Can South Africa pass for the Canadian Arctic Circle? The producers of this sixth Tremors movie certainly hope so as budgetary concerns keeps the series production in the southern climes of South Africa – some kind of Graboids tax break, I guess – passing off South Africa for Nevada or Mexico is one thing but it’s a whole different kettle of fish to make us believe we’re on a glacier by the Arctic Circle. Now one does not go into a movie called Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell expecting to see authenticity – some nice monster attacks and fun characters are what we all hope for – but does this latest entry manage to pull it off?
The movie opens with a research team drilling ice core samples up in the Arctic Circle – the snow is actually desert sand that has been colour corrected white, which is especially hilarious and not at all convincing – and before you can say “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” a trio of researchers are quickly made into Lunchables by an angry Graboid, and thus the call for help is made to Graboid expert Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his idiot son Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy). The decision to call in Gummer is made by Valerie McKee (Jamie-Lee Money), the daughter of Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) from original Tremors, as she is some kind of Graboid super fan. To her, a couple of bloody body parts lying in the snow just screams desert burrowing monsters.
By this installment I’ve become rather tired of Michael Gross’s right-wing gun nut Burt Gummer – he was fun in the first movie but as the years go by I came to find his gun-obsessed paranoid to be less and less endearing – and the script for the most part saddles Michael Gross with some of the worst tough guy lines imaginable such as, “My balls are in the Guinness book of balls,” or he is given incredibly nonsensical bon mots such as, “We’ve got to get to high ground, nobody move.” By the ninety-minute mark, I just wanted him to shut up. The film tries to add an interesting wrinkle with Burt having been infested with a parasite during a previous encounter with a Graboid – swallowed alive by one – and now he has mere hours to live unless they can get antibodies from a living Graboid. I’m curious to know what difference there is between an antibody from a live Graboid or one you’ve just killed, but hey I’m no doctor so I’ll let that one slide. What I won’t let slide is the way the Graboids tentacles have gotten longer – rivalling the tentacles of Doctor Octopus – and how they can somehow now “see” their prey.
The film does have some decent monster attacks but what really hurt this outing were the complete inconsistencies in the attacks, one minute Burt is demanding silence and then the very next second everyone is yelling and running around like complete morons, and the Graboids only attack a running person if the script deems it necessary. We also have the completely unnecessary addition of a neighbouring research facility run by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) who would like to bio-engineer the Graboids into bunker-busting weapons, but nothing much is done with this subplot so I’m not sure why they bothered to introduce it. We also get attacks from Ass Blasters – flying Graboids that fart fire – that was introduced in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, yet after a couple of early attacks they are soon forgotten. My guess is that they were included here because the writers think people saying “Ass Blaster” was high comedy.
The only way this type of film works is if you manage to round up a cast of fun and likable characters – so that you care if they get eaten – but with Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, we find ourselves stuck with a collection of uninteresting characters who mostly fall into one of two categories: annoying cannon fodder or annoying comic relief. The film even tries to cram in a love interest for Jamie Kennedy’s character but any moment spent with him was quite cringe-inducing and the idea of him kissing somebody was a more horrifying thought than being eaten by a Graboid.
The film does manage to blend practical effects and CGI creatures fairly well, and as mentioned, a couple of the attacks are quite decent, but overall the film fails to engage the viewer with either humour or scares. On a more positive note, we are getting a new Tremors television show, which will surprisingly see the return of Kevin Bacon, so if you are keen to see more battles with everyone’s favourite underground burrowing monsters, I suggest you check out this new SyFy Channel series; it can’t be worse than this poor excuse for a monster movie.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018)
Update: It looks like the new television show is not going to happen so one can assume that we will get more direct-to-video Tremors movies and Michael Gross will continue to cash a cheque. A viewing of this movie would only be suggested to a completist and a masochist.