We watched tremors and I have to say that this may be the epitome of a made-for-TV-movie feeling movie. I’ve seen it 20 times and I’ll see it 20 more during my life, and that’s a good thing.
Tremors follows Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) in their attempt to leave Paradise Valley, Nevada, while doing odd jobs and handyman work. As they make their way up and down the valley between odd jobs and quirky small-town characters they begin to notice a string of seemingly related ground-level killings.
Upon meeting up with a grad student, Rhonda (Finn Carter) who is doing some important if timely seismic research, they learn that there are a bunch of little earthquakes – or tremors – happening all over the valley.
Before they jump the gun on declaring that there is a 100 foot tall, 200 ton serial killer on the loose, they find evidence of a subterranean suspect. A worm of sorts.
The rest of the movie is spent running for their lives from an unlikely, if terrifying phenomena with a ton a quirky townsfolk.
Tremors, by director Ron Underwood, is one heck of a solid movie. It’s basically a monster movie, but it feels a bit more like an action-thriller to me because of all the action and adventure that takes place, along with lots of changes of scenery and methods.
Tremors is a nearly perfect movie in terms of it’s script, who we have S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock to thank for . Everything that is said or mentioned is followed-up on or ruled-out at some point in the movie. Almost nothing extraneous or unneeded is mentioned, and all the characters play a wonderful role in making Paradise Valley a believable place.
Maybe the best part of Tremors is it’s intense focus on the characters instead of the monster. Sure, we see the monster but the focus of every scene is on the characters and getting the audience to empathize with them. This forces a pivot in the otherwise fucked-out monster movie paradigm. It’s why Jaws was great, and it’s probably no coincidence that this is essentially a Jaws remake – even down to the movie poster.
It’s terrifically ironic that a movie that focused so much on the characters instead of the monster spawned five completely monster-focused sequels that lack most of the charm of the first, with exception of the second movie, Tremors II : Aftershocks.
Many horror skeptics will say that this movie is not a true horror movie noting the goofy fun and light ambiance, but I beg to differ. Not only is Tremors definitely a horror movie, it’s the most important kind of horror movie – entry level horror.
This is the stuff that I watched as a little kid and sent me scrambling for the rocks. It hooked my pint sized imagination and lit up every corner, making me wonder if it really was safe to play tag on the playground or if I should seek the high-ground.
Tremors is interesting, has wonderful tension, and most importantly is fun as any movie you will ever watch.
What Makes Tremors so Great?
From an entertainment and rewatchability standpoint this is a bit of a sleeper, but upon review, it holds up quite well. a big part of this is the horror aspect mixed with good, old fashioned humor.
Humor in Tremors
The humor in this movie is goofy, and downright wholesome, but it’s good enough to make you smile on every viewing. The wholesomeness of an early 90’s feel good sitcom mixed with the horror elements of Jaws really works.
It’s directly responsible for the late success of the movie on television. In theaters, Tremors did poorly with a 5 million dollar take on what cost 11 million to make. But the real success of this movie kicked in with syndication on cable TV. I watched it probably 20 times on TV because it was fun, funny, and always on.
You Can’t Beat Burt!
Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather (Reba McEntire) Gummer are just as much the leading actors as Val and Earl in this one, and how couldn’t they be? They are preppers and gun enthusiasts without being insane, instead just a little quirky.
You probably know a Burt, which is what makes this character so fun. But the character of Burt isn’t so over-the-top as to make him not human. He’s passionate, but not a caricature.
Burt brings the boom in this movie, and it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Graboids are Awesome
In my personal experience, it’s rare for monster design to work out well. It’s even rarer to have monster reveals work out well, but in this, Graboids are handled perfectly!
The monster design is simple, believable enough that it’s not totally jarring (unlike Pumpkinhead), and the presentation is fabulous.
Each Graboid is killed in a totally different way, but they follow the same rules. For example, the first one that is killed runs into a concrete wall while chasing our protagonists. This perfectly sets up the last Graboid kill, where Val runs toward a cliff and uses a bomb thrown behind the creature to scare it to make the jump onto the rocks far below.
The movie increases the tension before even first showing our worm like friends, which sets up the reveal quite well.
What Tremors Gets Wrong
So, it’s not all great, but what is? The worst aspect of this movie is definitely the musical score.
Bad Music Makes a Big Difference
I’ve talked a bit about how this movie is very similar to Jaws, and that’s mostly to it’s advantage, but they got it wrong in terms of music.
OK, I get it, it’s hard to stand-up to one of the best musical scores of all time, but man, you have to try! Tremors soundtrack digs deep into that 90’s sitcom bin of pop-country jazz riffs and pulls out the most goofy music you can imagine. A part of me says it works for nostalgia, but that’s the same part that cringes at nostalgia.
Ernest Troaost wrote the original soundtrack, but they only ended up using it for a few spots in the movie, most notably at the beginning and end. The good, suspenseful bits that are actually effective but not quite iconic were later written by Robert Folk.
This is the most crowd friendly movie that we have reviewed, even more so than Gremlins. Tremors is a very light-fair, action-thriller that goes easy on the cussing and sexual themes in favor of tension and violence that the whole family can enjoy.
If you haven’t seen this, you absolutely must.