I was but a mere fresh teenager when my curiosity was first piqued by Universal Studios’ Tremors ‒ starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward ‒ back in 1990. As I recall it, I was wandering through the mall in Medford, Oregon, where a large cardboard display of the film’s familiar Jaws-inspired artwork ‒ along with the memorable tagline “They say there’s nothing new under the sun. But under the ground…” ‒ sat out in front of the in-house theater (this is back when there was a tiny cinema located inside the mall itself). Being a huge fan of horror and sci-fi movies, it intrigued me. Alas, my introduction to the film would have to wait, owing to the fact that there was not enough time to attend a showing of the film, nor would my parental unit at the time (who did not approve of my affection for such filmfare) have permitted me to waste any money on that sort of thing.
When I finally did see the movie on VHS a year or so later, I was in heaven. Tremors was a fun, well-made homage to the Atomic Age horrors of cinema from the ’50s. By the time the mid ’90s rolled around, movie studios began to experiment with a new type of horror: the direct-to-video sequel. I was employed at a small chain video store in Northern California when Universal unveiled the sequel, 1996’s Tremors II: Aftershocks, starring Fred Ward and a supporting actor from the previous film, Michael Gross. A trailer for the follow-up feature was presented on a promotional screener copy (something you’ll really only understand the concept of it you worked in a video store) of the film looked less than promising when I first saw it. In fact, it looked downright bad. But when I finally saw Tremors II: Aftershocks itself, I was pleased. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
The same could be said for the surprisingly decent third outing, Tremors 3: Back to Perfection ‒ this time with Michael Gross at the top of the cast, reprising his role of a the gun-obsessed survivalist Burt Gummer ‒ which was released in 2001. At this point, it was time for the inevitable television show ‒ and the 2003 Sci-Fi Channel series (also calling itself Tremors, with Mr. Gross once again) came and went without so much as a wave on the seismic activity print-out. A fourth flick, a prequel entitled Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (wherein they just stopped trying to be cute or clever with the subtitles) followed in 2004, by which time I had not only stopped working at a video store, but had essentially ceased to take an interest in direct-to-video installments of a franchise that was entirely unintentional to begin with altogether.
After the world of home video went through a major transition (or, as The Buggles would put it, “Redbox killed the video store”), it seemed as if Universal finally decided to place the monsters of the Tremors series back into the ground. For good. Alas, we are not so fortunate. For now, we have places like Walmart and the terrible direct-to-video movies that are made solely to sell to the various elements of human trash who keep such corporations alive. And so ‒ twenty-five years after the original ‒ the Tremors franchise has been revived for a fifth (though I fear not final) filmic chapter, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, once more featuring the unmatchable star power of “The Dad from Family Ties.”
For this anniversarial entry, Universal has pulled out all of the stops. Originally, they were going to set the film in Australia ‒ giving it the fancier subtitle of “The Thunder from Down Under” in the process ‒ and there were talks about Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward making cameo appearances. In the end, Universal’s bastard production company Universal 1440 Productions (a company that has made nothing but craptastic features, including The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, and who will bring us that sequel to Kindergarten Cop starring Dolph Lundgren we’ve been dreaming about for decades now) wound up shooting their little movie in budget-friendly South Africa with series regular Michael Gross being joined by… [drumroll, please] Jamie Kennedy.
An unfunny, annoying, bloated Jamie Kennedy at that ‒ which I suppose is pretty much just another way of saying “Jamie Kennedy” altogether, but that’s sort of besides the point here (I suppose). So instead of talking about how awful Jamie Kennedy is (in any capacity), let us instead focus on Tremors 5: Bloodlines itself. Such as the fact that it stinks to high heaven (to say nothing of stinking to high heaven). But it’s not just because of Jamie Kennedy’s participation in the film, either. Employing a director who has brought us nothing by direct-to-video sequels (and who will also be bringing us Kindergarten Cop 2!), Tremors 5: Bloodlines has little to no shame in its execution of its own, aimless, meandering script. (Or, as Toto might say, “I miss the reins down in Africa.”)
Providing there was a script, that is. I mean, there was definitely something written down that director Don Michael Paul (the only reason I’m revealing his name is so that you can remember it and be sure to avoid his work) could go off of. And this is quite evident during the action scenes (which aren’t bad ‒ especially the scene that was lifted directly from Jurassic Park ‒ but it wasn’t terribly interesting enough to make me look up from my pack of sunflower seeds in awe nevertheless). The rest of the film, however, finds Mr. Paul taking full advantage of the fact nobody shoots on film anymore (thus, there are no precious resources to waste) by letting his cameras roll while giving his lead stars no supervision other than just saying “Be the funny.”
And “the funny” in this sorry instance includes a lengthy, excruciating scene where Michael Gross’ character is locked in a cage and left to rot under the African sun by the film’s human bad guy (played by some Zach Galifianakis wannabe). The whole scene consists of nauseatingly painful one-liners edited together ‒ much like a bad outtake reel (more on that later), and stoops low enough to resort to scatological humor: Gross, living up to last name, covers himself in his own urine to ward off mosquitoes, before drinking said liquid waste to keep hydrated. It is neither necessary or needed, especially seeing as how this is PG-13 flick is supposed to be a family-friendly feature (note the trailers for R. L. Stine movies at the beginning of the disc).
Truth be told, the only actors to actually take their parts seriously in this mess are some of the local South African performers, such as the beautiful Pearl Thusi (most of whom get terrible billing, despite their large roles). But their efforts are ultimately obscured by Michael Gross’ unguided overacting and Jamie Kennedy’s cringeworthy bad-libs. This, of course, takes me to one of the special features of this Universal Studios Home Entertainment Blu-ray release: the aforementioned blooper reel. Watch as Mr. Kennedy makes one awful (R-rated) sex joke (in a movie where everyone says “flippin'” and “frickin'”) after another while everyone around him tries not to punch him. Reel in horror as Mr. Kennedy makes improper, in-character (but really genuine) advances at Ms. Thusi, who reluctantly plays along.
Also included in the Blu-ray/DVD/UV Combo release of this unwanted abortion of a purported photoplay are a handful of deleted scenes (some with unfinished or just plain missing CGI effects), a little making-of featurette, and what is quite possibly the most confusing main menu in home video history. As this release was mass-produced for global markets (you have to select your country/language when the disc boots up), Universal have foregone the painstaking task of manufacturing multiple main menus in different languages, and have instead “simplified” it all by including little icons (an image of a house will take you to the home menu, which is a bit ridiculous, since all there is a home menu; a square with some lines at the bottom signifies subtitles; an asterisk represents bonus materials; etc.).
Frustrations over what should be a fairly easy-to-navigate menu aside, the 1080p presentation of Tremors 5: Bloodlines is something I can’t comment on in a negative light. Oh sure, the quality of the film itself may be piss-poor (and yes, that remark was made in reference to that one scene I mentioned earlier), but the transfer is quite lovely. This, of course, is perhaps primarily attributable to the whole being shot digitally thing. I think a lot of the film’s budget went to the CGI effects, as they look fairly good for even being this cheap of a film. And if you don’t think this movie was made on the cheap, permit me to reiterate the subtle clues I have dropped previously in this article in a more direct fashion: they filmed it on location in rural South Africa ‒ where their dollar unit, the Rand, is currently about $0.075 in US currency ‒ and they stillcouldn’t afford Fred Ward.
Like its visual counterpart, the Blu-ray’s English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is a well-assembled mixdown, balancing dialogue (including, sadly, that of Jamie Kennedy), sound effects (which are aplenty), and the movie’s largely unnoticeable musical score efficiently. Additional audio tracks (in DTS 5.1) are available in Spanish, French, German, and Italian, while the number of subtitle options (fifteen in all, ranging from Icelandic to Hindi) probably takes up more space on the 50GB disc than all of the special features themselves. As if to upsell itself, Universal’s combo pack release of Tremors 5: Bloodlines includes a Blu-ray, DVD, codes for both a UV as well as iTunes Digital Copy, and a regular “in-set” Digital Copy.
Ultimately, though, five different copies of the same bad movie in a host of different languages does not disguise the fact that the movie is still crap. And unless you’re one hell of a devoted fan of the series, or you’re just looking for an excuse to waste a few dollars on something that basically the ingestion of a good dose of ipecacuanha will achieve for much less, there’s not a whole lot of reason in scratching beneath the surface of Tremors 5: Bloodlines. Because there’s nothing much new under the ground anymore, either. But I’m sure that won’t stop Universal 1440 Productions from setting up shop in Bulgaria soon (maybe they can rip-off Predator 2 next time?) to shoot a sixth film with special guest stars Steven Seagal, Ray Liotta, Christian Slater, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.