It’s October, it’s the monster season, and all throughout the month I’ve been reviewing some of the most famous Horror films of the 90’s. Before I can talk about today’s movie, lets quickly look back at the 1950’s. That was the B movie age, when horror revolved around cheesy creature features that weren’t meant to be taken seriously. While they weren’t quality films, there was still an art and style that went into them, and many of which are still regarded as classics in their own right. Now fast-forward to 1990 with the monster movie “Tremors”, which is the modern day equivalent of an admittedly stupid, but classy 50’s film and pays homage to all the old school genera tropes. I distinctly remember seeing the poster for this movie back when I was just a little kid and thinking it’ll be a really scary flick, then I watched it on TV and laughed myself silly. This is a fun, charming, unpretentious creature feature that where’s its B movie badge with class. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the film, but it is still a mostly enjoyable diversion.
The idea for “Tremors” came from screen writer S.S. Wilson who during his military years found himself sitting on a rock for a little while, and a thought came to him. What if I was stuck on this rock because if I set foot back on the ground something might kill me ... or more specifically eat me? Thus, a seed for “Tremors” was planted, and boy did it grow. Set in a small desert town called “Perfection”, a small group of dopy cowboys and idiot roughnecks find themselves falling prey to massive sand worms which spring up from the ground with a big appetite for anyone making noise. Our survivors need to find high ground or rocky terrain in which the creatures can’t dig through. They have to come up with a plan to get rid of them fast, because these beasts are relentless. The strength of this movie comes from its simplicity. We have killer sand worms, a small group of people trying to survive them, and that’s all the film really needs. Even with it’s by the numbers monster plot, the film has some small kernels of original and creative ideas. This was also Director Ron Underwoods first movie project before he did comedies like “City Slickers”.
The monsters are called “Graboids”, and while the concept of giant killer sand worms has been done in other films like “Dune”, these are still mostly original movie monsters. They have no eyes, but sharp hearing. They have snake like tongs, and can move very fast underground. I do wish they came in a larger variety of different forms and shapes, because we’re stuck with the one design throughout most of the film. That’s not a serious negative against the movie mind you, just something I would have liked. The creature effects are delightfully cheesy. Some of the practical effects are mostly very good, and animatronics puppets never get old, as opposed to fake, non-existent CGI creatures that we get all the time today. Their admittedly not Hollywood’s scariest monsters, and even have their own sense of hummer, but they still work in their own right as memorable movie creatures. The best thing about the “Graboids” is that they don’t even have a back story, their literally just monsters that came out of the ground one day. Some may call this lassie screen writing, but I think it’s great. Even the characters in the movie make a point, “who cares where they came from, we just need to find a way to kill them”.
The characters are your typical, stock survival characters, but just charming and likable enough to pull us though. Some of the cast members actually have great chemistry and exchange some witty lines. One of my favorite quips comes from the lead characters Earl and Valentine. Earl: “Is this a job for an intelligent man?” Valentine: “Well, show me one and I’ll ask him.” The lead cowboy Valentine is played by Kevin Bacon, and he seems to be having a lot of fun with this movie. Reba McEntire is also featured as one of the survivalists, and while her screen time is short, her presence it felt. The stand out survivalist is named Burt Gunner, played by Michael Gross, who would become the main reoccurring character throughout the entire series. This guy has a house stocked with explosives, and enough weapons mounted on his wall to last him for years. He’s basically a bad ass comedic side character, who also has some funny lines. Earl: What kind of fuse is that?” Burt: “Cannon fuse”. Earl: “What the hell do you use it for?” Burt: “My Cannon!” While the cast is admittedly disposable, they can still be likable enough to root for, and with Kevin Bacon leading the cast you can’t go wrong.
The methods in which our hero’s out-smart the monsters or kill them lead to some creative action set pieces and situations. My favorite scene is when one of the Graboids bursts into Burt’s basement, then he and his wife unleash hell on the creature by using every single one of their fire arms on the beast. The creature attacks are also very minimal as far as violence is concerned, and there isn’t that much gore. The most carnage actually comes from the dead worm bodies, which are awesome to watch explode. The whole third act is a deadly game of cat and mouse, in which all our hero’s are stranded on ruff tops and utilize a variety of weapons and explosives. At the climax, Kevin Bacon kicks off his Sunday shoes, and proves to be just as smart as he his fast on his feet.
One thing I have mixed feelings about is how the film only gives us samples of genera tropes without going all the way with them. There are elements of horror, but nothing is scary, there are elements of comedy, but nothing that funny either. This isn’t a big problem as it adds to the simplicity of the experience, but I personally prefer movies like “Evil Dead 2” that go all out, and can be just as funny as it is terrifying. There were several uninspired sequels that followed, some of which a think I watched, but honestly forgot about. The first sequel was “Tremors 2: Aftershocks” which came out in 1996. Then there was “Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” in 2001. This sequel was followed by a prequel film in 2004 titled “Tremors 4: The Legend Begins”. There was even a “Tremors” TV show that aired on the Sci-Fi channel, but I didn’t watch it. Finally in 2015 there was “Tremors 5: Bloodlines”, which hopefully is the last film. These sequels do what the first film did, put minus the charm and genuine enjoyment. Even though I haven’t watched that much of them, I’m sure their typical, monster movie camp. Well, the first movie was campy too, but it at least was self aware and knew how to make its silly concept somewhat entertaining.
This is arguably the least scary classic horror film to come from the 90’s, but then again, scares aren’t what this film aims for. It’s soul intention is to celebrate classic genera tropes which are gently mocked for the viewers amusement, without the film ever trying to be too clever. Even with that said, the film can be creative, original and just has fun with itself. I personally think the movie is average monster fun. It’s not nearly as funny or thrilling as other films of this sort, but I can’t say I didn’t have a good time watching it either. “Tremors” is a special case in which a film aims for trashy entertainment, and becomes a small genera classic in its own right. In short, it’s the golden turd of 90’s horror cinema.
I give “Tremors” 2 ½ stars out of 5.