When I saw that Michael Gross, who played whacko right-wing survivalist Burt Gummer in the first three Tremors films, also starred in Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, I assumed this was yet another sequel. But no, this one takes place in 1889, about a century before the first movie. So what’s the deal?
But first things first: this prequel is set in what was then called Rejection, Nevada, a burgeoning town whose present and future depends on a nearby silver mine. The mine is doing great, until something unseen starts killing miners. Soon there is no one left to work the mine, and people begin leaving Rejection Valley in droves. Only a few folks remain: the Chang family, owners of the general store; Juan Padilla, the sole surviving miner; hotel owner Christine; a Native American named Tecopa; and Old Fred, a drunk.
A telegram is sent back east to the mine owner, a man named Hiram Gummer (yep, Burt’s great-grandfather, also played by Michael Gross), asking for help. His arrival, they all hope, will solve their problem. But no-oo, Hiram is nothing like Burt. He’s a prissy, rich-guy snob who hates guns and violence and loves to take advantage of anyone he can. In no time at all, everyone in Rejection dislikes him.
With Juan’s assistance, Hiram convinces a few other miners to go back to work. They camp outside the mine entrance, and during the night they’re attacked by smaller, larvae-like Graboids. Juan manages to destroy one, but the miners are killed. Juan and Hiram, realizing that vibrations through the ground attract them, make it back to town across rocky hills.
In order to destroy the Dirt Dragons, as the Changs dub them, Hiram telegraphs an ad to some newspapers calling for a gunfighter. It takes a while—and more alienation from the town—but Hiram’s request is answered when “Black Hand” Kelly shows up. Think Lee Van Cleef in the spaghetti westerns, only way-the-hell over the
top. He doesn’t care who or what he has to kill, only how much he’ll be paid. Hiram, who by this time we have learned is broke—his father had invested the family fortune in the silver mine—offers him all the silver that he can carry away. Kelly agrees, but as a down payment he takes Hiram’s diamond cufflinks and double eagle watch fob. All that Hiram has left is his gold watch.
Hiram, Kelly, and Juan ride out to the mine but are unable to attract any Graboids. As they ride to a muling station for refuge, they spot Old Fred’s wagon. The drunk had been missing for a while. In the wagon they find Old Fred’s head. They tear ass the rest of the way to the station.
Kelly dislikes the prissy Hiram, and the feeling is mutual. But he starts giving Hiram some firearms training, and this comes in handy when they’re besieged by three fully grown Graboids, which start dismantling the station through the night. Juan taps something incoherent on the telegraph key, which is picked up in town. In the morning Christine comes to their rescue in a wagon, though not before Kelly is devoured by a Graboid.
Hiram has had enough and decides to abandon the people of Rejection. He’ll go back east and sell the mine, restoring his fortune. The residents threaten to send a telegram and expose the dangers there. Frustrated, he signs the mine over to them and leaves.
The Graboids are on the move through the valley, and at first it appears that they’ll miss the town. But they
make a detour, and now they’re headed straight for Rejection. The residents make ready to stand their ground with the few ineffective weapons there, at the same time sending an SOS out on the telegraph line.
In Carson City, Hiram is on his way to buy a train ticket when he hears about the message from Rejection. Fingering his gold watch, he heads toward a gun shop.
The Graboids are getting closer, and as the townsfolk make their stand, they spot a cloud of dust in the distance. No, not one of the monsters, as they assume, but Hiram Gummer driving a wagon chock full of everything that passed for weapons of mass destruction in 1889. He apologizes to the stunned people for leaving and repeats something that Christine had said to him earlier: “A friend once told me it is not important how you spend your money, it’s how you spend your life.” He’d used all he had left, the gold watch, to buy the weapons.
Okay, no spoiler alert; the ensuing confrontation with the Graboids is a hoot, and if you’ve wondered from where descendant Burt Gummer inherited his obsession with armament, and how his ancestors came to Rejection, Nevada—renamed Perfection near the end—you’ll wonder no more.
Why did I like this prequel more than Tremors 2 and 3? First, I like old western settings. Second, I really connected with the quirky and endearing townsfolk of Rejection. And last, I love a good lesson learned. Hiram became quite a mensch, something that did not seem possible.
I don’t know if any more Tremors films are on the horizon. A short-lived TV series lasted thirteen weeks on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003. Perhaps the Graboids have stopped evolving. We’ll see.