Retro Rewatch – Tremors 1990


Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, I present to you one of the movies that acted as a cornerstone for my love of film… Tremors.

Tremors will forever hold a very special place in my heart.  It was one of the first movies that my family rented from the video store after they got a VCR to replace the Beta.  This movie was also the first time in my life where I was able to make a connection between finding a great movie I knew nothing about and then knowingly realizing that there had to be other awesome movies out there somewhere that I hadn’t yet heard of.  I soon discovered Ghostbusters and the Indiana Jones trilogy at which point I knew what I was going to dedicate my life to.  Anywho, this isn’t about me and my nostalgia, it’s about an awesome monster flick.

A small town in Nevada called “Perfection” is the home to our main characters Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) who are essentially the town’s unofficial handymen.  As they are driving through the outskirts of Perfection, they find the town drunk up on a telephone pole with a loaded rifle and the complication of being dead via dehydration.  Earl and Burt think that they have had enough of Perfection and use it as an excuse to finally break out and move to Bixby (The next town over, seemingly bigger).  On their way out of Perfection, they run into a group of road workers (who are all dead) along with the only road out of town completely blocked off.  After introducing a spunky seismologist named Finn Carter (Rhonda LeBeck) and showcasing a few cool looking deaths of the local townspeople, we’re off and running.

After watching the film again, there are so many elements to it that just plain work for me.  At first you have the isolation factor which absolutely must occur if you want to have any kind of danger at all.  In the beginning of the film, it’s set up via the road being blocked off, but shortly thereafter we hear that there is other access out of the town over the mountains, it’s just much harder to manage.  So with the danger a little bit easier to handle, it completely overflows the second that we learn that whatever is killing all these people is coming from the ground and rising up to pull its victims into the earth.  So if it isn’t enough that it’s going to be difficult getting out of town over a vast mountain range, it’s going to be near impossible to do without touching the ground at all.

One of the elements that kill call a movie for me quicker than a bunny with a revolver is when someone comes into the story, whether they are a known character or just some asshole, and explains everything that has been going on.  Fortunately Tremors never has this character come out of no were and explain where the graboids came from and what they want.  We are on sitting next to our characters on this ride so we see what they see and learn what they learn.  Sure certain people may have more background and insight into certain elements like the lay of the land or a theory on how many Graboids there are, but why wouldn’t that make sense?  Everyone can contribute to the group, so why wouldn’t they?  Besides the logical tactics employed by the townspeople, it’s also important to note is the inherent realism in the script.

Of course yes it is a stretch to imagine a prehistoric worm monster in the desert killing people by sound but it’s not something that you find yourself contemplation during the film’s running time.  Remember, you are in on the ride, therefore we don’t get a lengthily exposition on how some mad scientist came and let them loose.  They are here and now and we all have to deal.  It’s kind of like when you day dream a situation unravel in front of your boring life.  For example, the other day I was at my desk at work punching numbers into Excel and I wondered “what would happen if Velociraptors started taking over the town?”  Then I started thinking what I would do and how I would get it done completely ignoring the fact that there is no possible way that dinosaurs could exist.  That wasn’t the point.  The point is that I had an idea, at least on a basic level I accepted it and my brain just kept going with it.    

Tremors doesn’t slow down for anyone.  The pacing of the film is brilliant and is only accentuated by showing us none of the monster until our main characters discover it.  We get satiated with a few creepy kills that don’t really make sense until we see what the main character having been running from the entire time.  All the scenes of the townspeople interacting as a community all add to great character development while the action is perfectly executed and planned from start to finished.  In the end, Tremors is a B monster movie that decided not to tell the cast/crew/production that it’s a B monster movie.  Everyone takes it completely seriously and it works to an amazing effect to give you a fun and creepy action film that still holds up magnificently today.

Is it a cult classic, a fitting analysis, or complete forgettable?:  This was a big budget film that had a B-Movie premise and was handled magnificently.  Everyone has heard of Tremors and most likely enjoyed it so I would say its cult classic chic.  It’s kind of the same thing that Rocky Horror deals with.  Everyone knows it exists, which doesn’t give it the true rep of a cult classic, yet no one has enough disdain for it to hate on it for the sake of hating on popular non-underground movies.

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