Tremors (1990)

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Director: Ron Underwood

It’s night #4 of my series with blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies as we count down to Halloween. Tonight’s theme is Horror-Comedy and I picked the gross and stinky sandworm monster movie Tremors (1990).

“They’re UNDER THE GROUND!” “Pardon my French,” dangit Melvin, and “What is that stink!?” Odd job men and buddies Valentine and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) have finally had their fill of garbage clearing and septic work in the middle of nowhere called Perfection Valley (actually Lone Pine), so they resolve to leave town for better things, on the very day subterranean monsters emerge, cut communication with the outside world and trap everyone in Perfection. These giant eel-like creatures with razor-toothed tendrils burrow and attack like Jaws, tunnelling through loose soil at lightning speed (but not through rock, that’s key to remember). They pop to the surface to chomp on people and livestock and drag down anything that moves, including entire SUVs and station wagons. The graboids, as Earl and Valentine call them, sense seismic vibrations, so people have to be completely still, try and outrun the monsters (very unlikely), climb up on rooftops, high rocks or hydro towers and wait them out (impossible), or get creative and try things like pole vaulting to the next boulder and using bigger vehicles and weapons.

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This movie is delightfully, horrifyingly gross and hilarious, from the monsters’ ground-POV view as they rapidly gain on their victims, to the constant comments on how bad these things look and smell. There are skeptical and uncooperative residents like little Mindy (Ariana Richards), who bounces past on her pogo stick just as the others urge everyone to remain quiet, or the prankster Melvin (Robert Jayne) who gets yuks out of crying wolf. There’s Chang’s Market, where the owner (Victor Wong), sensing this might be a new tourist attraction (it is by movie’s end) charges for graboid polaroids. A scientific expert comes in the form of the cute new geologist/seismologist in the area (Finn Carter), a prospective romantic interest for Valentine, if he can get past the fact she doesn’t fit his very specific physical “type.”

It’s a battle of wits as the clever graboids figure out they can tear the town out from under the humans, who counter by using a riding mower as a decoy and a bulldozer and container to pick up the stranded residents and get out of town. I love the scenes that play on the “don’t move” rule, as if anyone could stand still with those things nearby. Bacon freezes on his way to the dozer, lifting his feet as the thing reaches out and feels around for him, while the others scream insults and make a racket to draw the graboid away. The group makes it some distance with their improvised “armored transport,” but the monsters learn fast and dig a trap to strand them once more.

Heather and Burt Gummer (Reba McEntire and Michael Gross) are a heroic survivalist couple who have been preparing for the inevitable big government threat, and aren’t too disappointed in the turn of events since they finally get to test their guts, training and ammo. They have every weapon known to man in their fabulous hilltop fortress, so when their pegboard wall buckles and a graboid storms in, they start shooting, their barrage echoing across the desert. They’re such a fun couple of equals, sweetly reassuring each other while firing elephant guns at the moving ground by their compound, then lamenting how this goldurn monster has driven them from their dream home.

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This is a great cast playing a perfect mix of lovable personalities, none of whom are cardboard cliches. They bicker and work together and show off, call each other names and criticize plans, and still risk their lives to save each other. Burt gives Melvin an empty gun, because who’d trust Melvin with live ammo, and the kid somehow finds time to curse the grinning Burt as they’re fleeing the monster: “it got you to run, didn’t it?” In a last ditch effort they go “fishing” with dynamite, blowing apart one monster (leaving a delightfully gross bubbling pile of bright ketchupy goop), and then get to work luring the last one, who’s apparently seen enough Looney Tunes to know it can toss the dynamite back at them. It’ll take some cartoon cowboy ingenuity on the humans’ part to defeat the last thing. Or is it the last…? No, because sequels. Excellent classic-style monster fun.

Fans should know that there’s a new book out about the movie by Jonathan Melville, Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors.

Now pop over to Mike’s Take on the Movies to read about an excellent comedy of…..

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14 thoughts on “Tremors (1990)”

  1. This is one of those titles that really found a home thanks to the video market. I remember me and all my movie pals were all talking about it after getting our hands on a rental. Now you have me interested in a revisit as it’s been many a year since I last saw it.

    1. Didn’t do well on release but grew thanks to being such great cheesy fun, quotable and ridiculous. Again everyone plays it serious, and it feels like a 50s drive-in monster movie. and Reba only makes it better!

    1. After rewatching this one I think a marathon will be happening here soon. It’s always so much fun, seen it a bunch and always amuses me 🙂

  2. There’s so much to like about Tremors. Watched it when I was a college kid with my future husband and his dad. We enjoyed it immensely. I think my favorite casting in this film was that of Reba McIntire and Michael Gross-they are great in their roles. 🙂

    1. Good to hear and a common reaction, mostly everyone who sees this has a great time. I get such a kick out of Reba and Michael digging in to defend their little fortress. Likable characters make this movie. Thanks!

  3. This film is almost too much fun. Great cast and, like you said, some very quotable lines. Plus, Kevin Bacon.

    I had no idea it was the start of a franchise? I just did an online search and nearly fell backwards at seeing the money the series has grossed worldwide: $514,068,956.

    1. Yes it is, I love to see there are so many fans of this, and that $$ total speaks to how it’s gained more over the years. I could have gone on quoting: “consider it stepped on”.. “running isn’t a plan, it’s what you do when a plan fails!” haha

  4. Saw this one when it came out in theaters and loved the mix of horror and humor. It’s one of the few post-Alien sci-fi/horror films I paid to see again (bringing a few friends along for the ride). I didn’t like the sequels that much, but I certainly understood why they got made.

    1. Yes it’s great fun. The aw shucks down to earth attitude is the key to making those characters likable and funny. They just deal with it.

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