Horror, like comedy, is about extremes, and when the two are combined in proper proportion, it can leave an indelible mark. Nearly three decades on, a little film set in the geographic isolation of Perfection Valley made such an impression.
Tremors was an homage to the great science fiction monster pictures of the 1950s and provided audiences with the knowledge that running wasn’t a plan, but rather what one does when a plan fails. It also served not only as an introduction to those beautiful, subterranean slugs known as Graboids, but gave birth to the greatest horror-comedy character this side of Bruce Campbell, the incomparable Burt Gummer.
For many, exposure to Michael Gross had been relegated almost exclusively to the loving, compassionate Steven Keaton from “Family Ties.” That said, seeing the tall, slender actor portray what Gross himself described to iHorror as an “obsessive compulsive, paranoid survivalist” complete with mustache and corduroy Atlanta Hawks cap was certainly a change of pace.
However, it didn’t take long to find Gross’ Burt Gummer just as endearing as Michael J. Fox’s television father.
Though a supporting actor to Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward in 1990’s original, Gross would go on to become the centerpiece of the franchise, appearing in four subsequent films, including a short-lived television series in 2003 that had Tremors enthusiasts following Gummer from Nevada to Mexico to Argentina, back in time and finally to South Africa.
And what a trip it’s been.
Much like Thomasin was the final girl who got to get off in The Witch, Burt Gummer was the paranoid prepper whose wish for a showdown with annihilation had been granted.
Gummer’s initial confrontation with Graboids cost him his HK41 (and to a lesser extent his wife), but left him to do what he did best – prepare to withstand impending doom.
However, for all the time Gummer spent in anticipation of another wave of “underground goddamn monsters,” the “sonsabitches” were always on a learning curve. There is simply no way to word it any more eloquently than Mr. Gummer had in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, “What kind of supreme being would condone such irony?”
Gummer was ready to face off with Graboids, but Shriekers not so much. And just when he thought he had his bases covered, along came Ass-blasters. As Gross himself said, “The beautiful thing about my character is that he’s always prepared for one monster and, lo and behold, there’s something he wasn’t quite prepared for. For a man who believes in preparedness, it drives him crazy.” Gross would go on to say that “Having the rug pulled out from under (Gummer) time and again is a comic masterpiece.”
Truer words were never spoken. Gummer is a character who used urine as insect repellent and called a lion a “pussy,” and though he is renowned for “doing what (he) can with what (he’s) got,” Gummer was always more about preparing for battle with a known adversary than thinking on his feet. That is, was and ever shall be Earl’s (Ward) domain.
While Gummer was set with high explosives, guns that offered maximum penetration and made sure his compound was outfitted with hundreds of pounds of MREs (meals ready to eat), seismographs and an air raid siren to warn fellow residents of Perfection, the ideas for utilizing the chilled contents of a fire extinguisher, potato gun and helicopter missiles to stave off pre-Cambrian combatants were not borne from Gummer’s mind, though he most certainly helped to execute the plan when called upon.
And that’s where the laughs lived.
“Why is it that critical, need-to-know information never gets to Burt Gummer?” The man never felt that he was properly briefed despite the fact that sufficient intel would have been an impossibility. Nonetheless, it was a sentiment that acted as Gummer’s shadow throughout the saga, and one would be hard pressed to find a better (albeit over-the-top) straight man in flicks comprised of the chaotic absurdity for which Tremors has specialized.
Gummer’s reactions to unforeseen developments consistently found their intended humor targets with the precision of a skilled marksman. However, the self-described “masterpiece of self-destruction” persevered through unfortunate events and left audiences forever wanting more.
Five features in, there is a Tremors television series in the works with Bacon returning as Val, though Gross has indicated that he is not attached at the moment. Whether that changes or not, it sounds as though there is a Tremors 6 in the works, which begs the question:
“What have you people got against being prepared?”
Nothing. Nothing at all. When it comes to the extermination of motherhumpers, there’s no one we’d rather have helming the mission than Burt Gummer.