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Review From the Edge: Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell

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Universal Studios

Greetings from the Edge!

This week, we’ll be looking at the latest entry into the Tremors series, A Cold Day in Hell. Yes, my friends, Burt Gummer is back once more to battle the world’s most aggressive fishing bait! As the name would imply, A Cold Day in Hell is set in Northern Canada and shot in South Africa. Oh, it’s going to be one of those movies, isn’t it… I have the feeling that, before this movie is over, I’ll be looking back wistfully on a couple of weeks ago when we had chainsaw wielding schoolgirls and literal crotch rockets. Let’s see if A Cold Day in Hell can turn around the downward spiral of a once fun series, or if it’s just another nail in the Graboid coffin.

Starring Michael Gross as everyone’s favorite overarmed prepper and worm slayer Burt Gummer, Jamie Kennedy returning  as Gummer’s son and constant audience annoyance Travis B. Welker, Tanya van Graan as possible love interest for Travis Dr. Rita Sims, and Jamie-Lee Money as the daughter of Val McKee and Rhonda LeBeck from the first film, Valerie McKee.

A Cold Day in Hell opens up on the top of a glacier in Northern Canada where a group of scientists manage to disturb some Graboids apparently awoken by a combination of global warming and the arctic summer. As you might expect, this doesn’t end well for our merry band of researchers.

Then we cut to Burt minding Chang’s general store and being menaced by the most over the top IRS agent I’ve seen in a movie for quite a while. Apparently Burt hasn’t filed his taxes in decades and… yeah, nothing really comes of this sorry if that’s spoilery, but it’s not even really used as motivation to get Burt Graboid hunting again. It just fills in a little time and might make a few of the more Libertarian fans of the series smile or groan as it may be. Travis shows up and Burt retreats to the roof for a nap and a little sun and has a weird Graboid vision ( the first of many. )

Soon Burt is called up to investigate ( I.E. blow up ) the outbreak of Graboids in the “Arctic” and the race is on to discover not only the source of his visions, but the possible involvement of DARPA in the anomalously out of the way location for Graboids. So will this be the outbreak that finally defeats the indomitable Burt Gummer? Between the IRS, DARPA, inexplicable worm visions, and marauding pre-Cambrian life forms, has Burt finally met his match?

Ah yes, the harsh ice and snow covered tundra of the Canadian Arctic… or in this case, South Africa filling in for it! (image courtesy of Universal Studios)

Well, the effects are better than the last entry into the Tremors series and I’ll give A Cold Day in Hell this: it didn’t completely eliminate practical effects, but the CGI Graboids just don’t feel as real as the old ones. Also, these Graboids have taken a giant level up in strength for some reason: they throw around shipping containers like hacky sacks.

We have two Ass-Blasters ( Yep, that’s a thing in this series, look it up ) who kinda don’t amount to much, but the rest of our prehistoric menaces are strictly traditional Graboids with a CGI makeover.

I also noted that, because of the quality of the soil where A Cold Day in Hell was shot, it was very easy to tell where the ground has been set up for the tunneling effects and it kinda ruins it for me. Maybe they didn’t go as deep as in the other movies, or possibly the effects were just more hurried, but it just wasn’t a good showing as far as tunneling effects go for the series.

Also, A Cold Day in Hell is probably the bloodiest of the Tremors movies: nothing too serious, but you have to wonder what made them decide to go with the gore in this one.

Tanya van Graan and Jaime-Lee Money seen here doing the best they can with what they were given, which isn’t much. (image courtesy of Universal Studios)

A Cold Day in Hell is the Tremors movie that went nowhere. There is an IRS subplot that goes nowhere, a “Burt is having strange worm visions” subplot that goes nowhere, a DARPA involvement subplot that goes nowhere, and a “Burt is infected” subplot that goes further than the other subplots… but not by much. Also, A Cold Day in Hell seems to be trying to continue the pee fetish from the last movie with a weirdly plot pivotal firehouse-like urination scene. C’mon guys, this isn’t the ’90s anymore. We have the internet to cater to those kind of “predilections” now, you can stop trying to work them into movies.

Who knows, maybe the guys behind all the weird pee stuff in Cute Little Buggers did a script rewrite for A Cold Day in Hell. The dialogue is on about the same level.

I don’t want to be the guy that complains about a movie not being shot in the “right” location but trying to sub South Africa for Northern Canada doesn’t really work. In fact, the amount of time they spend in the movie justifying all the inconsistencies is frankly distracting. You can blame global warming and the Arctic Summer as much as you want, but it just can’t cut it as an explanation. The fact that the researchers’ main building is mostly constructed out of glass doesn’t really fit, cars being on the wrong side doesn’t really fit, and it just doesn’t feel like Canada Northern wilderness or not.

I wish I had more to say about A Cold Day in Hell plot-wise, but there just isn’t much there to talk about. We never really get invested in any of the new characters, although they do try to pull on longtime series fans’ heartstrings with the introduction of Val and Rhonda’s daughter to the series. Unfortunately, she comes across as a bit of a personality-less Mary Sue and doesn’t leave much of an impression, favorable or otherwise.

Basically, A Cold Day in Hell is supposed to be hunting Graboids in the Arctic, but with no snow, cold, or any other Arctic conditions, how is it any different? In fact, why did they choose Northern Canada as a setting in the first place if they didn’t have any location specific ideas they wanted to use? I’m guessing so they had a cover and poster that might attract back old fans with a new setting, if not a new direction, for the series. Sadly, we don’t get even that. Why not try setting it in a location you could substitute South Africa for, like Egypt or the Middle East? Graboids and pyramids seem over the top enough to get everyone’s attention, or actually use your teased DARPA subplot and have the Graboids being weaponized and only Burt can stop them from being unleashed on the world. Just something, guys. I remember watching these movies as a kid and I don’t want to see them go out like this.

If they ever stop making that shade of orange dye, it’ll be the final nail in the Tremors coffin. Also, this is why you should always turn your head when you drain an abscess. (image courtesy of Universal Studios)

I know I’ve been hard on A Cold Day in Hell, but it could have been much more if they’d just picked one plot thread and stuck with it. It feels like it was supposed to be a SyFy channel original movie, but they decided to release it independently after it was completed.

Stay away, my friends. Whether you’re a fan of the series or new to the whole franchise, this isn’t the movie for you. It brings absolutely nothing new to the series and the callbacks aren’t worth your time.

If you haven’t seen any of the Tremors movies, I encourage you to start at the beginning. It really is a fun little movie that turned out to be far better than it had any right to be. Even if you’re not a genre fan, it’ll probably give you a giggle, and if you are into horror or just cheesy movies in general and you’ve somehow avoided it for the last couple of decades, you’re in for a treat.

Also, A Cold Day in Hell has some of the worst dialogue I have heard in years. It’s like they tried to write a script using a random meme generator. Burt and crew are silly but they can usually be counted on to speak like humans.

Burt isn’t Ash and Tremors isn’t The Evil Dead and trying to make it so just isn’t going to work.

Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!

Okay, so Burt has been infected with this weird, slow-growing parasite for years, okay. It’s releasing a neurotoxin that will kill him, okay. It’s giving him bizarre worm visions ( that never come to anything ), okay, and the only way he can survive it is with the secretions from a throat sack/gland in a “live” Graboid. Why live? In the end, they extract it and give it to Burt in a drip. They couldn’t do that with a freshly killed Graboid? Really? It just feels like another example of A Cold Day in Hell building something up and then just losing interest in it half-way through.

Also, you can tell the budget was slashed on this one simply by the amount of heat Burt isn’t packing in A Cold Day in Hell. One rifle, a couple of pistols, and only the ammunition he’s carrying on him… for Burt? His gun-shy ancestor in The Legend Begins ended up with more firepower than this sorry entry into the series. Sad, my friends, truly sad.

I miss the practical effect Graboids, I know I’m not getting them back, but it has to be said.

Come back next week for more loquacious lunacy, cinematic sensationalism, and over the top film fanaticism, here on the Edge!

About Author

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Justin T. Williams hails from the Great state of Texas. His life has been a series of strange adventures that makes for intriguing writing but difficult laundry. Justin is known to his friends as a lifetime fan of comics, movies, and classic pulps. He lurks far from the sun, indulging in his favorite pastimes of writing and hoarding random bits of interesting but useless knowledge.