October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and and Finn Carter
Synopsis: Two feckless handymen, Val and Earl, work in around the tiny town of Perfection, Nevada. One day, they begin to notice strange happenings, including people disappearing. They find the body of a local man dead of dehydration at the top of an electrical tower, still holding his rifle. When their truck is attacked by a snake like creature coming up from under the ground, they realize everything is connected. On their way to get help, they encounter the creature again, which they name the graboid, and discover that the snake like things are just the tongues. The graboid is much larger than they thought. They manage to defeat it by running it into a concrete wall, but Rhonda, a local grad student doing seismology research in the area, tells them her equipment indicates there are three more of the things on the loose. They narrowly escape one of these by using the erratic boulders present in the landscape and pole vaulting between them to get to their truck, as the graboids can only move through loose soil. The three return to warn the town, but there’s no time to escape and although they are able to kill one graboid, the remaining two corner the townspeople and eventually drive them out of the buildings and onto a boulder. They manage to kill one of the graboids with homemade explosives but the final one is too smart. Finally, Val gets the idea to lure the graboid to the edge of a cliff and set the explosive behind it. The graboid bursts the cliff edge and plummets to its death.
I’ll be honest, Tremors isn’t really my kind of movie. I mean, I love a good monster movie (think The Host). And I love a really, really bad monster movie (think Lake Placid). But Tremors is not quite either of those things. It’s a straight-up monster movie, not intentionally bad, not fantastically great, but definitely all about the monster. Tremors is the classic 50’s monster-attacks-small-town movie (think Night of the Lepus or Kingdom of Spiders) remade for the 90’s, with a funnier script and better creature effects. Unfortunately for Tremors, I’ve never been truly in love with that genre, although I’m not entirely unappreciative of it. I can recognize that the movie does a great job of playing tribute to and freshening up the mid-century B monster classic, even if it’s not that enchanting to me personally.
Despite spawning four progressively worse sequels and an inexcusable TV series, Tremors is actually a pretty good movie. It moves quickly, keeps the action going, and the characters’ banter is entertaining, even if the two main heroes are overgrown man-children for most of the first half until they get it together to save the town. The minor characters are quirky and memorable, instead of fading into the background as so often happens in these sorts of films. And the female characters come out much better than in the average monster movie, even today.
Reba McEntire plays half of a survivalist couple, and she’s tough as nails, good with a gun, and utterly level-headed. Rhonda LeBeck is the seismologist who teams up with Val and Earl, and despite having the name of a low rent stripper, is also good at her job and very clever. She’s attractive, but really not sexualized at all (except for one scene where she has to remove her pants, but it somehow manages to be more uncomfortable than sexy). She generally wears sensible clothes for working outside in the desert and she’s knowledgeable in her field, but not the all-knowing polymath that scientists are often portrayed as in movies. She’s a geologist, not a zoologist.
Or an action hero. She’s spry, but neither she nor the other characters in the movie are Rambo. They generally only perform physical feats that the average in-shape person might, sometimes not very gracefully. I do appreciate the fact that in Tremors, no one is really prepared to fight a giant monster. They’re a little awkward, they don’t have perfect aim, and sometimes they make dumb choices. That’s probably the most charming thing about the movie – the characters aren’t realistic per se, but they react in ways that feel real. None of them is a secret superhero who was hiding out, waiting for a moment just like this.
And of course then there’s the monster. It’s a great design, a giant sandworm-like creatures who can’t see, but has shark-toothed snake heads inside its gaping maw. It can feel vibrations, including your footsteps, and one or all of its heads could burst out of the ground or suck you under at any moment. Perfectly terrifying, but also with clear flaws that make it defeatable. It’s big, but not huge. Strong, but not invulnerable. Capable of learning but not smarter than you are. The graboids are threatening, but ultimately manageable.
And the movie doesn’t bother us with explanations or backstory. There’s a couple hurried sentences about evolution, but on the whole it realizes any attempt to explain the graboids would make their existence even less believable. Some things are more fun the less you think about them. And Tremors is, at it’s core, fun. It’s not particularly my kind of fun, but I do respect a movie that knows what it is and works to be the best possible version of that. If you like slightly hapless heroes, big monsters, and a formulaic, if satisfying, ending full of orange guts and explosions, then you’ll love Tremors.
Quality: 7 graboids out of 10 – A solid showing in the genre, with more than average charm and tons of action.
Enjoyability: Your mileage may vary. I don’t want to give my rating here, because I feel like it would be misleadingly low. If you think you’ll like it, you probably will.