Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tremors: The Series - Night of the Shriekers

They're not the living dead, but they'll eat you just the same.

Survivalist Burt Gummer is performing a routine patrol of the desert surrounding Perfection, Nevada, the small, isolated town in which he lives, when he becomes aware of some very peculiar goings on. Explosions in the mountains, a barricaded pathway, the unmistakable sound of the creatures known as Shriekers filling the air.

Hiking into Snakebite Canyon to get to the bottom of things, Burt is confronted by a Shrieker... which he quickly shoots to death. That's when a squad of black-clad soldiers arrive on the scene and chide him for destroying valuable government property.

Since the soldiers were at fault for not having the canyon properly guarded, they let Burt go, but don't provide any details on the top secret shenanigans they're up to.

That information comes from the woman who's at the head of the project, Doctor Megan Flint, played by Melinda Clarke. I was so enamored with Clarke's performance in the film Return of the Living Dead III that I named a dog after her (Mindy), so I was very glad to have her enter the world of Tremors with this episode of the TV show. With funds provided by the Department of the Interior, Flint is working to turn three Shriekers (minus the one Burt killed) into a force for good. The hope is that these Shriekers, obtained when a Graboid molted in the Sahara, will eventually be used for rescue and recovery missions to locate victims of earthquakes and mining accidents. Shriekers only see heat sources and are usually unable to detect heat through obstructions, but these three have been trained to recognize sources of indirect infrared radiation. Their food intake is closely monitored to keep them from reproducing, their ability to metamorphose into Ass-Blasters, the next stage of the Graboid life cycle, has been arrested, and microchips have been implanted in their brains to moderate their naturally aggressive behavior in conjunction with a remote unit that sends constant signals to receivers in the neck bands they wear.

Flint delivers a whole lot of exposition on something that is bound to fail, and it does so immediately after the scene in which she tells all of this to the residents of Perfection. All it takes is a storm and a lightning strike that cuts the power for Flint's group to lose control of the Shriekers.

The Shriekers go on a rampage, wiping out the majority of Flint's team as well as an entire month's worth of food (thirty sheep), quickly multiplying and advancing on Perfection. The storm flooded the road to the nearest town, so the cast of the series are trapped in their town, along with Flint and fellow doctor Harold Baines.

The title of this episode, which was directed P.J. Pesce (From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, earlier episode Hit and Run) and written by Tremors co-creators S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock with John Schulian (who also wrote the Project 4-12 episode), is a callback to the George A. Romero classic Night of the Living Dead, and the situation the characters find themselves in does indeed devolve into a NOTLD-esque scenario. Rather than being trapped in a farmhouse by hordes of zombies, here the people are trapped in Burt Gummer's basement (all that's left of his house after an explosion in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection) by hordes of Shriekers.

Most of the characters agree with Burt that the Shriekers must be wiped out indiscriminately, but local hippie Nancy Sterngood sides with Flint and Baines - the project the doctors were working on is important, and the three original Shriekers must be kept alive so their work can continue... Because of this disagreement, just like in a Romero zombie movie, things don't go well between the humans as the night goes on.

Thanks to modifications Flint has done to the Shriekers, the batch the characters have to face off against are also smarter and more capable than Shriekers we've seen before. They're learning. Again, like Romero zombies.

A Tremors story with Romero sensibilities is about as good as something can get in my opinion, that's two great tastes that taste great together, and as such Night of the Shriekers is one of my favorite episodes of the TV show's thirteen episode run, its simple set-up providing a good amount of action and suspense.

This episode also features what I believe is one of Michael Gross's all-time greatest line deliveries in the role of Burt Gummer. You have to see it in context to get it, but the way Gross says "Backup backup generator" always makes me smile. It is perfectly Burt.

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