(The following article is from contributing writer JL Watkins)
A deadly threat resurfaces halfway around the world when giant, man-eating worms attack a South African wildlife park in the sci-fi comedy, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD this week from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Michael Gross returns as Graboid hunter extraordinaire Burt Gummer, with Jamie Kennedy as his new tech-savvy second-in-command, in this all-new adventure. The latest chapter of the franchise known for its campy humor and voracious monsters features thrilling new special effects, 25 minutes of bonus features; extended scenes and outtakes, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
The stakes are raised for survivalist Burt Gummer in his most dangerous monster hunt yet. When Gummer's hired to capture a deadly Assblaster terrorizing South Africa, he and his new sidekick, Travis Welker, find themselves in a battle to the death against the fiercely aggressive Assblasters and Graboids. Discovering that the monsters have evolved into even more lethal creatures, their mission takes on a whole new level of unseen terror -- far more than they bargained for.
We recently caught up with the great Michael Gross for a very fun interview that covers everything from the inception of the series to future sequels. Along the way, we get to talk about how Burt Gummer was the perfect antitheses to Family Ties' Steve Keaton, how dogs are being drawn to the screen whenever Tremors 5 plays, and what exactly happened to the Tremors TV show. We also get to learn about Burt's deadly cage match in the South African desert, and how the end credits scene in this sequel may launch a whole new series of movies revolving around Burt and his new partner Travis as they seek out new monsters across the globe. Here is our conversation.
I've got my old portable cassette player going. I thought that would be in the spirit of Burt Gummer...
Michael Gross: Oh, very good. How retro of you!
We just ran a story about the Flatliners remake. It made me think back on Tremors 5. You guys knew exactly what the fans wanted. We didn't want a reboot or remake of Tremors. We wanted that big number 5. We wanted Burt Gummer! That had to be an interesting conversation going into this. How do you move the franchise forward when horror movies have pretty much abandoned the numbered titles.
Michael Gross: It's actually difficult to know what anyone wants these days. Tastes seem to change so quickly nowadays depending on the latest blog. The latest Facebook page. Twitter is somewhat important in telling you what you should want. It is walking a fine line. What our executive producer always emphasized was that, yes, we're doing Tremors. But it's for a very different audience. It's been 15 years since we've done a sequel. And audiences change, their tastes change. We tried to walk a fine line between giving people what they want today, and giving people in 2015 a take on this, and yet remaining in the world of Tremors. Staying in that universe we created. So, we're doing a tightrope walk in a certain way. We want to remain faithful to who we are, as to not shock old fans. And yet get updated in a way, if that's how you want to put it.
That does play into the end credits scene. I'm not sure how much we can talk about that, or if it's a spoiler. But you guys are clearly setting up an avenue to go down, where you're not fully reliant on the Assblasters and Graboids. There's a whole new series of movies to explore here...
Michael Gross: You mean the end credits? Yes. That being said. We don't know if there is a Tremors 6. If there is, we're not sure what that is yet. I know what I would like to see as Tremors 6. Because I've been with this a long time. I have specific desires along those lines. But clearly, we have left the door open for a sequel. Absolutely. The opening credits are a whole different thing, too. For new young people who have never seen a Tremors, for those who didn't know what it was, we should begin with a little primer. The life cycle of a Graboid. The etymology, if you will, of these creatures, to bring people up to speed.
I thought that opening sequence was great. I watched the original a year ago, so that was fresh in my memory. But I hadn't seen the sequels since they came out, as you said, 13 years ago. Speaking off of that, I know this is a VOD and home video release, but god damn, the creatures in this...They look amazing. This is some beautiful monster work, and the graboids and assblasters look better on my big screen than they ever have in any of the movies. They're flawless.
Michael Gross: I know. I think it's incredible. If I have any regrets at all about the franchise, and there are few regrets...But one would be that, with this built in audience, and a certain name value, I am so sorry this will not hit the big screen. Because they have these horror movies coming out all the time with lovely, but no name, actors. No history to it. And I'm not sure why this couldn't have the same thing. I think it's because we've done so well in the aftermarket video DVD world. Universal wants to do what works, and what they know works, and not take a chance on something else. Though, I think the creature work is beautiful. It is not your grandmother's CGI.
I was amazed at how realistic they looked. And the scenery, too. It's a beautiful looking movie. You guys shot this on location in South Africa, right?
Michael Gross: Yes. We shot all of it on location in South Africa. In some respects, I think this is the most effective of all the ones we've done. Including the original. Finding the local color, and using the ethnicity of the local culture. The wonderful local actors...Aside from Tremors 1, which I absolutely adored, this is, in some ways, the most effective in capturing a completely different place. And embracing that place. The tribal costumes, and things like that. And really taking advantage of what South Africa has to offer, including some marvelous talent.
Most movies that shoot in South Africa do not set the story on location. They turn it into Georgia or Arizona, or somewhere completely different. That's what is unique and cool about Tremors 5. South Africa is a character in the movie.
Michael Gross: Right. Exactly. We're not having South Africa stand in for another location. As you can see, in the occasional frame, a large animal other than a monster will walk through. Elephants, zebras and giraffes. Occasionally a deer is caught on camera. Which is ironic. We spent most of our time on game reserves in really wide, open spaces.
I don't want to give away any spoilers. But you do have Jamie Kennedy coming in here as a new character. And it's a character that is set up to carry on the franchise. What was it like finding the perfect sidekick for Burt? Especially knowing that this is an on-screen relationship you want to see carried through potential future movies?
Michael Gross: The most important thing in finding a companion for Burt was finding someone that annoyed him. Because Burt is a loner. Burt is a man of solitude. Burt lives in a universe of one. And I think he accepts another human being in his life very grudgingly. I hope we've portrayed that on screen. He just doesn't want people around. He's happiest by himself. I don't know if the word happy can ever be applied to Burt. He's learned to live by himself. I think the chemistry between Jamie and myself really works. Because we're different people. I tend to be more like Burt. I like to know where things are going. I like plans. Jamie comes out of stand-up comedy, and improvisational comedy, where it's like, 'Let's see what happens. Let's see what develops as we move through this. Let's live dangerously.' I'm more like Burt in saying, 'No, no, let's not live dangerously. Let's fully prepare. I feel that we, as actors, approached the material that way. I think it was fun. It's great chemistry, because the more you can have someone with whom Burt doesn't get along, the more fun you'll have. Burt never has an easy relationship with anyone. Let alone someone who...I don't want to give anything away...But forces himself, in a sense, onto Burt in a way that makes him extremely uncomfortable.
One of the best scenes in the movie locks you in a cage, and drags you across the African desert in your underwear. Take me to the set the day you had to shoot those scenes? Because it plays like an insane moment in anyone's life including Burt Gummer, who's seen everything...
Michael Gross: It was pretty brutal. I was in the cage. The large animal you see outside the cage was inches away from me. It was filmed in an enclosure. The cage and I were in the middle of an inclosure. The beast was surrounding us. It had free reign. Then we were all, the beast, the cage and I, were all contained within a perimeter fence. The film crew, and everyone else, was outside the fence, shooting through holes in the fence. Shooting with a long lens to protect themselves. It went on for hours, and I just made sure that I was provided with water, something with which to cover myself, including lots of sunblock. Because the sun was intense. There were certain times that we had to stop, and fix our bearings. When the beast refused to cooperate, one of the things that kept that beast coming back to me was, they provided me with fresh raw meat inside the cage. So I could keep re-attracting the beast. I would put a little meat on the side of the cage, so it would come to me. It would take the meat and not my hands with it. It was real. It was up close and personal. And I can tell you, it did not have the most pleasant breath. Raw meat breath.
Do you have dogs?
Michael Gross: I do, in fact. I've had several dogs. At present, my wife and I are the owner of only one dog. A dear little 13 pound animal named Charlie.
At 13 pounds, what kind of dog is he?
Michael Gross: He's a mix. He's a rescue dog. He looks like he could be part Terrier and a bunch of other things. Shitzu. He has black and white patches. We had his DNA done. Or rather, my wife did. I have never had my DNA done. But she had our dog's DNA done. And apparently, it is predominantly Pomeranian and dachshund of all things. Why do you ask? I'm just curious.
I ask because this movie is perfect for dogs. My dogs, anyway. I watched this at home on my big screen TV. And my dogs sometimes watch TV. Pretty close to the beginning of the movie, there are some noises that these Graboids and Assblasters were making that called the dogs attention to the screen. And as soon as they saw the monsters, they could not look away. I don't want to say they got bored whenever you'd show up. But they were certainly fixated on these monsters. I was wondering if that was on purpose. That there are noises and other elements in there that are meant to call a dog's attention.
Michael Gross: That's interesting! This is fascinating. Its an entirely new audience for us. Maybe we should team up with the Westminster Dog Show? Or, we should be interviewed by them. This is fantastic. I didn't know that we had a dog audience.
DirecTV has a Dog Channel. Maybe Universal should partner with them and show Tremors 5 late at night.
Michael Gross: We should run this. It's obviously a natural. That's wild. I did not know it had this appeal. There might be coyotes that come howling outside your door if you play it again. My dog hasn't seen it yet. I don't know what his reaction will be. I don't have a copy yet, believe it or not! You know something? If the dogs like it, we've definitely gone primal and we're thrilled.
Back in the 90s, when Tremors first came out...I'm pretty old. I grew up watching Family Ties. And when I saw Tremors for the first time, it was like whiplash, seeing Burt Gummer after associating you with Michael Keaton. But that was 30 years ago. And I think this character has become the dominant persona. So now it has a reverse affect if I ever run across one of those old reruns late at night.
Michael Gross: It was so wonderful to have this happen. After 7 years of doing Family Ties, this was my first major character. And it answered two important questions for this actor. One, would there be work outside of Family Ties after Family Ties? And two, what kind of characters would they be? Would I be typecast as the sweet loving father. But boy, nothing could be more different. I will be forever grateful to director Ron Underwood, writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock for what they handed to me on a silver plater. Their trust, and ability and willingness to cast against type was a great gift to me, and I will be forever grateful to them.
Burt Gummer is one of those characters that horror genre fans, and all fans really, gravitate too. It's like the Frog Brothers. Your character could do anything, and people are gong to watch it for Burt. That's rare. And that's what's cool about the end credits scene here. We want to see Burt hunting all kinds of monsters. The monster almost becomes secondary, and that doesn't happen too often in horror or monster movies.
Michael Gross: You may be overstating it. I would like to think that may be. Burt is fascinating. He's a comic, obsessive-compulsive paranoid. There are no other terms to describe him. The extremes he takes are so funny. What makes him so funny is precisely the fact that he has no sense of humor. Burt doesn't laugh, ever. Sure, he'll have a hysterical moment when he's killing something. But that's not really laughter. That's a whole different primal thing that is going on there. They have created a fascinating character. Ron Underwood, S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock created a fascinating character, and nothing is better, as an actor, than when a director or writer falls in love with a character. If you know Family Ties, you know that happened with Michael Fox. The writers fell in love with the character of Alex. These writers fell in love with the character of Burt Gummer. And that is just a blessing. That is a bit of something unplanned. And it has been a thrill. Because it has been a great ride. Burt is wonderful. If the scripts stay good, I would do another sequel. Certainly. Because I wouldn't be doing the same thing over and over again. That's why I like 5. 5 takes Burt into the territory where he is challenged psychologically more than he is physically. There will always be monsters. But the character played by Jamie Kennedy brings a challenge to Burt that is mightier than dealing with something that is mighty uncomfortable.
That's why I don't think I'm overstating it. Please show me another horror or monster movie where there is a character that is more fascinating or cooler than the monster or killer. It doesn't often happen.
Michael Gross: I get that. That's correct. Yeah.
Once again, going off the end credits. Not to harp on it, but that could certainly work as a TV show. I know you guys attempted that several years ago, on Syfy I think. But this would be different.
Michael Gross: We tried it twelve or thirteen years ago. Debacle is perhaps too strong a word. It did not succeed in the ways we wanted it too. One of the things, at the time, was that Syfy wanted something completely different than the creators whom they hired. We wanted more...The original creators of Tremors, including myself, wanted a more character driven thing. We wanted our share of monsters, absolutely. But we thought, we're visiting people every week. This gives us room for character development. We had plans that Burt would try to find love online from his bunker. We had really quirky story lines. The monsters are always there. The threat of death. But we also wanted to get into these characters heads. I think the network wanted to see more and more monsters. And a monster a week. Which was crazy. It was a little ill-fated, especially at that time. We would shoot things in sequence. The network would run them out of sequence. It made no sense. We were as puzzled as the fans sometimes, about what was going on, because they were out of sequence. And it was kind of a bad marriage at the time. If you brought a different set of creatives and executive people to the table, it might work better next time. I was not disappointed to see that go. We were much more successful with the films in the long run.
One last thing I want to touch on. I just recently re-watched Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, and I noticed you in the credits. I was like, what? No, I misread that. Of course it has to be a different Michael Gross, right? Is that really you doing the narration for the movie?
Michael Gross: Did you watch all the end credits?
I guess I didn't
Michael Gross: I'm actually in the end. There is a visual of me. I did narrate. But I never appeared on screen during the movie. I just did narration for them. But at the end during the credits they do show a picture of me in the sound booth with my headphones on. I wave to the camera. No, I do not actually appear in the film. But that is my voice you hear in the film. It all came out of the fact that I had been on the Tim & Eric show once, doing a completely fun and crazy episode. They called me back and said they were doing a feature. They said there wasn't a specific part for me, but that I could do some narration.
I was wondering. I've seen the Tim & Eric show, but I don't recall your guest appearance right of the top off my head. It's been several years since I've watched the actual show.
Michael Gross: I did only one episode.
Watching the opening credits of the movie, I was like, "How did Michael Gross get involved in this?" I thought it was totally weird that you would do that. It seemed out of place. How do they all know each other? I just wanted to know how that came to be.
Michael Gross: I'll tell you if you're really interested. I'll make it quick. When they came to me for the episode, before the feature film, I looked at it and thought, 'This is nuts. This is completely crazy.' I didn't get it. And, I called my son. He knows everything about pop culture. I said, "I just got this script from Tim & Eric." And he said, "Do it!" I didn't even finish my sentence. He just said "Do it!" I said, "But I don't understand it." He said, "Forget that. Just do it!" He said, "A lot of people watch it. It's crazy. It's wonderful. Just say yes." So based on what my son said, I said, "Yes!" And I had a great time.
I love that story!
Michael Gross: I'd never heard of them before. They were off my radar, so to speak. My son said, "Just don't ask questions. Just do it, for God's sake, would you." It was funny in this particular case. He is a friend of actor Paul Rudd. And he said, "Paul's in it. Paul did it! You should do this." He knows everything about pop culture. If I have a pop culture question, I call my son.
Thanks for coming on and chatting. It's such a blast getting to talk to you.
Michael Gross: You're certainly welcome. And if you're curious. I'll give you my Facebook page. It is simply /ActorMichaelGross. And I have a bunch of other things coming up. One of them, believe it or not, is something that is premiering today. A web series. Its about older women trying to find love after divorce, dissolution and things like that. It's called Carbon Dating. I'm one of the producers on that. It premieres today on Youtube. In the winter you get to see me with my old pal Meredith Baxter on a Lifetime film. Its Lifetime's big Holiday movie. And we play, whether you believe it or not, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. That will be out in December. It will be Lifetime's big Holiday offering!
Tremors 5: Bloodlines is available now on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVDand Digital HD. It's also streaming on Netflix this October. Trust us, if you're a fan of the franchise, this may just be the best sequel yet (not counting the original). And we hope Burt and Travis get to carry on for many more years!