For years I have considered this film Great, even as others wrote it off as a schlocky B movie creature feature about giant worms who eat bad actors in the desert. Tremors is the only film that I have owned on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray, as a teenager I had the Tremors movie poster from the local video shop on my wall for years.
Tremors was good enough that I watched the three sequels – technically one is a prequel – that followed knowing full well they couldn’t possibly compare (first sequel OK, other two pretty awful). A couple years ago I started to revisit some of the favourites from my youth and was shocked to discover that some of them just weren’t that good. So it was with trepidation that I chucked in my ebay-purchased DVD to watch Tremors for the first time in many years.
That was perhaps six years ago, I shouldn’t have been worried, Tremors was, is and always will be: AWESOME. I’ve watched it pretty much annually since then and plan to continue to do so until giant worms arrive to eat me.
I’m pretty cognisant that outlining a 20 year old film about underground creatures terrorising a tiny isolated community is a little redundant. Probably not a phrase typed into google too often. Hence I know in the unlikely event that someone is reading this (HOLLA!) you are probably already under the spell of the town of Perfection, and are probably only seeking comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in your admiration for this flick.
So in the interest of brevity:
The sleepy town of Perfection (1) is suddenly and unexpectedly (duh) beset by large underground creatures (2) who sense movement above and devour pretty much anything (3). With no chance of contact with the outside world the surviving inhabitants of the town try to stay alive long enough to devise a plan of escape from the subterranean menace (4).
On the surface that might be a similar description to dozens of other creature or monster flicks. Try this exercise.
Replace the numbered words in bold above with any of the following phrases:
- Insert generic name here really – Hickstown, Victimville, Mt Killingsworth.
- Creatures from the Mist.
- An insane serial killer.
- Turn citizens inside out.
- Play loud Christian Rock music at odd hours.
- Teach children Spanish.
- Paying the bill.
- The poisonous gases.
- Boring plot devices.
All that said I never really thought had about just How Great Tremors was. Great seemed enough on its own, but now I have a website where for two years I have ranked and rated everything I have watched on a scale of 1 – 10. Last year I watched it but declined to review it – chickened out is more accurate. I felt I was “Too Close” to the film to be objective. (wank)
So this viewing I devised a list of ten things to look for. Each category received either 0, 0.5 or 1 point depending on merit, the final cumulative score gives Tremors its final rating out of 10. It was the only fair way I could think of, otherwise you’d be reading the world’s shortest review.
Tremor’s fucken rocks.
Plot – Look I’ve covered it above already, the plot is simple enough. Credit must be given for providing enough credibility that we get involved in these ludicrous actions, that’s part acting but having a believable plot helps mightily.
Everything in the film, every decision, action and consequence is thought through thoroughly (say that fast five times!) and given due explanation and justification.
Dialogue – No hesitation here in awarding the full marks. This film is insanely quotable and hardly a phrase or line is wasted. From Walter Chang offering some “Swiss cheese and some bullets” to the duo embarking on a long ride to Burt Gummer’s reasons behind moving to Perfection “That’s why we moved here in the first place. Geographic isolation”.
Central characters Val an Earl also enjoy an effortless back and forth banter throughout the film, there are rarely obvious jokes but almost every aside, quip and remark provides amusement.
Cast – I really considered a 0.5 deduction here. Initially I thought the characters of Melvin and Burt’s wife Nancy were annoying – then I realised that this was the point. Melvin is a teenage bonehead who has precious little common sense and thinks of nothing but himself, while Nancy is the perfect bland “That’s right Honey” foil for the OTT and opinionated Burt, why else would she stay with him?
The real pluses though… Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) are note perfect as the good natured local dogsbodies who perform all the tasks no-one else wants to do. Their characters never get too clever or perform superhuman feats, and neither do the others for that matter, and everyone reacts as you probably would when in the unlikely situation of being faced with killing machines from beneath your feet.
The minor bit parts aren’t called upon to do much but look like they’re frightened and/or dinner, but unlike many B movies no-one is obviously the guy replacing the real actor who called in sick.
Creatures – Another massive + 1. I’m not sure what the budget for the Graboids was but they come up a treat. As with everything else every detail is thought through, so these giant monsters can be explained logically (enough) to be believable.
The centrepiece of the film must be the first dead Graboid that dies chasing Val and Earl by running into a drainage wall. The dead creature is initially seen in lovingly disgusting close up as it oozes fluid, and when Val delightedly exclaims “I’ve found the ass-end” we finally see the full scope of what they are facing – a 30 foot long witchetty-grub (google it non-Australians).
(The second film took the creatures further, introducing their young, which I must say was less believable but sorta worked anyway.)
Plausibility – I mentioned in the plot section that everything is justified and carefully detailed, but we are dealing with a film about giant worms here. However once we agree that for the next 90 minutes giant underground worms exist everything else that ensues is perfectly reasonable.
I also love the conversations among the Perfection-ists as to the origins of the Graboids, and the fact that the film didn’t even try to give a final reason or explanation of how they came to be.
They just are (were?), and the locals had to deal with them. Everything that followed made perfect sense to me.
Music – Hugely underrated. The music in Tremors is pitch perfect and oddly catchy – I’m humming it right now in my head – the country flavoured instrumentals are neither overbearing or hooky, they just provide a little background atmosphere when required and the volume only ramps up a couple times when Val and Earl are in full swing in their truck.
Even the obligatory “we’ve got a country singer in the cast let her bust out a tune over the credits” isn’t too bad… and I don’t like country music.
Camerawork – Again doesn’t get its due. There are some effective wide shots of the town that manage to show all the residents at once while stranded on their rooftops, some nifty zooms and close ups at relevant points and some nice scenic vistas of the incredible mountain features near Perfection, especially in the closing half hour of the film as the survivors move along with the bulldozer.
Effects – Most low budget creature flicks have a guy in a suit and some shonky CGI (see Sharktopus), Tremors was made before CGI was widespread and so the filmmakers wisely came up with various low key yet effective methods to highlight the menace, size and speed of the Graboids without having to show them too frequently. Remember they live under the ground, so most of the time this wasn’t too hard to justify not seeing them.
But in the brief scenes where they are spotted cruising near the rocks while Val, Earl and Rhonda are stranded on top, and the initial arrival in Perfection the Graboids are immaculate and never less than believable.
The effects guys sensibly mix up the techniques frequently so nothing becomes stale or obvious, at times there are shots from Graboid-eye view, and the occasional money shots when they leap out of the ground to attack and devour victims look effective. The only minor slip up is when Val sets a ride on mower to distract the Graboids and there is an obvious chain used to pull the mower down – a minor issue but once you see it you look for it every time.
Tone – Tremors never tries to get ahead of itself, there are no obvious jokes, the dialogue remains low key, no character suddenly transforms into something that they weren’t and in a film about giant worms there are no over the top kills purely there to be clever or memorable.
Somehow by not aiming high or gunning for a home run the film manages to do both.
Enjoyment – Are you kidding me? I watch this 20 year old B movie EVERY YEAR because I love it. I smile for practically the entire 95 minutes in every viewing. I spout the dialogue as the characters say it, I annoy the hell out of my wife by quoting ridiculously obscure passages and phrases for no reason (“Damn right fifteen…”)
I enjoy everything about Tremors, completing this checklist only confirms the reasons why. I’d never thought about it before but Tremors truly has no weak points, yeah it’s a B movie but it doesn’t act like one.
That’s exactly what makes it the best B Movie ever made, cinematic perfection set in Perfection.
Final Rating – 10 / 10. Only the second Perfect 10 in 2 years of this site. I didn’t want to give another 10 but there really was no other option here.