Tremors (1990) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Tremors (1990) Review

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on October 24th, 2018 | Movie Review | Comedy, Cult Classic, Creature, Tremors Series

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It’s about a desert community besieged by strange underground carnivorous sand worms.

Tremors was directed by Ron Underwood and stars Kevin Bacon (from The Darkness), Fred Ward (from Tremors 2: Aftershock) and Finn Carter.

The monster movie that breaks new ground.

Tremors Review

We Can Rebuild The Drive-In Creature Feature...

The Drive-In Creature Feature: A genre by the 1990s barely alive. Gentlemen, we have the technology. A team of crack physicists at CERN have distilled the essential formula of successful 1950s-style mutant monsters down to its core, immutable elements. Should society collapse and have to be rebuilt, we have stored these elements for safe-keeping in the 1990 horror-comedy Tremors.

Packing list is enclosed...

  • Unique mutant monsters - Graboids, whose strengths and weaknesses are revealed gradually

  • Isolated desert town - Perfection, Nevada, ideal setting

  • Snarky wise-ass - Val, gets most of the good lines

  • Competent sidekick - Earl, perfect straight man to wise-ass

  • Redneck survivalist - Burt, armed like a military outpost

  • Chick - Rhonda, double duty as science expert, fan service, and love interest

  • Village Idiot - Melvin, does everything he can to get himself and everybody else killed

  • Town drunk - Edgar, early victim

  • Catchy one-word title - Tremors

Tremors appears to be a simple attack-of-the-killer-whatever on the surface, but behind its handsome face lies an engine derived from decades of careful research.

The Goldilocks Formula

Tremors is hailed today as one of the few, if not only, times that a creature-feature got the balance just right. Considering how often creature-features are done, it’s sad they don’t get it right more often. While it works as a fine popcorn-muncher without thinking too hard, the inherent perfection of Tremors becomes evident when you notice what’s missing in the above list of ingredients:

No alternate antagonist - 90% of these kind of movies have the corrupt politician, greedy businessman, religious nutball, school bully, or other doofus who picks this crisis point to go psychotic. They end up being just as much a danger to the rest of the cast as the monster du jour itself. The alternate antagonist is always aggravating, grating, and a hate magnet for the audience. Alternate antagonists suck the fun out of the movie whenever they’re on-screen, and you know they’re just there to die almost at the end anyway. Tremors wisely leaves out the alternate antagonist. ARE YOU LISTENING STEPHEN KING?!?!?

No brainless protagonists - The citizens of Perfection, Nevada, may not be Mensa candidates, and a couple fools like Edgar and Melvin are on hand for throwaway graboid fodder. But for the most part, at least everyone has common sense and the survival instincts to run for it. We have no scream queens standing there waiting to get eaten, no partying teenagers scoffing at the warning signs, no derps making dumb mistakes to make us stand up and yell at the screen in frustration “Oh come on you can’t be that stupid!” In fact, the whole town works together like a crack team of engineers solving problems as they come up.

No technobabble explanation - The townsfolk come up with many theories as to where the critters came from, but ultimately this movie at least leaves the question open. For once, we do not have to hear the brain-curdling nonsense about nuclear testing, toxic chemical dumps, Indian burial grounds, genetic engineering, Nazi medical experiments, ancient Egyptian curses, or some kid fooling around with a Ouija board. The critters attack, people must deal with them, the end. Thank Cthulhu’s blessed tentacles for Tremors!

No stalling - You know, Tremors could have very easily stopped the movie dead in its tracks for the entire first hour while the protagonists stubbornly persist in proving that there’s no monster, like a certain movie about demon possession I once reviewed. But no, it heroically stared into the maw of flat-assed boredom and said “Not today!”

No idiot monsters - Even though this is a classic hungry-predator scenario, the graboids in Tremors are only dumb enough to gulp down explosives once. In fact, they learn from each mistake, and even the mistakes of others, forcing the humans to come up with new solutions as they crop up. They don’t just gobble down the first pressurized gas tank somebody stuffs in their face.

So That’s How You Build The Perfect Creature Feature!

For all of you wondering what’s so special about this movie and why does everybody rave about it so much, that’s why. It’s downright spooky how much flab this movie dodged. Crime-thriller author Elmore Leonard once said of his fiction: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Likewise, it’s as if Tremors strove to leave out the parts people fast-forward through.

In addition, all the principle characters are given some depth and personality. Kevin Bacon is a master of sarcasm every other time he opens his mouth, yet ironically he was sour on having been in this movie for awhile until he saw how loved it was. Michael Gross came straight to this movie from the TV series Family Ties where he ditched his self-righteous granola-blackface character for an equally strawman libertarian survivalist - but lovably and he’s just what the movie needs. Fred Ward is a solid sidekick and foil to Bacon. Finn Carter is a female lead who isn’t a screaming bimbo.

Come to that, for yet another example of the hidden brilliance of Tremors, Val and Earl have a conversation about the kind of women Val usually goes for just so Earl can call them “Dead weight! Oh, I broke a nail!” They’re actually making fun of the kind of brainless boob they’re not going to have in this movie right before they pull up to Rhonda.

And that’s why this movie rates 9... hold on. I just realized something else. You know what else the characters do in this movie that most characters in most movies usually don’t do? Pee! Yeah, they all pause for bathroom breaks. How did I not notice that the first ten times I watched this movie?

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