The fifth film in the Tremors series, Tremors 5: Bloodlines sees Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) decamp to South Africa to tackle a whole new outbreak. While on set, we spoke to director Don Michael Paul about why it’ll be bigger, louder and more scary than ever before…
How did you become involved Tremors 5? You did Lake Placid 4, so you have monster movie-making experience…
Haha! I did Lake Placid: The Final Chapter three or four years ago. That was shot on a much different scale than this. It was shot in 15 days…I did a movie for Universal last year they really liked called Jarhead 2: Field Of Fire. All of the Tremors prior to this one were made for a lot more money with a lot longer shooting schedule. So after I did Jarhead 2, they decided to give me a chance on this movie. The guys that created this film series, they’re great, great writers and good directors, but they hadn’t really had a lot of experience shooting so quickly. So that, combined with what I’d just done for Universal, I think got me the job.
What you’re aiming to do is, I suppose, keep the same look. We’re not expecting it to look like a smaller budget film?
No. I want to make it look bigger! The goal is to make it look bigger with less money and less time. I decided that the creatures in Africa are much bigger – everything about Africa is bigger and more intense: the animals are bigger, the landscapes are massive. I didn’t want to fake it for any place else. So the idea behind this creature now is that it’s evolved, it’s in Africa – it’s the same creature, but evolution is in play. Africa has harder ground, it’s like cement. It’s rockier, it’s tougher. So when I came here and started looking at it, I thought “Okay, we’ve got to make a creature that has evolved to this environment.”
Tell me about meeting a palaeontologist, and termites…
I went and met a great palaeontologist at Wits University [University of the Witwatersrand] here, one of the world’s most renowned palaeontologists – he’s making all kinds of discoveries right here, in what they call the Cradle, or the Cradle of Humankind, which is where many of these discoveries of hominid fossils are being uncovered, that are 4 million years old. I wanted to make this a more authentic creature to this land, to this landscape. He told me about a termite that lives in the Cradle which actually chews through rock. It spits formic acid and uses its magnesium mandibles to chew through rock. So I thought, “Well, okay, that’s science, that’s actually a living organism.”
And it fits in well with the way the Ass Blasters were created, based on the Bombardier beetles, that basis in real life.
Yep. And it fit perfectly with the Graboid, because the Graboid already has mandibles in the design of it. I thought, “The audience has never been told how this creature can rip through ground like it does.” So the palaeontologist told me about this creature, and we’ve now imbued our Graboid with these features: it has magnesium mandibles, and it spits formic acid – that’s how it travels and works in Africa.
What are we going to see in terms of life cycle? We’ve heard about African Ass Blasters, we’ve got an African Graboid, do we have [this writer’s favourite], the Shriekers much?
The Shriekers aren’t in this movie.
Yes. We have Ass Blasters, we have Graboids, no Shriekers. The Shrieker has been left out of the evolutionary process.
Oh no, gutted!
Haha! Well, you know, there’s always the next one! The Shriekers can come back.
Are you going to explore some of the life cycle of the creatures?
It’s discussed, and it’s actually visualised in a tribal dance in this movie. We have an African tribe that has been dealing with this creature for hundreds of years, and they go to a tribal dance at a certain point in the movie, and this creature and its process is described. It’ll be done hopefully in an artistic and fun way, so the audience can see it and be told about it but it’s being visualised in a dance.
So you’ve come in from outside of the series, as we discussed before. How is this one going to be different?
Burt’s the same. I think what’s going to be different is… I don’t think we’re going to lose the general tenor of the movie. What’s great about the Tremors franchise, particularly Tremors 1, is it’s a very unique movie in the sense that it combines genuine horror and scares with a light tone, which is not done very often. There are only a few movies which straddle that line.
I’m hoping to bring the scary back. What I think is great about the original is it did it perfectly…you had the genuine horror and the scare and you had the comedy. I think as the series went on it became more comic. For me, purely subjective taste, I prefer to have the horror, a little more horror heavy and a little less comedy heavy. I want to get it back to being scary again, giving some real genuine scares, shock the audience and also make them laugh, if we can.
Working with Michael Gross – do you just let him rock the Burt once the hat goes on? How has it been working with him so far?
Burt was funny in the first one, but as the series went on, in my opinion, I think he became more of a comedian. I want to keep the comedy of Burt, but I want to keep it based in some kind of reality. So it doesn’t get too broad and too comedic, but it feels like we still have the comedy. I think Michael might be a little bit more toned down than what people saw in 3 and 4, more maybe back to the original Burt. I wanted to redesign Burt and the way he looked, and thought, “Let’s shave his head.”
When he had his hair – which is a great look – he looked like a math professor from some Ivy League school. I wanted him to look a little bit more badass, keep him a little bit more real at times, even though he still has his Burt-isms and he still goes out to the crazy places, but we’re also going to keep it real. I’m going to try to scare people, I’m going to try to make it fun, I’m going to try to deliver on both fronts and go back to what that first one did. If we can scare them, and make them laugh, I think we’re going to be on to something, yeah.
Tremors 5: Bloodlines will be available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 12 October. For more news on the biggest movies, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.