Should I Watch..? 'Tremors'
What's the big deal?
Tremors is a horror comedy film released in 1990 and was co-written and directed by Ron Underwood. The film is a deliberate throwback to the monster movies of the 1950's and is set in a remote town in Nevada plagued by giant carnivorous worms that threaten to destroy everything in their path. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross and country singer Reba McEntire. Despite a positive reception from critics, the film earned $16.6 million in the US which was below studio expectations. However, the film has since developed into a cult smash after its release on home video systems and has gone on to spawn a whole franchise of sequels, prequels and a short-lived TV series. However, none of these were released to theatres as they were straight-to-DVD.
What's it about?
In the dusty quiet town of Perfection, Nevada, handymen Valentine "Val" McKee and Earl Basset decide to leave for the nearby town of Bixby in search of bigger and better things. But they are stopped in their tracks by the sight of local resident Edgar Deems who climbed up an electrical tower with his rifle and died, apparently refusing to come down. After discovering a local sheep farmer is missing, Val and Earl become convinced that a serial killer is on the loose and head back to Perfection to warn everybody.
However, the truth is even stranger than that - with several seismic events being studied by graduate student Rhonda LeBeck, the three of them conclude that some unknown creature is burrowing beneath the town and is intent of eating whatever is in its way. As the town becomes cut off, it soon falls to the terrified populace of Perfection to fend for themselves but luckily, they have plenty of firearms thanks to militia-types Burt and Heather Gummer. If only they could get to them without attracting the monsters...
Valentine "Val" McKee
S.S. Wilson & Brent Maddock*
Release Date (UK)
29th June, 1990
What's to like?
On paper, Tremors sounds as dumb as a sack full of rocks but on screen, this is a delightful tribute to those classic monster movies from the Fifties like The Beast From 20'000 Fathoms or Them! Narratively, the film isn't anything new but is enriched by the presence of Ward and Bacon in the lead roles who provide the film not just with likeable characters but also a light-hearted humour to off-set the grim predicament they find themselves in. Ably supported by Gross and McEntire (in her debut acting role), the film offers plenty of fun for the receptive viewer.
Horror comedies often struggle to maintain a balance between the two genres, usually because they are diametrically opposed to each other. But Tremors is a rare exception - it's funny when it needs to be but also scary when it needs to be. Granted, it's not an outright scarefest but the movie works hard to establish a sense of mystery around these creatures. We don't know where they came from, what they are capable of, what their weaknesses are or why they are insatiably hungry all the time. And with little military preparation besides the staggering arsenal assembled by the Gummers, the towns people are essentially improvising their way to safety. The film has an instant appeal with no fancy concepts or allegories to get in the way. It's a proper, old-fashioned monster movie but one that happily pokes fun at itself.
- There are only two interior shots in the entire film - the Gummer's basement where they keep their armoury and Chang's store. Every other scene in the film is outside.
- The film was originally intended for a more adult audience but after the censors slammed the film for its language by giving it an R-rating, the decision was made to make it more commercially viable by over-dubbing much of the swearing. This delayed the film's release until the following year, 1990.
- Look closely at Bacon during the scene at the start of the film where he and Ward are erecting barb wire fences. It's obvious that Earl isn't that great a handyman because he misses hitting the nail eight times in a row!
What's not to like?
Sticking firmly to its B-movie roots, few would argue that Tremors is particularly ground-breaking. In fact, it almost seems to track down and gobble cliché in the same way the monsters pursue the cast. It somehow even manages to contrive a situation where the good-looking Carter has to lose her trousers and run from the beasts in her knickers, a bit like that female scientist in Deep Blue Sea who can only survive an imminent shark attack by peeling out of her wetsuit. Like that film, Tremors works best if you don't take it too seriously - yes, it's your classic creature-feature but only horror virgins are likely to find this film that terrifying.
What I find really depressing is the number of low-grade sequels and prequels released in its wake, all of which have failed to match the original film's blend of horror and comedy. Judging by the reception of these films - all of which went straight-to-DVD so the studios didn't have much faith - it's tragic that no studio was willing to take more of a risk and develop either a big-budget sequel or a reboot. Certainly the original makes little effort to disguise its low budget although this kinda keeps in tone with the film's aspirations. But now, the film has slowly decayed into a low-brow and increasingly desperate franchise that barely has a sniff of the original film's class.
Should I watch it?
It's not big or clever but Tremors is a lot of fun, hitting the narrow spot that horror comedies aim for. Ward and Bacon are a great deal of fun and it seems a shame that nobody has thought to bring them back together in another project. But regardless, the film has plenty of bang for your buck and is a joyous recreation of the old-school monster movies of yore. Where else can you see a respected country singer shoot giant worms with a 12-gauge shotgun?
Great For: Nevada natives, rednecks, militia and Second Amendment supporters
Not So Great For: overly serious viewers, producing low-grade sequels
What else should I watch?
The Tremors franchise had been constantly underwhelming and in truth, I can't recommend any of them. However, there are no shortage of monster movies for viewers to enjoy from straight-up scares in the form of Alien to the ground-breaking animatronics of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. For more of a light-hearted affair, you can't really go wrong with Evil Dead II or the first film to combine the comic talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright - Shaun Of The Dead.
But among all the varied monsters and beasts from whoever many fathoms, there is one colossus that has been starring in movies continuously for over sixty years and featured in both American and Asian cinema. The original Godzilla appeared in 1954 as a reaction to the real-life horror of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Recognised as the longest running film franchise in history by the Guinness Book of World Records, he has since become a cultural phenomenon on both sides of the Pacific after featuring in films like the 1998 Godzilla and the recent Gareth Edwards reboot also called Godzilla in 2014.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox