he "Tremors" franchise is an acquired taste. The
cult following started with the 1990
original starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. The sequel brought back Ward in 1996, but by then Bacon's star was already too high for
a superfluous sequel, which went the route of Cameron's "Aliens"
-- it redefined the villains and multiplied the number by hundreds. In 2001, the
installment could only bring back Michael Gross, who had a co-starring role
in the first two. Gross has now become the franchise's de facto star, and has
gone on to star in a "Tremors" TV series currently showing on the
Sci-Fi Channel, as well as helming this prequel.
"Tremors 4: The Legend Begins" opens in the same
Nevada town we're used to, only at this point (the year is 1889) the town's name
is not Perfection, but rather Rejection. (Warning: only fans of the franchise
will "get" most of this prequel's humor, since much of it is based on
knowledge of the previous three films.) Gross plays Gummer, the ancestor of the
same character he's played in the last three movies. In this 1889 incarnation,
Gummer is a genteel from the East with a prissy attitude and an abhorrent
As the movie opens, Rejection's silver mine, owned in
absentia by Gummer, is under attack by worm creatures. After a bunch of miners
become worm food, Gummer travels to Rejection to solve the problem himself.
Alas, you don't send a wimp to battle giant worms, and this Gummer is two times
the wimp. Luckily for Gummer, there's spunky hotel owner Christine (Sara
Botsford) and resourceful miner Juan (Brent Roam) to lend a hand. But after an
initial encounter with the worms end with all of his hired guns eaten, Gummer
telegraphs for an expert. He gets Black Hand Kelly, a creepy gunslinger played
by the always creepy Billy Drago.
While "Tremors 4" can be enjoyed without having
seen the previous installments, one's enjoyment will be higher with passing
knowledge of the series. For those new to the series, the prequel will still be
entertaining, but there will be some head-scratching moments because the film
doesn't spend a lot of time explaining the rules. A plus for the prequel is the
western setting, which has its own trappings, especially when it comes to
firearms. Not that future residents of Perfection/Rejection had it any easier
with their modern weaponry, as the worms prove to be smart buggers in any era.
Michael Gross clearly relishes playing a character that is
the exact opposite to the Gummer that showed up in the last three installments.
Gross manages a lot of humor with the role, and the character's complete lack of
ability with a firearm is a running joke from beginning to finish. Also, there's
the cliché moment when Gummer changes from dipstick to hero, and you can see it
coming a mile away. At any rate, Gross manages to be a pretty decent leading man
-- surprisingly so, in fact. Perennial creepy B-movie villain Billy Drago
doesn't last too long, but he's insanely entertaining while he's there. Watching
his tough character interact with Gross' coward is the film's main highlight.
As sequels go, "Tremors 4" is probably better
than most. It helps that the franchise can backtrack its success to its tongue
in cheek humor, which means bad performances and cheesy action doesn't count
against it. Even the clichéd characters, all based on archetypes of course,
can't change the fact that the movie is just too damn likeable to hate. Compared
to the last installment, the prequel is not only a welcome change, but also
proves to be far superior. Although I have to admit that I must have fallen
asleep during part 3 because I remember very little about it.
While setting the prequel in the west is a good idea, it
really doesn't improve all that much on the franchise's mythos. The ending,
while not rendering the previous installments obsolete, does offer up a lame
excuse why no one in the original had forehand knowledge of the worms'
existence. Also, you'd think going back to when the worms first surfaced would
involve some elaborate Big Reveal when it came to the worms' origins. Not so.
The worms, we discover, hatched from eggs that were unearthed when the silver
mine's water supply washed over the dirt holding them in place. I know what
you're thinking, because I was thinking it too: That's it?
4: The Legend Begins" is only good if you know the franchise and like its
mesh of black comedy and disgusting worms exploding into big yellow chunks. The
prequel uses mostly practical effects, which is a good thing because its limited
use of CGI really brings home the fact that this installment is working with a
limited budget. For the most part the CGI basically consists of the filmmakers
manipulating footage. It's not very impressive, and it might also explain why
nearly half of the worm attacks take place at night and in the dark.
At any rate, this isn't Oscar material, but it is a decent