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.
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.
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.