Scary Movies: Tremors

It’s kind of like Dune, but in Nevada.

My son was really interested in watching this scary movie, billed on Starz as being an action-comedy-horror, so I agreed to watch it with him. I think it’s indicative of the quality of the movie that I realized about ten minutes into it that I’d seen Tremors before. In fact, I think I may have seen it in the theaters when it came out back in 1990, and hadn’t thought of the movie for one minute since then. Not that the movie’s terrible, just kind of forgettable.

Val (played by Kevin Bacon!) and Earl are buddies who live in the tiny town of Perfection, Nevada, performing odd jobs around town and dreaming of moving to the slightly bigger metropolis of Bixby. Rhonda, a pretty college student in town for the semester to work on an otherwise unspecified project involving seismographs, catches their eye. Meanwhile, mysterious things are happening around town–long-time locals disappearing, livestock being mutilated. When Val and Earl come across the head of one of those missing locals, they know there’s a problem.

Soon, they realize the valley that the town is in has become infested with giant carnivorous worm-like creatures with tentacles that come out of their mouths (according to Wikipedia they’re called Graboids, although I don’t think they’re named in the movie). Also, a rockslide caused by the creatures has cut off the only road out of the valley. Rhonda is able to tell from her seismograph readings that there are four of the creatures, and they quickly learn that crossing open sand will bring the creatures to your location, hungry for a snack (of human flesh). Val, Earl, and Rhonda have to make it back to the town center so they can warn those of the other residents who are still alive, and make a final stand with the help of the extensive firearms collection of the town gun nut.

One thing that was underexplained in the movie is where the Graboids come from. The characters speculate that they’re mutated creatures, but that doesn’t make any sense. Mutated what–worms? Do worms live in the desert? Also, the movie makes clear that the worms can move through sand, but not through the mountains that surround Perfection, so the creatures can’t leave the valley. But that means they must originate in the area. Why didn’t anybody in the town know they were there before? Maybe something woke the Graboids up, but what that might be is never explicated.

This is sort of an odd movie in that it’s a major studio production intentionally made into a b-movie. It avoids most of the worst b-movie sins–the dialogue is a bit more than functional and well-polished, with the good-natured repartee between Val and Earl being a high point. The acting is decent (Kevin Bacon!). Most importantly, it keeps things fast-paced, as uneven pacing is both the worst and most common flaw of b-grade horror films. Still, it’s a monster movie with a silly premise, and no ambition to be any more than that. Allegedly, it was supposed to be a horror-comedy, and although I suppose the tone was somewhat tongue in cheek, there weren’t really any laughs, at least none that landed. As for the action, it was pretty much generic gunplay. Like I said above, not terrible, just forgettable. We’ll put this one in the Okay category.

Tremors (1990)
Story/Plot/Characters— Script is better than it has to be, though far from great, and the story coheres but doesn’t amount to much. Val, Earl, and, Rhonda are more than cardboard cutouts, though all the other people in town are strictly stock characters. (2 points)
Special Effects–This one is hard to call. The Graboids are cheesy, but intentionally so. They’re sort of a big-budget version of low-budget monsters, if that makes sense. There are explosions and gunplay that won’t knock your socks off, but are professionally presented. (1 point)
Scariness— Not scary. I’ll give it a bit of credit for some disgusting worm guts. (.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— This film had no atmosphere at all. (0 points)
Total=3.5 points (Okay)

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