Subterranean Terror — Tremors 3: Back to Perfection
General note: to avoid repeating the term “Assblaster”, the article (and further entries featuring said creature) will mostly use abbreviations such as “AB” or “Blaster”.
The success of Tremors 2: Aftershocks led to the production of another sequel in the series — Tremors 3: Back to Perfection — that would mark the return, as the title says, to the original town in Nevada. Unlike the two predecessors, the project was rather quick-timed, with a short pre-production and production process. In particular, budget restrictions forbade an extensive shooting schedule. “To fit this very ambitious movie with three different kinds of Monsters into our budget meant we had to restrict our shooting days,” Writer S.S. Wilson said. “So we ended up with a 22-day schedule.”
Amalgamated Dynamics once again returned to provide the special effects for the film, this time accompanied by HimAnI Productions, which created digital versions of all the stages of the Graboid lifecycle.
The return of the Graboids also meant the return of a small portion of the original props — restored for the production. One of the full-scale animatronic head sections, as well as the tentacle hand puppets, were used to portray the Graboids seen early in the film. An insert upper jaw was also used for close-ups. Stock footage from Tremors was also sometimes used. One of the scenes features a recently swallowed Burt Gummer being saved from the Graboid’s stomach. Michael Gross was buried in a hole underground with creature guts made of latex and orange methocel simulating blood. The actor defined the experience as “a pain in the butt,” and compared it to “being in a grave.”
Tremors 3 introduces an albino Graboid, unable to reproduce, nicknamed ‘El Blanco’ by the production crew, as well as characters from the film. The concept of an albino Graboid actually fares back to a proposed Tremors series during the production of the second film. One of the animatronics was repainted with a pale color scheme, something also reflected in one of the hand puppets, to portray the creature. Digital effects were also used for the first time to bring the Graboid to the screen; the digital model was built based on reference photos provided by ADI, but still presented discrepancies in design when compared to the practical creatures — due to rushed pre-production time.
The Shriekers are only briefly seen in the opening sequence of the film, where a massive pack is exterminated by Burt Gummer’s caliber 50 guns. ADI originally refurbished the animatronics from the previous film, but they were ultimately not used in shooting. Based on the original moulds, the special effects artists also created a new stunt Shrieker to be destroyed by Burt Gummer’s 50 caliber hits. During the scene, the creature was hung by cables, and pre-installed explosives inside of it were set off. Tippett Studio’s digital Shriekers from the previous film were actually not recycled, with HimAnI building a new model from scratch. Over 300 Shriekers are seen in the scene. ADI also built shed skins of the Shriekers in urethane for the sequence where they are discovered.
Writer Steven S. Wilson once more wanted the characters to face an unexpected turn of events — another stage in the Graboid life cycle. “When we started Tremors 3,” he said, “Universal told us that there would be no more Tremors films after that. So we decided to “close the loop” on the life cycle of the Graboid.” Wilson thus conceived the Assblaster, a further stage that acts as an intermediary between the Shrieker and Graboid. In conceiving the Blasters, Wilson made reference to Valentine McKee’s speculation in the first film as to whether or not the ‘snake things’ — the Graboid tentacles — and the Graboid themselves could effectively fly. The new stage is thus able to take flight in order to reach longer distances and lay a single egg (or chrysalis) carrying what would grow into an adult Graboid. The introduction of the Blasters retroactively erases the precedent ideas regarding the life cycle of the creatures, which conceived the Shriekers as direct infant stages, growing into Graboids after enough time.
Not wanting to give the new stage literal wings (as in limbs), the filmmakers found inspiration in the Bombardier Beetles, species of the Carabidae family. These insects are able to produce a hot noxious chemical spray from the tip of their abdomen as a form of defense. The chemical is derived from a reaction between quinol (hydroquinone) and hydrogen peroxide, which are stored in separate chambers in the beetles’ abdomen; when threatened, the creatures send the chemicals in a third chamber with water and catalytic enzymes. The heat of the reaction creates a gas that aids the ejection, which is accompanied by a characteristic popping sound. “Building off that idea,” Tom Woodruff Jr. said, “was the notion of wanting to give the new creatures something that we hadn’t seen before.” The Blasters are able to launch themselves in the air through the ejection of unspecified mixed chemicals in their tail — through two thruster-like orifices. The creatures then glide using ‘wings’ composed of a membrane supported by long and thin spines on their sides.
The overall design of the Blaster reflected its purpose of gliding through the air: the body became longer and more streamlined, as did the head — which now presented an elongated beak and mandibles. The heat sensor was also modified in two simple side plates that rear, revealing the sensory organ. Some Shrieker traits were kept, such as the two jowls on the throat. The Blasters made quite the impression on the cast. Shawn Christian recalled: “you’re reading the script and say, ‘okay, Graboid, I saw it. Shrieker, I saw it. Cyclone — oh, that’s funny. Okay, then they turn into an Assblaster.’ You flip back, ‘an Assblaster? What?!'”
ADI built several practical versions of the Blasters, which were abbreviated on set as ‘ABs’. One hero animatronic head section was built, with fully articulated jaws and sensors. A stunt head section and stunt bodies (which could be hit or damaged) were also constructed, along with full dummies (such as the one used to portray the comatose Blaster). The animatronics were frequently installed on carts on tracks in order to be able to ram against walls or doors. A complete Blaster dummy was also built and suspended on a cable to simulate the creature’s gliding but was ultimately not shown in the final film. Creature guts were cast in latex and reused some precedent molds (such as the Shriekers’ tongues, recycled as intestines).
Another full dummy, used in combination with the El Blanco animatronic, was used to film the scene where the last Blaster is killed and devoured by the Albino Graboid. ADI’s practical effects were accompanied by HimAnI’s digital Blasters, seen most prominently in the film — although they present some noticeable inaccuracies in regards to the animatronics: the wings start at the base of the neck (as opposed to shortly after the jowls) and the interior of the mouth lacks the characteristic red color.
For more images of the Blasters, Shriekers, and Graboids, visit the Monster Gallery.