild, Wild West” and “Ghost Dad“), but he is not much of a director- with “Tremors 3” being his first and last attempt to fill this role. I suppose I should take a little bit of time to talk about the new monstrosities: The Ass-blasters. Despite the stupid sounding name and horrid CGI, I do think they benefit from a pretty cool design. The Shriekers only appear in the opening scene, while Graboids are the primary antagonists during the first half, which I am fine with. Shriekers aren’t as interesting as Graboids and it makes sense to continue introducing new forms of these monsters.
But for all of my criticisms, I now believe I overreacted the first time I saw “Tremors 3“, as it was an example of changing times within the direct-to-video market. “Tremors 2” was also released straight to home video, but it was produced during a period where DTV was a marketing strategy and not a guarantee of cheapness. By 2001, if your movie was not a theatrical release, then it probably stunk and I had not anticipated the sudden drop in quality at the time. “Tremors 3” still could’ve been a lot worse. In the films’ favor, I really did like the cast. I disagreed with the broader performance of Michael Gross (Burt) in “Tremors 2“, but this time it works within the context of the tone. I’d even go so far to say that he carries nearly every scene he’s in and I even liked how his character subtly develops over the course of the film. Charlotte Stewart (Nancy), Ariana Richards (Mindy), Tony Genaro (Miguel) and Robert Jayne (Melvin) all reprise their roles and it was nice seeing so many familiar faces, whereas Shawn Christian (Jack) and Susan Chuang (Jodi) are pleasant new additions. Everyone shares this charming chemistry together, so even when the jokes are missing or the film surrounding them is failing, they come out of this looking surprisingly good. I’m sure the lack of production values is a reason for this, but the script puts a lot of attention on these characters, focusing more on their dynamics and interactions than the monster attacks. There are some interesting new ideas as well, such as Burt losing all of his weapons and being forced to devise unique strategies to combat this threat. I can’t call the script good though, as there are some unnecessary subplots (the Government Agents) and the characters often fall victim to ‘plot induced stupidity’. I didn’t like how everyone kept getting caught off guard by the Graboids, ESPECIALLY when Burt is involved. He’s supposed to be a professional hunter by this point, yet he makes idiotic blunders like leaving his weapons/walkie talkies behind when one suddenly shows up…despite the fact he has a f@cking radar designed specifically to prevent a surprise attack. There are also a lot of homages to the original, which sometimes made my inner fanboy squee, but the script ALWAYS has to explain the reference. Burt pulls out a stick of dynamite- identical to what they used in “Tremors“- and Miguel quips “I remember those”. Yeah…We all remember too and newcomers will only find that piece of trivia distracting. But if there wasn’t a verbal reminder, we would still understand the reference and newcomers would just see it as a stick of Dynamite. Ned’s trailer from the original makes a cameo and even adds to the plot, which was pretty damn cool, but then there’s an unnecessary, unnatural exposition dump about Ned and his alcoholic tendencies. All they needed was Burt finding a hidden bottle of alcohol in the trailer and him saying “Thanks, Ned“. We would’ve gotten it! Ugh, “Tremors 3” is not a good movie, but it succeeds in just enough areas to deflate my anger. I’ve seen too many garbage sequels by 2016, whereas in the context of 2001, “Tremors 3” seemed unusually bad ‘at the time’. Now I’m lucky if I get “Tremors 3“-bad, as at least the cast is able to make it tolerable.
I don’t remember much of “Tremors 4“, but when it was first released, I dismissed it as mostly mediocre. I never could get into the T.V show, which followed in the steps of “Tremors 3” and only lasted a season, even though it developed a cult following in the process. I haven’t seen “Tremors 5” yet and I have to admit that I’ve been only watching these lesser sequels to build up my review of that one. “Tremors 6” has recently been announced, so…OK. Kevin Bacon has also expressed interest in doing a Tremors mini-series, using old school practical effects. I’m glad they’re continuing to explore this universe, but will it ever return to its glorious roots? Probably not, as I’m sure it will suffer from minimal budgets until it’s inevitably remade, which will open a new can of wor-…graboids…Yet we always have the original to fall back on and even if you think “Tremors 3” is bad- because it kind of is, at least the cast and crew tried to make it work. Most sequels are made for the wrong reasons, but “Tremors 3” has its heart in the right place, even if all of its other organs are not. I hope that the following sequels continue to make me feel this way about them, because I respect effort almost as much as I respect talent or skill.
Violence: PG-13, although it’s mostly implied.
Overall: “Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” is barely kept afloat by an enthusiastic cast, but it’s still a big step down from its predecessors.