- 96 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
“This valley is just one long smorgasbord.”
A tiny desert town, tons of guns, underground monsters, and a whole lot of killing; this is the perfect storm that is Tremors. When I was a kid I was absolutely fascinated with movie monsters, usually the bigger the better, and this movie is chock-a-block with one of my personal all-time favorites. Reminiscent of Shai-Hulud, the great sand worms from Dune, as well as the ‘other’ sand worms from Beetlejuice, these things are all kinds of awesome, but I digress. This flick is much more than a simple homage to massive, man-eating worms.
Directed by Ron Underwood (whose later work includes City Slickers and Mighty Joe Young), Tremors tells the (familiar?) tale of tiny, isolated mountain town, a bored populace, and gigantic monsters that live underground and eat anything that moves (literally). The tiny valley town of Perfection, Nevada, population 14, gets an unexpected shakeup just as two fed-up locals, Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward), are looking to head out of town for good, on their way to greener pastures.
These two home-town types are looking to get out and make their fortunes elsewhere, and we find them on the move when the movie opens. Unfortunately for them, their little town of Perfection is situated in a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, and the singular road out of town just so happens to be closed down by electrical workers (a silly but vital plot point, par for the course in any B-movie worth its salt). So they head back, temporarily discouraged, and it is at this point that people (and sheep) start to disappear. With the serendipitous introduction of a young, attractive seismology student, Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), who was out checking errant signals, the trio barely escapes a sudden attack by an unknown creature. Hightailing it back to town they discover the snake-like tentacle still attached to their vehicle which the opportunistic general store owner Walter Chang (Victor Wong) names ‘Graboid,’ thinking to cash in on the carcass. However, his optimism is short-lived.
An epic assault befalls the cluster of small buildings that constitute this tiny town, and it’s up to Earl and Val, our intrepid duo of unlikely heroes, to save everyone in it. Throw in the hilarious and surprisingly well-armed survivalist couple Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire) and you’ve got one heck of a stand-up fight. But every monster must have a weakness, and we discover that the creatures have a difficult time reaching things in high places off the ground, or on solid objects, like boulders, so the very environment comes into play throughout the film to great effect.
But just what are these creatures? Where do they come from, and what do they even look like? Underwood takes the smart (and time-honored) approach of delay payoff (read: gratification), teasing the audience with the neat special effects that really bring the snake-like ‘Graboids’ to life. Now science nerds, amateur xenobiologists and even budding cryptozoologists alike might want some gritty biology lesson or overlong monologue that describe the creatures’ origins (and I am right there with you!).
But fear not, action movie fans! Instead of essentially pausing the action to effect any tedious ‘explanations,’ the movie basically blows right on past that junk; it’s all about survival and desperately trying to escape these monsters, fight AND flight, basically, “no time for love, Doctor Jones.” But the fact that these creatures are so cool, not to mention the allure money, more than likely led Universal Studios to their inevitable Tremors sequels and prequel (although they were not quite in the same league as the original, in my humble opinion). So the Bacon-laden opus that is Tremors allows for true audience interactivity, forcing you to make up your own origin story! Pretty cool.
For all of its epicness, Tremors was done on a modest budget, but managed to pull off some down-right excellent special effects, especially if you’re comparing it to its forerunners, those B-creature features of yesteryear. Which, in many ways, it is. Much of the film gives a big ol’ nod to those well-worn tropes – the reluctant hero, the scantily-clad damsel in distress, the endangered populace, the mysterious and unknown monster, and campy as all get out.
But the film manages to ride the fine line between serious and camp, cementing itself as a cult classic. It doles out plenty of thrills, gore, and dark humor most often associated with those early ’90s flicks, exemplified as one of the best films of its type. The blinding light of the desert sun lends an excellent contrast to the dark nature of these underground creatures, and helps the audience focus on the ensemble, which really is the core of the film. But when it’s all said and done, after watching this film, you may never look at the ground in quite the same way again.
Slither (2006) dir. by James Gunn
The Blob (1988) dir. by Chuck Russell
Dune (1984) dir. by David Lynch (not quite a watch-alike, but because of the obvious connection to giagantic worms, plus it’s a flat-out great flick)
Beetlejuice (1988) dir. by Tim Burton (see above)