Tremors, and by proxy Kevin Bacon, first came into my life around 1991. It was a couple of years after the films release and it was the exact moment that I learned that monsters are awesome and so is Bacon. These days every other horror or monster movie made seems to be self referencing and with it’s tongue firmly lodged in it’s cheek. A lot of people credit Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare and Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer with kicking off this trend. We all know it was Tremors that started it though. The film is a love up to the monster B-Movies of the 50s and it never even attempt to take itself too seriously. It also, like all good B-Movies, spawned a whole load of terrible sequels. We don’t care about them though because all they prove is that everything is better with Bacon. Click the link for the review!
Tremors tells the story of Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), two handymen from a small middle-of-nowhere town called Perfection. They do jobs for everyone in town and have finally had enough. They plan to leave once and for all but, as is often the case in these situations, they’re departure from perfection is thwarted by 3 20 foot long subterranean creatures that seem to feast on human flesh. Obviously no-one would care if they just ate the odd cow. They do like sheep though. Anyway, Val and Earl team up with the macho-ly seismologist Finn Carter. I honestly think they planned a male role there and of course a gay relationship for Kevin Bacon… Maybe. Where was I? Oh yeah. She helps them figure out that these creatures, soon to be dubbed Graboids, can sense the vibrations of it’s prey through the ground. With everyone trapped in Perfection after the only road out was blocked by a Graboid caused landslide it’s up to Val and Earl to figure a way out of this mess.
Tremors is pure escapism with not a single moment wasted on the philosophy around whether these new found species should be wiped out or not. This is the sort of film where such questions should never need to be raised because these creatures are eating our peoples and so they must be exploded. Luckily there’s a gun nut named Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) in town to provide various things that go boom. What this film does make sure is given screen time is the relationships between Val and Earl. Both Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward make sure you feel as though these guys have known each other for years by coming straight out with a pre-established banter and rapport. It’s amazing how often this sort of thing is forgotten about in a film or mishandled. Quite often these days we go into a film with relationships being established as the film progresses, everyone seemingly a blank character slate. Probably because it’s easier to write on a blank slate than one full of carvings of past adventures. Plus when writing a screenplay you can’t assume that you leads are going to be able to pull off a natural chemistry in their performance. Obviously Bacon and Ward can, because they’re awesome.
The adventure in this film progresses at a smooth pace with the only hiccups being those caused by it’s restrictive setting. The film was made on a fairly low budget for a cinema release of it’s kind and as such it only employs a handful of locations that aren’t named “Desert area”. Because of this there’s a lot of heading to and from town in the first 30 minutes or so. this is partially because of Val and Earls continual failed attempts to leave though. Even so it can feel a little like a stalling start. Once the Graboids reach Perfection, the town of course, we have the bulk of the films action. The citizens of Perfection have all escaped to the roofs of the various buildings but before long we see that that is not enough. In true B-Movie style the monsters learn and start to literally upset the balance of the town. One of Tremors strengths is that it continually shifts the dichotomy of the tension. No two attack sequences are repeated in the same way. Each set piece is memorable in it’s own way. A personal favourite of mine is a brief on where Lex from Jurassic park is bouncing on a pogo stick outside as they realise the Graboids are out there.
Tremors was made in a day before CGI so the Graboids are brought to us via puppetry and classic practical effects. All it takes to let you know they’re nearby is a rumbling sound and some dust being thrown up from the ground. They don’t dive out of the ground, unlike in that awesome flash animated game I posted a pic from at the top of the page. The later films all introduced variations on the creatures and started using CGI, usually cheaply, to show us the Graboids. it’s amazing how little film makers remember about films such as this and Jaws. There’s more terror to be had by not showing the monster fully. The fear of the unknown as it were. Most of the time all we see of the Graboids is it’s snake like tongues and the occasional beak coming through the ground. Even in the few occasions we do see the full body the creature is dead and either covered in dirt or it’s own entrails. Compare that to any of the recent killer creature movies where the film will build to a reveal about 30 minutes in and then it’s monsters-a-go-go for the rest of the film. Deep Blue Sea and Anaconda come to mind, although admittedly they aren’t that recent.
Tremors is a damn enjoyable slice of B-Movie fun. It’s the sort of film you watch and instantly file onto your cult classics shelf alongside The Evil Dead and Troll 2. Films you’ll always enjoy no matter what mood you’re in because they don’t bullshit you and they don’t try to be more than they are. Tremors is an honest movie. It doesn’t pretend to be filled with high drama or action set pieces that would make Michael Bay weep. it just gets on with entertaining the hell out of you. I can’t dislike a movie for being like that. Not every movie has to ask the big questions. Some of them can just be fun.