The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Tremors
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #357: Tremors
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been attacked by gigantic worms, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number three hundred and fifty-seven, the Tremors movie marathon begins with a look at the movie that started it all, Tremors, which hit movie theatres in January of 1990.
Tremors, directed by Ron Underwood, is one of those early 1990’s movies that I rented multiple times from the video store and then watched about a million times on television. It was also one of those movies that I only ever saw from start to finish when I rented it. When it was on TV I always caught it about thirty minutes in, both on premium cable and on USA. It’s a great horror comedy with cool characters, a good story, and nifty, gross monsters that will freak you out if you start to think about them.
The movie stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as Valentine McKee and Earl Bass, two “professional” handymen just scraping by in the little desert town of Perfection, Nevada. Both Val and Earl have goals and aspirations, sure, but they never seem to have the luck or the personal, momentary drive to get where they want to go. And while there always seems to be steady work in Perfection, it doesn’t pay well and is, well, awful (collecting garbage may pay the bills, but it sure does stink). Of course, it would help if either one of them could figure out how to save their money (Earl is a little better at saving his money than Val, but then they’re both essentially broke all of the time so it’s not like either one of them has a growing nest egg stashed somewhere). One day, after a particularly nasty garbage pick-up, both Val and Earl decide that they’ve had enough and, regardless of their dire money situation, they’re leaving Perfection and heading to Bixby, the big town not that far away. So Val and Earl load up their truck, say goodbye, and head off down the road to bigger and, hopefully, better things.
They don’t get very far. The only road out of town is blocked by what appears to be a rockslide. How the hell did that happen? And where did the road crew they saw not that long ago disappear to? Does the rock slide have anything to do with the gruesome discovery on the power lines the other day, when they found old timer Edgar (Sunshine Parker) dead and dehydrated, all alone, on the tower? And what the hell happened at the sheep farm? What the hell sucked the farmer down into the ground and just left his head?
What the hell is going on here?
Val and Earl go back to town to warn everyone about what has happened. It’s at this point that Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), the local survivalist and gun enthusiast, finds a strange worm thing attached to the axle of Val’s truck. What is it? Where did it come from? Is it connected to what scared the crap out of Edgar and killed the farmer? Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on here?
So then some stuff happens, Val and Earl and the rest of the town come up with a plan, and Val and Earl are pressed into service. The big plan? To have Val and Earl ride horses to Bixby. It’s a kind of good plan, as Val and Earl know how to handle horses, but it doesn’t take long for the scheme to completely fail as the horses are spooked by a weird rumble in the ground. And what causes that weird underground rumble?
It’s at this point in the movie that we find out, just in case we hadn’t already figured it out, that there are underground monsters wreaking havoc on the town of Perfection. Val and Earl, with the help of Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), a graduate student doing a seismology project out in the desert, book it back to Perfection and attempt to come up with a new plan. Everything has changed. There are goddamn underground monsters out there killing people. How the hell are they all going to survive that?
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Tremors is that it doesn’t spend a lot of time on telling us what, exactly, the underground monsters are. Rhonda the scientist speculates on what they could be, and there are a few quick discussions amongst the Perfection townspeople about where the monsters could have come from, but there are no real answers. The monsters are out there. What the heck are the people of Perfection going to do to survive them? It’s almost like a Romero zombie movie. People do wonder where the monsters come from, but there are far more important matters to attend to, like getting away from the monsters before they become monster food.
I’m also a big fan of how no one gives up when the shit hits the fan. Some of the characters do freak out but no one loses his or her mind and drops out of the story. Everyone fights and no one quits, even the whiny little douchebag Melvin. You rarely see that dynamic in a monster movie.
The special effects are still amazing to this day. I didn’t realize how many miniature effects were actually used (I found that out while reading the excellent Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors by Jonathan Melville. More on that in a little bit) but they blend seamlessly in with the bigger practical effects used. The worms, eventually known as graboids, are terrifying creatures that still creep me out. They move underground, they have little tentacle things that come out of their mouths, and they seem to adapt to their surroundings. If it wasn’t for hard surfaces I doubt anything could survive against them. And the creatures’ mouths still gross me the hell out. I remember the movie being gorier than it actually is when it comes to the graboids. I thought there were more flying chunks. And the orange blood, man, still looks amazing. You can just imagine it smelling worse than the creature’s body.
The action scenes are better than I remember them to be. The scenes inside Walter Chang’s general store are brutal yet funny, even when poor Walter Chang gets eaten (why couldn’t it have been Melvin?). And the scene inside Burt Gummer’s basement is easily the best scene in the movie, as it shows just how “prepared” Burt and his wife Heather (Reba McEntire) are. I’m still surprised that Burt and Heather have that many guns on their wall. Where the heck is the cannon that Burt claims to have? Is it on the roof? Is it in a room upstairs? I bet he would have loved to have had it in the basement when the wall came crashing in.
The cast is nothing short of top notch. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward have tremendous buddy chemistry as Val and Earl. You can tell by the way they speak to one another that they’ve been friends forever and they would do anything for one another. It would be interesting to see them in a non-monster movie, just trying to get through life. I bet it would be both kind of sad and kind of funny. And when they do enter the monster world, they’re both scared out of their minds but they know that they have to find a way to get out of the situation alive. It’s too bad that we didn’t get a sequel with Val and Earl as the main characters. I bet it would have rocked.
Michael Gross is very much a supporting character here as Burt Gummer. He has the best scene in the movie and helps drive some of the action towards the end of the movie, but he isn’t quite yet the Burt Gummer of the sequels quite yet. And Reba McEntire manages to hold her own with the professional actors and looks comfortable on screen brandishing weaponry and attacking monsters. I’m surprised that she didn’t get more action oriented movie roles after Tremors.
Finn Carter is awesome as Rhonda. She’s a science nerd and isn’t afraid to look unglamorous and kind of ridiculous (it’s the sunscreen on the nose). She also does a bang-up job driving her truck without looking out the windshield. Carter also has instant chemistry with Bacon, making their eventual kiss at the end of the movie all the more special. Bacon’s Val doesn’t appear all that interested in Rhonda at first, but the more he gets to know her the more he starts to like her. It all makes sense, even if it is cliché.
Tony Genero and Charlotte Stewart do great work as Miguel and Nancy, Perfection residents who try to survive. Richard Marcus is hilarious as the sort of dim Nestor. You know he isn’t going to last all that long as soon he starts talking tough. And Egg Shen hisself, Victor Wong, is brilliant as Walter Chang. He’s a major entrepreneur and probably would have made a small fortune for himself if he had managed to survive the movie. He probably would have opened some sort of amusement park featuring the underground monsters.
And Bobby Jacoby as Melvin? Man, it’s too bad Melvin didn’t get eaten.
Tremors is a modern classic through and through. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s nasty, but it’s never mean, even when the underground monsters are chowing down on the citizens of Perfection. If you haven’t seen it, good God what the hell are you waiting for? You need to see it now. Again, it’s a classic. Definite required viewing for all B-movie loving/monster movie loving nerds.
See Tremors. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: 1 1/3 (the 1/3 is the sheep farmer’s head).
People eaten: 8
Nudity?: None. It’s PG-13.
Doobage: Public urination, an argument about who made breakfast, a very gross sewer emptying sequence, sheep farmer hooey, a pile of very dead sheep, jackhammer hooey, a rock avalanche, a broken 2 x 4, a big time monster attack, car eating, horse riding, fence post eating, concrete wall hooey, boulders, a very dead phone technician, barbed wire attack, pick axe attack, total wooden floor destruction, a massive personal arsenal, massive gun play, a man gets sucked through a big tire, truck destruction, runaway riding lawnmower, homemade dynamite, bulldozer hooey, more boulders, exploding monster with resulting flying chunks of dead monster, exploding explosives bag, monster stampede, exploding monster, and a happy ending.
Kim Richards?: Attempted.
Gratuitous: Nose sunscreen, Victor Wong, Reba McEntire, a malfunctioning freezer, an old toilet used as a beer cooler, Bixby, geographic isolation, prairie dog holes, pole vaulting, leg wounds, a rec room filled with guns, rock, paper, scissors, and exploding monster.
Best lines: “What the hell do we know about seismographs? Nothing,” “Well, I’m a victim of circumstance. I thought you called it your pecker?,” “Melvin! Melvin! Touch that truck and die!,” “Yeah, Burt, the way you worry you’ll have a heart attack before you get a chance to survive World War 3,” “I’ll tell ya, no one handles garbage better than we do,” “Hey, Mindy! What’s the count?,” “I can’t believe we said no to free beer!,” ‘Walter, your phone is dead! I didn’t do it!.” “I’ll give you boys five dollars for this. Twenty. Okay, ten. Fifteen. Okay, fifteen. Damn right fifteen,” “That’s how they get ya! They’re under the goddamn ground!,” “Fuuuck yoou!,” “Who died and made you Einstein?,” “These creatures are unprecedented. Yeah, but where do they come from?,” “That’s what I like! Graboids! That’s it! Graboids!,” “You little asswipe! You keep it up you’re gonna be shitting this basketball! Pardon my French,” “Burt! They’re under the ground!,” “Magazine! Yeah!,” “Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room didn’t you, you bastard!,” “Burt, cut it out! I think I scared him!,” “Good luck, shit head. Don’t worry about me, jerk off,” “Goddamn. Armored transport,” “Hungry? Eat this!,” and “Throw the bomb!”
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Things to Watch Out For This Week
–Regression: Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson star in this thriller about a woman who may have been attacked by a satanic cult. When was the last time we had a good movie about a satanic cult? I can’t remember the last one. And kudos to Ethan Hawke for continuing to make these weird genre movies. He doesn’t seem to have an issue with it, and that’s always cool.
–Where to Invade Next: This is Michael Moore’s latest documentary. I missed it when it was in theatres, which breaks a personal streak for me because I had managed to see all of Moore’s documentaries at the movies starting with Bowling for Columbine. I’m kind of annoyed by that. Definitely worth buying without seeing it. Moore’s documentaries are usually worth it. Is it better than his best documentary, The Big One? I can’t wait to find out.
–Arachnicide: When I first heard about this movie I thought it was one of those killer giant bug movies from The Asylum. It isn’t. The fine folks at Midnight Releasing are behind it, and while it looks very low budget, it also looks like fun. And, come on, how could you hate a movie called Arachnicide?
–Scream The TV Series: I didn’t watch this TV re-imagining of the Wes Craven directed horror franchise, but then I was never a big fan of Scream to begin with. I will admit, though, that the show did look kind of watchable based on the previews that I saw, and with it now on DVD it might not be a bad idea to check it out. Anyone out there watch this? Was it any good?
–Deadpool: I really didn’t care for this movie (check out my well received review here) but lots of people loved it, and now that it’s on home video those people can watch it again and again. I’ll probably check it out again, just to see if it’s as bad as I remember it to be. I think it will be just as disappointing, but, hey, I’m willing to give it another shot.
Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors By Jonathan Melville
As a fan of books about movies, I was shocked to find out that there is a book about the Tremors franchise and that it came out last July. I consider myself usually in the know about this kind of thing, but I had no idea that someone had written a book about the underground worm monster movie that came out back in 1990 and the direct-to-video franchise that it gave birth to. Now, a few months shy of a year later, I can report that the book in question, Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors by Jonathan Melville, is a fabulous read that tells you everything you’d ever want to know about the franchise (well, almost the entire franchise). It’s the kind of book that you wish every successful movie franchise had as part of its pop culture existence.
Melville is a big fan of the franchise, and he manages to provide the kind of information that only a fan and journalist would care to track down. Most of the book is about the first Tremors, easily the most well-known movie in the now five film franchise, but Melville does dig into the background concerning parts 2 through 4, how and why they were made and whether or not the people that made them consider them worthwhile (they do, but no one pulls their punches, either, which is always refreshing to read). There were details revealed about the direct-to-video business that I was completely unaware of and while I have an intellectual understanding of how difficult it is to make a monster movie on a small budget, man, I had no idea just how hard it is to make something like a Tremors 3.
Now, the Tremors section is about as in-depth as you can get. We find out all about the fine folks behind Stampede Entertainment, the company that is basically responsible for the franchise outside of Universal Pictures, how they got started in the movie business and what led them all to Tremors. Director Ron Underwood made educational films before he got his big feature film break with Tremors, and writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock did the screenplay for Short Circuit. Now, I’ve read about Tremors and Short Circuit on imdb multiple times, and I never once made the connection.
The sections about how long it took to get Tremors off the ground and who was in the running for the movie before Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward took the two starring roles is nothing short of fascinating. John Cusack was considered for the role of Val that eventually went to Bacon. Think about how different the movie would have turned out with Cusack as the star. The interviews that Melville gets are also compelling, with a good chunk of the actors, including Bacon, and the interviews with the special effects give you great insight into what it took to make those worms move. I had no idea how many miniatures were used. And Bacon’s interview is one of the best involving him I’ve ever read. He never once comes off as “above” the material.
The latest movie in the franchise, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, only gets a few pages at the end, mostly because it wasn’t finished by the time the book came out. It’s also the only movie in the series not made by Stampede Entertainment, which is surprising since Stampede was involved in the other four. But then, as you find out in the book, that’s how the movie business is sometimes.
The TV show gets a good review, with background on the series’ production and a small review of each episode. The bits about the original TV show idea, before the eventual Sci-Fi Channel series, is fascinating stuff because, again, I had no idea that anyone wanted to do a TV show before the Sci-Fi series.
Seeking Perfection is a great book through and through. If you’re a fan of the franchise, a fan of movie books in general, or if you’re just looking for something interesting to read, Melville’s book is for you. Once you start it, heck, you may not be able to put it down until you’re finished with it. That’s what happened to me.
Now, if we could get more movie books like this one, the world would be a much better place.
Buy and read Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors by Jonathan Melville. Buy and read it, buy and read it, buy and read it!
Buy the book here or here
Next Issue: The Tremors marathon continues with Tremors II: Aftershocks!
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
Kevin Bacon– Valentine McKee
Fred Ward– Earl Bass
Finn Carter– Rhonda LeBeck
Michael Gross– Burt Gummer
Reba McEntire– Heather Gummer
Bobby Jacoby (Robert Jayne)– Melvin Plug
Charlotte Stewart– Nancy
Tony Genaro– Miguel
Richard Marcus– Nestor
Victor Wong– Walter Chang
Directed by Ron Underwood
Screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, based on a story by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood
Distributed by Universal Pictures and Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and adult situations
Runtime– 96 minutes
Buy it here