Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, 2018.
Directed by Don Michael Paul.
Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Tanya van Graan, Jamie-Lee Money, Rob van Vuuren, and Greg Kriek.
Burt Gummer suspects that giant worms are being utilized as weapons at a research facility in Canada. He soon finds himself in a race against time to create an antidote from one of the creature’s venom to save his own life.
Back in 1990, a little monster film called Tremors opened up to little hype and low box-office returns, despite proving popular with critics. In the 28 years since then it has had a strong cult following that has helped propagate five sequels, a prequel, a television show, and even an attempt at a second miniseries that would have seen Kevin Bacon return to the franchise.
The appeal of Tremors has always lied in its old-fashioned premise of cowboys & Indians meets monster-hunting, perhaps explaining why fans keep returning to each new entry despite all of them sharing the same premise of a group of western-esque antiheroes teaming up to destroy the latest infestation in their town, in this case gargantuan worms nicknamed “Graboids.”
The constant in all the direct-to-video follow-ups has been survivalist Burt Gummer, portrayed by Family Ties actor Michael Gross. Originally a supporting character in the first two Tremors, he took over as the main lead in the appropriately titled Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, and has maintained that billing ever since.
With Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, Burt is theoretically put into situations that add variety and spice to the typical monster formula that the series has coasted on since its inception: Graboids (or their various biological stages) emerge in an area and it’s up to Burt and his fellow ragtags to help chase them off.
I say theoretically because the changes presented here aren’t particularly well-executed. Take, for example, the setting which, as subtitle suggests, is technically moved from the desert areas of the previous films to the Arctic north. Graboids have been discovered in the area, and so a group of Canadian scientists hire Burt and his son Travis to uncover the mystery of what the creatures are doing here.
Moving Burt out of his comfort zone would have been a cool idea (no pun intended) to freshen up the series. Unfortunately, the presence of global warming and the midnight sun are used as an excuse by the filmmakers to create yet another sandy area. There’s also an idea introduced that the monsters the cast face are the evolutionary predecessors to the Graboids seen in the prior movies, which would be interesting were it not for the fact that they act the exact same way as their descendants: burrowing underground and reacting to sound.
As stated before, Burt is accompanied by his son Travis, who was introduced in the last film, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, but wasn’t revealed to be Burt’s offspring till midway into the flick. With that information out in the open now, A Cold Day in Hell builds upon their relationship to middling returns. On the one hand, both Gross and Jamie Kennedy have good chemistry, making their interactions feel authentic. But on the other hand, the development feels more forced than anything else, thanks in large part to a misguided plot element thrown into the mix.
What happens is Burt begins experiencing excruciating pains that paralyze him and trigger past memories. At first I thought this was because Gummer was suffering from post-traumatic stress order from the past Tremors, but, as the film’s synopsis disclosed long ago, it turns out to actually be a Graboid toxin Burt was exposed to in Bloodlines. What could have been an interesting story of Travis helping Burt overcome his past while taking over as the head hunter is changed to a cliche “person is thrown into a rite-of-passage spotlight” that will entail Travis having a sudden burst of testosterone later on.
The supporting cast is mostly positive, though I have to say that the writers could have cut out some of the characters out and the movie wouldn’t have suffered. There’s the head scientist Dr. Rita Sims (Tanya Van Graan), who exists for sole purpose of being eye candy, as well Valerie McKee, who is disclosed to be Kevin Bacon’s daughter. They all make for great entertainment, even when the film slogs.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of A Cold Day in Hell is the use of the limited budget. It’s no surprise that direct-to-DVD movies have to work with smaller production costs, but, outside of an Ass-Blaster, I was surprised by how good everything else looked. There’s no out-of-place CGI, no clear green screen, and the Graboids look as good as they did in the original Tremors. Part of the reason for this has to do with some wise decisions by the filmmakers: they’re not showing the worms every time they appear, instead sticking with ulterior ways of indicating their presence like rising dirt, shaking floors, and good old-fashioned shrieks. It not only helps build tension, but saves up money for when the monsters actually appear on-screen.
Despite my criticisms over the wasted potential of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, I actually did enjoy the movie for the most part. It’s amazing that these worm-like monstrosities continue to have appeal nearly 30 years after Tremors came out. And it’s clear that the cast and crew behind the sequels have a lot of passion. It is just a shame that they chose not to go in a more existential direction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★