First of all, I love Tremors. For me, it is a perfect movie. For what it is. Want to watch a movie about giant worms that kill people which is fun but scary sometimes? This is it. For the type of movie it is, I can’t find fault. It doesn’t take too long. It has some great effects. A simple but believable plot. Really engaging characters.
Which brings me to Burt Gummer.
Burt is one of my favourite characters in the universe of film. Yes, he got to be in the other Tremors movies so was developed more, but I loved him in the first movie alone. He is up there with Childs, Napoleon Wilson, Kikuchuyo, Ash, etc. In a way, it is more what he represents that makes him so great to me, and for one of my favourite moments while watching movies.
So Burt and his wife are isolationists; armed to the teeth, no doubt suspecting the government of everything bad act in the last 50 years, seemingly preparing for the end of civilised society. They are all about independent living and, well, guns.
Burt isn’t liked by the other characters either, especially our heroes. He is uptight, bossy and despises everyone else for not being prepared. Essentially, you know he is being set up to be knocked down. He is that character in those kinds of movies who has a strong standpoint on life which he uses to lecture others, often from the right side of society. Old guy who tells the youth they don’t deserve to be alive. The authoritarian figure who demands respect but gives none in return. The braggart you know will run at the first sign of trouble.
So Burt isn’t liked and is a gun nut. Also, his entire ethos of being prepared and equipped is reduced to nothing because…. giant worms!
What happens? He and his wife come home and go into their basement, littered with guns. They have been scouting around but found nothing and so are none the wiser about how things are progressing. The rest of the community are up on their rooftops and manage to call Burt to warn him. He sits there, not quite catching what they are saying, not really listening to be honest. A worm is coming for them. Even when he understands what they are trying to get across, he and his wife are looking out the windows, guns ready, seeing nothing. They have no clue. They are done for.
The worm bursts through the wall.
Cut to the others hearing screams over the radio that are ended abruptly.
So there you have it. That guy who isn’t likeable who has lots of guns and goes on about being prepared gets attacked in a way he could never have seen coming. Ha ha. Sucks to be you, Burt.
This is the movie moment I adore.
Gunshots are being heard across the valley. The film cuts back to inside the house as Burt and his wife unleash everything they have into the worm. Okay, so for some reason the worm doesn’t just spurt forward and get them, but who cares? It is being shot, maybe that’s enough to make it hold back but not leave.
So we watch as they unload into the worm. Finally, Burt gets his elephant gun out and blasts the thing. He and his wife hug. He is panting but grinning manically. He declares:
“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec-room, didn’t you, you bastard?!”
I love that line. It’s something about the exultation of Burt coupled with the simple taunting of a dead giant worm. It is a war cry of survival with Burt overcoming a threat, just as he always planned. So maybe this wasn’t something he was ready for, but he – and his wife – showed nature who was boss. Burt. And his wife. No idea of her name. (Just looked it up. It’s Heather)
Burt should have been killed off. I’m not even talking within that world, but within the movie. He was the character that gets killed off. He was the character you are led along to dislike and laugh at as he gets his comeuppance. But he won. It is almost as if the character defied the film itself and survived.
That’s not the case, though. It was part of the plot, of course. Burt and his wife rescue the others and his bombs help save the day, if it is Kevin Bacon who gets to be the hero. Fair enough, he is pretty good in this film. But Burt goes from isolationist to champion of the group. His little moment of offering the annoying kid a gun to get him moving, only for it to be revealed that it was unloaded, is both amusing and an enjoyable character moment. He didn’t have to reach out to the kid, even if it was a trick. He wanted to get him moving.
Burt goes from 2D character set up for failure to an unlikely heroic type, becoming part of the community when they need him. He is also amusing, whether laughing at him and with him. Also, if truth be told, if you were thrown into that movie and had to pick a character, you would be wise to be Burt. He is prepared. He is ready to survive. He has his shit together and has an elephant gun. Both are pluses when dealing with giant worms.
I love Childs in the Thing for much the same reason. Okay, I love Keith David anyway, but Childs is a great character not least because he gets shit done. What’s that, you think MacReady is the Thing? Leave him out in the cold then. But what if we’re wrong? Then we’re wrong (David growl). You deal with it, you accept it, but we’re not taking the chance. Too many movies of that ilk – inferior ones, let’s be honest – have characters wasting time worrying about what to do/not to do, bickering and discussing the hours away. Childs gets shit done. He is belligerent. Really belligerent. But he isn’t a bad man, nor is he a coward. In this situation, he is great to have around. Not perfect. A hothead, indeed. MacReady, another favourite of mine, is a loner who becomes the leader and rightly so. Childs is his rival there but follows when proven wrong. Could have been fun to see a version where Childs takes charge, but the point is both men are unlikely heroes who rise to the occasion. Such are often the best heroes.
Burt is like this. Yes, he is more comical, yet he butts heads with the heroes, isn’t polite about it either, and he gets the first kill. Real kill, not done by accident. In later movies he becomes the hero and he fits the role so well.
Michael Gross is great playing him too.
So that’s Burt and that’s why I like him so much. That moment when Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and co hang their heads, thinking the gun-toting couple are dead, and then the shots ring out – I love it every time. I really do. That moment when you realise this movie is a simple, fun horror, and yet it is a cut above that. It is a movie I have watched countless times and will again. Easy to get into, quick to enjoy, simple to follow. I really like that they never explain the grabboids. Much like in the Thing, where MacReady is being asked about the alien and his curt (get it?) response is to snap back: “why are you asking me?” A very similar exchange happens. Sometimes people in these movies shouldn’t know what the hell is going on. They are believable in their limitations.
Burt is who he is. He doesn’t become super smart or courageous or charming. He remains who he is. Yet he does help others, reaches out to them, still gets into arguments but doesn’t let anyone down. He is a character you would want about you in a bad time, just not the rest of your life.
I just really like Burt!