For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Horror-Comedy Films here’s a review of Tremors (1990) by David of BluePrint: Review.
Thanks again to Aaron Neuwirth of the Code is Zeek for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s genre has been chosen by Paul of the People’s Movies and we will be reviewing our favorite Loners in Film.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Mar by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Paul!
Let’s see what David thought of this movie:
The filmmakers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, who have long worked together as a duo, got their big break in Hollywood by writing Short Circuit. Their script was sold for half a million dollars, which was a phenomenal amount of money for total newcomers to the industry. Prior to this, they had been making shorts and educational films. The latter were made alongside their friend Ron Underwood, so when Wilson and Maddock’s script sold they were keen to get him on board as director. However, Underwood backed off as he didn’t want to ruin their first big shot by having 3 newbies in charge of a fairly big feature.
After Short Circuit was a huge success, Wilson and Maddock wanted to use their clout to launch Underwood with their next film though, so developed Tremors, the concept for which had been on the backburner for a while. Despite the writers’ success, it took a long time to sell Tremors though. The studios weren’t convinced by this daft-sounding monster movie, particularly due to the fact it wasn’t clearly a horror film or a comedy. To convince producers, Wilson and Maddock had to write a spec script, which was something writers of their level of success wouldn’t usually do.
The writing process took a while to hone but, eventually, the pair came up with a script they were happy with. Their agent managed to pitch it to Universal and got Wilson and Maddock on board as producers too, so they could keep their intended vision and to help protect first-timer Underwood as director.
After this long pre-production process and a shoot plagued with weather problems and difficult effects work, the film didn’t perform nearly as well as expected. The film’s unusual tone wasn’t marketed successfully and the team were pretty dejected by the experience.
However, the home video market was booming at the time, allowing Tremors to have a second life on video. It became a big rental success as word of mouth spread.
Over the years it has become a cult classic and, despite its poor theatrical run, spawned six sequels (with the original writing duo taking turns directing up to number four) and a TV series.
The original Tremors has been a favourite of mine since back in the mid-90s, when I was a youngster, so I was thrilled to hear Arrow would be releasing it in newly-remastered, extras-packed Limited Edition UHD and Blu-ray sets. I eagerly snapped up a copy of the Blu-ray version and my thoughts follow.
Tremors is set in the tiny remote desert town of Perfection, Nevada, where nothing much usually happens. Local handymen Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are fed up of the place and the fact their neighbours expect them to do all their dirty work. They decide to leave town and look for a better life in the nearest city.
However, on their way, they discover the dead body of the town drunk, Edgar, stuck up an electrical pylon. After they take Edgar’s body back to town they attempt to leave again, only to discover another fatality down the road. They initially think a serial killer is on the loose, but soon discover something much worse is killing the town’s residents, a group of giant flesh-eating worms!
These worms, named ‘graboids’ by store-owner Walter Chang (Víctor Wong), move underground, only rising to the surface to grab their victims, using smaller tentacles that extend from their mouths to reach further.
The residents of Perfection discover that the graboids sense the vibrations caused by their movement and sounds, so try to evade the creatures by staying on their roofs, giant rocks and vehicles. However, the graboids aren’t as dumb as they look, so Val, Earl, geologist Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), survivalists Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire) and the rest of the locals have to use their wits to survive.
Mixing comedy and horror can be a tricky business and wasn’t done a great deal back in 1990, but Wilson, Maddock and Underwood perform a terrific balancing act. Often comedy-horrors skew too far one way or the other, but Tremors gets the blend just right. It’s frequently very funny, aided by some wonderfully quotable dialogue, but knows when to get serious and pulls off some very effective moments of tension and excitement. Underwood gets the pace spot-on too, with no lulls, using the comedy to keep you entertained whenever the frights have died down.
Like in Jaws, the full extent of Tremors’ creatures are kept hidden for a good portion of the film, building tension through a hidden menace before gradually revealing the true size and danger of them.
When the graboids appear they’re pretty impressive too. Tremors came just before the big CGI boom caused by Jurassic Park in 1993, so the effects here are all practical and still hold up surprisingly well. Using a mixture of full-size costumes for some of the heads, animatronic and hand-puppet tentacles and some miniature work, every element is blended seamlessly to great effect. Yes, the tentacles look a little naff in one or two shots, but never enough to detract from the danger of the creatures.
The film’s greatest assets though, in my opinion, are its characters. The residents of Perfection are a nice mix of relatable, average people, with just enough heightened aspects to keep them interesting. The Gummers are the most over the top couple in the film, but even then they don’t seem totally unbelievable. There are plenty of gun-nuts in the US!
The characters are successful partly through the sharp dialogue but also the performances. Bacon and Ward are particularly good. Their chemistry together is excellent, with a blend of father-son and bickering-couple dynamics to their relationship. Gross and McEntire are memorable too, the former of which became a staple actor in the whole Tremors franchise. Both of those casting choices were unusual at the time, as Gross was best-known as the mild-mannered dad in the long-running sitcom Family Ties and McEntire had never acted in a film before, only finding fame as a country music artist. They both have a lot of fun with their gun-toting survivalist characters, without ever lurching too far into caricature.
Overall then, it’s a hugely entertaining blend of monster movie thrills and character-based comedy. With charismatic leads, quotable dialogue and a great sense of pace, it’s hard to fault and easy to enjoy. Perfection, indeed.