Dir. by Ron Underwood
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter and Michael Gross
The residents of the isolated desert town of Perfection, Nevada, including two handymen, a geologist grad student, and a survivalist couple, come under attack by giant worm creatures that hunt them through vibrations in the ground.
I honestly can’t recall the first time I saw this. It must have been on TV, as we didn’t have it on VHS until I was in high school (I taped it off of cable). It’s just one of those movie’s that always been there in my life. I know I watched it while I was in college, but I don’t think I’ve seen it since then.
Sorry about the lack of review on Thursday. I got this post all ready to go, and then forgot to actually schedule it. Oops.
Anyway, I’ve never been a huge horror movie watcher. I’ve always been interested in the genre, dating back to when I used to go into the video store as a kid (remember when they had those?) and look at all of the gloriously 80s box art in the section I wasn’t allowed to rent from. But as for actually watching the movies, I’ve always seemed to prefer to read about them, and watch clips on Youtube, rather than actually sit through them in theaters. The one big exception has always been monster movies. From werewolves to Cthulhu, I’ve always enjoyed a good creature feature (except for zombies. Never been a big zombie fan).
The Graboids in Tremors certainly weren’t the first monsters I ever encountered in movies. There were a lot of monsters in the fantasy movies I grew up with, after all, from the two-headed dragon in Willow to the Ceti eels in Wrath of Khan (which gave me nightmares when I was eight). But they were probably the most memorable one of my childhood, as they were really unlike anything else I’d ever seen before*. Giant eyeless worm things with mouths full of tentacles, which had their own mouths – not something you encounter every day. They were doubly impressive this time around as I realized that not only were they done entirely practically, but very frequently at full-size. There’s just something about having an actual thirty foot long monster on-screen, a tactile presence that’s so often lacking in modern monster movies.
I also forgot just how much this movie is a horror comedy. In my mind, it’s always been a horror film first and foremost, sharing the same headspace as things like Anaconda, where the humor was entirely unintentional. Instead, it’s closer to something like Arachnophobia. I guess the very fact that the monsters are given the name “Graboids” should have clued me in to the movie not taking itself too seriously. Sure, a lot of people get eaten in this movie. But it also has an endless stream of banter between the handymen Earl and Val, as well as one of the few actually enjoyable right-wing NRA enthusiasts that I can name off-hand. It’s not a coincidence that Michael Gross’s gun-toting Burt Gummer would become the star of the long-running direct-to-DVD sequel series, as he frequently manages to steal the movie from Kevin Bacon, which is no easy feat.
Speaking of Kevin Bacon, this is probably the first encounter with the legendary Earth hero. Either this, or The Air Up There, which I barely remember and probably won’t cover here because I’d just be yelling about cultural imperialism the whole review. Anyway, he’s in fine form here, as a guy who’s already sick of his dead-end job in the middle of nowhere even before giant worms start eating the place. In addition to the aforementioned Michael Gross, Reba McEntire is also actually a pleasant surprise as Burt’s wife and fellow survivalist, in what I believe was her first acting role. She’s presented as being Burt’s equal, and the script allows her to give her husband gun advice and to open fire on the Graboids with double pistols, and never comments once on her gender.
Bacon’s love interest, the geologist Rhonda, is also given a lot of agency. She uses her scientific expertise to come up with a lot of the info that they use to evade and defeat the monsters, and she’s the one who comes up with the pole-vaulting technique to get them off the rock that they’re trapped on early in the film. It’s just refreshing to see a monster movie in which none of the female characters are ever portrayed as damsels in distress, even when they are in distress.
Tremors wasn’t hugely successful at the box office despite good critical reviews, but it went on to be a huge cult classic on cable and home video, and spawned five direct-to-DVD sequels and a short-lived TV series, of varying quality. As with many horror franchises, however, the original entry is still definitely the best one, and it held up for me just as much as it did when I was growing up. I’m actually a little sad that I went almost fifteen years without seeing it, as it could easily slip into my regular DVD watching rotation.
*Yes, I’m familiar with Dune’s sandworms, and Beetlejuice’s as well. But I didn’t read Dune until college and still haven’t seen the movie, and Beetlejuice’s monsters were very cartoony stop motion animation, and really aren’t comparable at all to the Graboids.
-If “Graboids” wasn’t enough to clue you in that this is a horror comedy, the sequels have “Ass-Blasters.” Just try saying that out loud with a straight face.