5 Years Ago, an Underrated Sci-Fi Franchise Made Its Worst Movie Ever

If you thought the original Tremors was bad, you’re not ready for this.

Tremors 6
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s squeezing every last drop out even the smallest piece of intellectual property. But what happens when the original never had that much juice to begin with? While you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Tremors (the 1990 sci-fi cult classic starring Kevin Bacon) isn’t a fun movie, it’s not exactly Star Wars or The Terminator. So while a sequel was inevitable, you might be surprised to learn that Hollywood is still making movies about those freaky worm monsters today. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

After five installments of desert-based B-movie terror, the Tremors franchise looked all set to reinvent itself by transporting its critters to the depths of the Arctic. Unfortunately, without the funds or the imagination to fulfill such a wintry vision, Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell proved to be a less chiller thriller and more defrosted turkey.

Released five years ago on May 1, 2018, Tremors 6 sticks to its a polar landscape for all of five minutes before returning to familiar bone-dry territory. (Not that its sole commitment to the concept looks remotely convincing, either.) The sixth chapter purportedly opens in the Nunavut Territory, a large part of the Arctic Archipelago whose ground is snow-covered nine months out of the year. Yet the non-descript researchers who get picked off one by one in the first scene are blatantly elsewhere.

In fact, the entire movie was actually shot in the much warmer climes of South Africa, meaning the CGI team had to work just as hard turning sand into snow as they did on all the Graboids and Ass Blasters. As seen in the shot where one poor schmuck is quite clearly running for his life down a dune and not a glacier, this doesn’t exactly bode well for what’s to follow.

The lesser-spotted Arctic Graboid.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

A Cold Day in Hell only returns to such dodgy-looking scenery once, when the Boite Canyon Arctic Research Facility team stumbles across the mass of severed limbs and frozen heads. When franchise ever-present Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his warring filmmaker son Travis B. Welker (Jamie Kennedy) arrive at their remote station to give their expertise, the entire chill factor has gone out of the window. In fact, the conditions are apparently so toastie that Dr. Rita Sims (Tanya van Graan), as revealed in one of several callbacks to the original, isn’t even wearing any pants.

Screenwriter John Whelpley, who like director Don Michael Paul also worked on the 2015 predecessor Tremor 5: Bloodlines, attempts to explain the change in climate with global warming. (Who knew Hollywood’s most enduring subterranean creature feature had gone woke?) But like everything apart from Gross’ gung-ho performance as rifle-wielding right-winger Burt — always the most impressive thing about the straight-to-VHS/DVD/streaming Tremors films — this never remotely convinces.

Gummer (Michael Gross) and friend showing off the typical Arctic landscape.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Gross actually spends a significant amount of screen time holed up in a hospital bed. In another plot point that bears little scrutiny, Gummer discovers he was infected by a parasite after being swallowed whole by a Graboid in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, the third installment released way back in 2002. Although it’s somehow taken 16 years for any symptoms to show, Gummer will lose his life in a matter of just days unless the hodgepodge team can extract an antidote from one of the super-sized worms.

Yet even lying horizontally and on death’s door, Gross is still more animated than his castmates — to be fair, Travis is the only other character given any discernible personality traits. There’s a half-hearted attempt to build up an emotional attachment with the revelation that intern Valerie (Jamie-Lee Money) is the offspring of Kevin Bacon’s Valentine, the leading man who hasn’t been seen since the first 1990 caper. Her sole purpose, though, appears to be reeling off scientific facts like a walking encyclopedia.

The “Ass Blaster” monsters were introduced in Tremors 3 but appear in A Cold Day in Hell, too.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

No stranger to the cash-in sequel, van Graan (Starship Troopers 3, Death Race 2) also learns the hard way that women in the Tremors franchise are rarely more than window dressing. In the film’s ickiest scene — and a blatant case of male wish fulfilment — the one-time men’s magazine pin-up has to willingly be slobbered over by Kennedy’s charmless schlub. Facility manager Swackhamer (Rob van Vuuren) also adds to the casual misogyny: “She was a dirty, man-eating bitch who used to stick her nose where it didn't belong,” he explains while naming one of the Graboids after an ex.

Sadly, Swackhamer, along with every notable team member, lives to see another day (although only Gummer returned for the 2020 sequel Shrieker Island), giving the franchise perhaps its most meaningless death count. It’s hard to care much for those who do perish. Despite an entertainingly ridiculous pep talk from Gummer (“Say it... My balls are in the Guinness Book of Balls!”), weasely researcher Ferezze (Francesco Nassimbeni) tries to sacrifice a colleague before getting swallowed whole by a chasing Graboid. Meanwhile, even the rest of the facility barely shrugs their shoulders when Poor Dr. D (Jay Anstey) gets lassoed through a window to her death.

Poor Dr. D.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Of course, some viewers will only care about the spectacle of the monsters. The Arctic Graboids don’t look that much different from the American and African species which have gone before. Their blood still has the color and consistency of orangeade, something the film frequently uses to up its gross factor. And as highlighted during the amusing battle scene where each team member takes their turn tackling one of the trapped beasts, they still have multiple tongue-like tentacles. But bending the previously established rules slightly, they’re now also able to swim and inflict death with a single touch of their poisonous skin.

While as visually impressive as you’d expect from a B-movie series that hasn’t seen the insides of a cinema for more than 30 years, they at least provide some respite from the arsenal of groan-worthy jokes which could have escaped from a ‘90s canned laughter sitcom and the tedious subplots: A Cold Day in Hell is surely the only monster flick whose denouement revolves around a tax dispute.

Nevertheless, just like the Graboids that keep springing up in all corners of the world, you can’t keep the Tremors franchise down for too long. A seventh chapter arrived two years later, on this occasion basing all the drama in a location it could also afford to shoot in. If only its premise-wasting predecessor had been afforded the same luxury.

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