Before you ask, yes – we still don’t have a sequel to [insert favorite one-off movie], but we *do* have five Tremors continuations. Each iteration pits survivalist Burt Gummer against advanced Graboid mythology in some way, including 2018’s latest Canadian basecamp defense. Where oh where could Don Michael Paul’s frosty Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell *possibly* tunnel to next? Exactly where the title suggests. A cold day in “Hell” (otherwise known as Canada).
To be fair, what’s sacrificed by not introducing a new childishly-named Graboid evolution is swapped for Burt Gummer’s (Michael Gross) PTSD freakouts and viral side effects from his digestive escape in Tremors. He’s called up North to the Nunavut province when Graboids attack ice-drilling researchers – and it’s here where he’s diagnosed with a (possibly) life-threatening affliction.
Good thing “wingman” Travis B. Welker (Jamie Kennedy) is there to impart his “father’s” wisdom and heroics unto another collection of unprepared Graboid hunters, one of whom is the nerd-out-prone daughter of Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon from the original). Her name is Valerie McKee (Jamie-Lee Money), just in case you miss all the “dad” references. She wears Graboid-skin boots, too.
Produced by Universal’s home video branch Universal 1440 Entertainment, A Cold Day In Hell is spinning many of the same gears with a lot less grease. Scenes are slathered in orangeade-colored Graboid blood, but action itself is rather lackluster due to the film’s heavy usage of CGI and off-camera yanks. In all fairness, there is one practical Graboid that Travis gets disgustingly friendly with – only it’s sedated and non-threatening. This is, to a fault, the same Tremors formula of victims being forced to play “the ground is lava” while demo squibs blow dirt sky high to replicate Graboid movement. For the sixth, running-on-fumes time.
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To be frank, animated tentacles and prickly tundra Graboids leave a lot to be optically desired. Larger Graboids stick out against reality backdrops despite their details and barbed armor being smoothed out, while mini-mouths are a bit of a pixelated eyesore. Characters flail around like circus tamers trying to predict where their foe’s dangerous post-added “arms” might be, the wavy appendages lacking rendered quality in a way that doesn’t even make them seem attached to their practical Graboid host. Practicality exists in the same way lots of thick, sludgy monster goo covers anyone within a mile radius – but expect way more lackluster CGI inserts a la straight-to-video budget saving.
In terms of tonality, A Cold Day In Hell is the peak of chucklefuckery. Laughs overtake any sense of danger; Don Michael Paul is never able to establish serious stakes even though characters like Dr. Charles Freezze (Francesco Nassimbeni) die horrible deaths (which you wouldn’t know, given they happen out of sight). Most characters suffer under this joke-first mentality, but Kennedy’s most guilty of warranting exhausted eye-rolls whether it be nonsense jabbering about if a girl is cute or shouting macho one-liners like “That’ll close the carpool lane!” Michael Gross is still the Burt Gummer we love – talking about how he’s fine like your momma on a Friday night or resilient like the boil on his ass – but supporting characters are flimsier than ever.
Complaints generally tie back to the “humor” on display, considering how we’re never presented Graboids to be feared. Imagine some machinehead named Swackhammer (Rob van Vuuren) stating he’ll “honeybadger the shit” out of a Graboid, or mutter something about dropping turds in a punch bowl – then he dance-distracts a charging Graboid while chucking dynamite in wide-open terrain. This redneck lunatic jiving to a generic cover of “Mustang Sally,” tossing explosives that apparently keep the film’s titular beast bouncing back-and-forth like a pinball. Surely he can’t survive, right? WRONG. He’s safe, and worse is how the film doesn’t even address escape possibilities. Cue a cutaway to characters bounding back inside a “safe” research facility, Swackhammer none the worse.
You’re not watching Tremors for logical plotting – I get that. BUT, a little more than lined-up deaths would be nice. For instance, this poor nurse gets hooked by a Graboid reaching through some window opening and we watch as Burt and Travis attempt to pull her free (drawn out for at least 30-seconds). Everyone else just stands there, forcing concerned faces. No one grabs for a sharp object. It’s the worst tug-of-war imaginable followed by an eventual death that ends with Ms. Medical Lady snapped up as an afternoon snack. Shocked glances read as “we did all we could do,” but, like, did you really?
All this rambling for a subterranean scourge that’s growing weaker by the entry – to my disappointment – doesn’t feel worthwhile. Would I like to love a Tremors film that pays homage to Jaws’ opening? Naturally, if – after six films – characters still didn’t ignore Burt’s initial warnings and scamper to their deaths by running over Graboid turf. If *every* *single* *death* didn’t capture bodies being dragged off camera or even less (a quick cutaway the minute things get nasty). If “wackiness” didn’t overcompensate for a lack of genuine thrills. Sans a few tossed limbs (did a Graboid spit them out?) and one Assblaster, Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell is a constant worm-tease that never fulfills its promise of carnage, terror, and rifle-round wisdom.
Please, I beg you to stop before we have another Hellraiser spiral into sequel oblivion on our hands.
Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell is a frosty Graboid rehash that's running on franchise fumes at this point.