Stu Greenfield chats with Michael Gross about Tremors 5…
It has been 11 years since audiences were last exposed to the underground terror that is the Graboids. The cult franchise has so far delivered 4 films and an ill-fated TV series. Causing a whole generation of B-Movie fans to question whether or not it is safe to walk on the floor, the franchise returns this year with Tremors 5: Bloodlines.
Originally sprouting onto the big screen in the 1990 surprise cult hit Tremors starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Finn Carter. The film portrayed the story of a small isolated town in America that becomes terrorised by giant flesh-eating worms. Think Earthworm Jim on a very very bad day. Although the film was not a theatrical success the VHS sales and rentals tripled the film’s box office gross. So lets look at the Tremors story so far….
The cult success of the original Tremors spawned a sequel in 1996, Tremors 2: Aftershock which reunited Fred Ward as Earl Bassett and Michael Gross as Burt Gummer in Mexico where the Graboids were terrorising an oil refinery along with a new morphosis of Graboid, the Shriekers. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection then followed in 2001 which saw the return of Burt Gummer as well as familiar faces Charlotte Stewart as Nancy Sterngood, Ariana Richards as Mindy Sterngood and Tony Genaro as Miguel. Bert returns to the Nevada to of Perfection and has to battle more Graboids, but now they morph into their third phase.
In 2003 a short lived TV series was developed, again starring Michael Gross as gun happy Burt Gummer. The series essentially turned the film into a series, following the small town of Perfection as they battle against the Graboids that dwell in the ground near their little slice of America. Although the series saw some familiar faces (Christopher Lloyd, Dean Norris, Michael Rooker) it failed to grab the audience and did not go further than the initial 13 episodes.
This was not the end, however, and in 2004 Tremors 4: The Legend Begins was produced. Gross returned in this prequel, this time as Hiram Gummer. Set in 1889 Tremors 4 told the story of how the then known Rejection Valley, which would later become Perfection Valley, relies on the local silver mine. When a hot spring causes 4 mysterious eggs to hatch Dirt Dragons (Graboids) begin terrorising the local area.
Right, so we are all up to speed in the Tremors story. Enter Tremors 5: Bloodlines, and once again enter Michael Gross as the now infamous TV personality and Graboid monster hunter Burt Gummer. Tremors 5 sees Burt called in to help with a Graboid problem in a village and Nature Reserve in South Africa. Along with the help of enthusiastic assistant and marketing/online whizz kid Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy) they must help protect the village from the worms with attitude. Not only will Burt have to face up to the monsters, he will also have to face some of his own monsters as his past catches up with him.
Tremors 5 is the first outing in 11 years, and with a new director at the helm it is impressive that the film remains true to the atmosphere of the original film. The original films and the TV series all adhered to a nepotistic model of production. The team of Ron Underwood, S.S Wilson, Brent Maddock and from the third film Nancy Roberts all took turns in writing and directing each of the films and creating the TV series. In the fifth film Don Michael Paul (Jarhead 2, Lake Placid: The Final Chapter) sits in the directors chair, and although Maddock and Wilson are still involved in the writing continuity and consistency must be difficult to achieve when roles change so frequently. Michael Gross spoke to Flickering Myth about how keeping the continuity consistent was possible when there have been changes in directors and production team.
“Although there have been changes in director throughout the franchise, this is the first time we have had a director that is new to Tremors entirely. It can be difficult to keep honest to the original film, and those that followed, when roles change however both myself and Universal executive Patti Jackson understand the heart of the franchise, as do writers Brent Maddock and S.S Wilson and because we have all been with Tremors since the early days we are able to become the constant and ensure that the film stays true to how the original film was executed. This requires some vigilance and although each director wants to put their own stamp on the film, we have to stay on the same page as each other.”
Given the long break in between films, in no small part down to the failure of the TV series (It was Patti Jackson who pushed for film number 5) it is impressive that the character of Burt is still relatable to his first incarnation in the original film 25 years ago. Burt is still as unemotional and still as gung-ho in his approach to most things in life as he was back in Perfection Valley. Michael Gross portrays Gummer with a stoic manliness that is bordering on inaccessible in certain aspects, but is also a little lost and a little vulnerable. Michael explains how he gets himself back into the character of Burt after such a long break, and why he has such a strong relationship with the Tremors franchise that it has brought him back for his sixth portrayal of man’s man Burt.
“I just love the character of Burt. He has so much comic potential alongside almost OCD like personality traits and some extreme paranoia. I like extreme characters and Burt is certainly one of those. But I also like that he represents part of the American psyche. He represents the family friendly view of the world. He is a man that surrounds himself with weapons and guns of all sorts but he has not once turned them on a human. It is about him versus monster and I think that is something a lot of Americans can relate to. This is why I love re-acquainting myself with Burt. I get to revisit the older films and in Tremors 5I got to help work on the script and had a much more hands on approach. This meant I got to get under Burt’s skin before production began and that helped me get back into his character. The fact that Burt has to deal with emotional turmoil in this film, which is something he hasn’t had before, meant we had to think about his character and how he would react. This is a fantastic way of getting back into the character and understanding him.”
Bloodlines has managed to keep that B-Movie indie style feel to it well. The comedy moments are executed as one would expect, although Burt’s slightly psychotic episode in the cage may be a tad too extreme. As can be predicted the scripting is not of Oscar drama quality, and nor does it need or want to be. The film grabs hold of its original comic, easy-going roots and keeps hold of them. There is a welcome return for the original style of practical effects, especially in terms of the Graboids, but with the developments in technology throughout the last 25 years how has the film making process changed for Michael Gross?
“Firstly we had the largest budget and the most time in the first film. These days we need to work faster with less money! Of course the most obvious advances are the technical advances such as Computer Generated Images. In the original Tremors film all of the effects were practical where as in Tremors 5 we used a combination of CGI and practical effects. The ratio of practical to CGI seems to have increased in favour of CGI as the films have progressed. Away from the actual production side of film making there is now a huge increase in the availability of marketing. With advancements such as Facebook and Twitter there is now more responsibility, and more opportunity, for actors to promote their films. On Tremors 5 we were actually given tablets to be able to take behind the scenes photos to post! (Go to www.facebook.com/actormichaelgross if you want to take a look).”
What is obvious through talking to Michael Gross is a passion for the Tremors films, and indeed a passion for his craft in general. And should a Tremors 6 be on the cards count Gross in! When asked who he would like to work with in number 6 (bringing the Graboids to Europe perhaps? Or go with the original plot for number 5 and go down under?) Gross is complimentary about everybody he has worked with, highlighting Jamie Kennedy, Kevin Bacon and Fred Warde as those he would like to see returning to the Tremors family.
Given the execution of Bloodlines, a sixth film may well be a welcome addition to the franchise for Tremors fans. It stays within the remit of the original film but holds its own against modern B-Movie films. The cheesy script and corny action fit in well to what audiences have come to expect. The film is a fun monster romp through an African Nature reserve where the least of your worries is the wildlife!
Tremors 5: Bloodlines is available on Blu-ray and DVD on October 12th, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).