In 1990 Ron Underwood directed Tremors, a monster film that starred Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross and Finn Carter. It was a film that spawned two sequels Tremors 2: Aftershocks and Tremors 3: Back to Perfection with one prequel entitled Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. The film series also resulted in a short lived television series entitled…well…er…Tremors The Series.
I really don’t understand something that I have discovered to be a trend with humans and it is this: what is it about a human’s fascination with being eaten?? I mean seriously how many animals are out there that are capable of eating a human?? Apparently loads, including: snakes, sharks, fish, and in recent years various hybrids or giant mutations created by irresponsible scientists or nuclear fallout or something equally improbable. A lot of these films are truly awful but bizarrely seem to have developed a cult following, so it is easy to overlook films that actually did humans getting eaten really well and very creatively before cheap effects were splashed across the screen in so many modern monster movies.
In 1990 a new nameless creature was introduced to audiences when they started slithering beneath the sand towards a small American town.
We open in the small town of Perfection, Nevada where two handymen, Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) have grown weary of their rather meaningless existence doing odd jobs and chores for the 14 residents of the former mining town and have decided to head to the nearest city in the hopes of starting a new life. However, on the day they decide to leave strange things start to happen. They discover a man up an electrical tower who has died of thirst, quite simply he sat up the tower until he eventually died, later they find another resident dead along with his sheep. Soon afterwards the only road out of town is destroyed trapping the remaining residents in the valley.
Two local survivalists Burt (Michel Gross) and Heather Gummer, who settled in Perfection because of its geographic isolation, warn that someone is threatening them and the residents need to take up arms to defend themselves.
Val and Earl are nominated to get help, but along the way they discover what is killing off the locals. Giant subterranean creatures are moving through the soft sand that makes up the valley floor and are heading straight for the small community intent on devouring everything they find above ground.
Before the world had to endure tripe like Sharktopus or Piranaconda (and I promise those are actually names of real films) there were films like Jaws, Piranha and Anaconda in which hapless humans were treats for various animals. However what makes Tremors different from those is the fact that you don’t know what these creatures are, or where they came from, and the film never actually tells you.
The initial half of Tremors is a who-dun-it, with audience left in the dark about what is happening. Once the creatures are revealed they are still mostly concealed within the dirt, and similarly with Jaws for the majority of the film the creatures are only glimpsed and those glimpses are mostly fleeting. The technique works well because relying on the audience to create their own ideas about what is going on is always far better than simply showing them what is going on immediately. Steven Spielberg demonstrated the technique whilst filming Jaws and it is a tactic that Director Ron Underwood adopts with great success in Tremors.
Tremors is a film that keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and has an edge of dark humour running through it. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are perfectly cast as the nothing-special handymen who struggle to keep everyone together whilst Michael Gross is also a delight to watch as Burt Gummer, a man who has more guns than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The monsters themselves are kept mostly hidden but they are created using animatronics and there is very little CGI. Nowadays it is so easy to create crappy effects using ridiculously fake computer generated effects that it is a real treat when directors don’t use it. Creating something that looks real is so much easier if the creature is actually real, an animatronics model can do something that no computer effect can do, it is physically there and so lights fall differently upon it. Using CGI has become so common that audiences are used to it, but here, the giant worms are far more realistic than a lot of modern day films that have taken to using CGI for almost every effect.
The first film in the quadrilogy is without a doubt the best, the first sequel Aftershocks is not bad, but it is not as good as the first, and so I am not going to take the time to review them because they are pretty crap. The cast are all excellent and Ron Underwood expertly blends horror and humour to create a classic monster movie that is neither a horror nor a comedy but manages to blend elements of both.
The sequels quickly run out of steam after Aftershocks (which is worth a watch) however it is the original film that is the classic and a definite must-see for any horror and/or monster movie fans.
I like this film and was one of the last few that managed to remember that using animatronics with sparing use of CGI can create something far more impressive than the woeful effects used in films like Sharknado.
Giving Tremors a Thumbs Up is therefore a pretty easy decision
9/10 – Tremors is a great film, with an excellent cast, so I urge you to find a copy and watch it because if you like monster movies then you will not be disappointed.