I realized the other day that one of my favourite movies turns twenty-five this year.
TWENTY-FIVE SWEET BABY JESUS.
These days whenever anyone asks me how old I am, I always pause for a minute before I answer. Not because I mind being nearly 37! I truly don’t. Ageing has never bothered me… but I think it’s probably because in my head, I’m still 25, just like this movie. So when I hear that a quarter-century has passed since I watched this with my dad as a VHS rental one Saturday night… well.
It’s a bit of a jolt, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, Tremors is just a hilarious, wonderful little piece of cinema that was totally unappreciated when it was released. According to IMDB, it only earned $3 million on opening weekend, and it cost $11 million to make. Ouch.
Tremors tells the story of Valentine “Val” McKee (played by a young & scruffy Kevin Bacon, sporting the worst hairstyle of his career) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward), handymen in a tiny settlement deep in the Nevada desert. There are only a dozen or so people living there, so it’s basically a haunted-house movie; we know all the characters, they are isolated and unable to get help, no one is going to stumble across them by accident, and half the fun comes from watching the interaction between the townsfolk.
There is also a love interest (because of course there is!) and she’s delightful; graduate student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) is in town conducting seismology tests. She’s smart, unafraid, takes no shit from anyone, and while clearly attracted to Val she never lets it get in the way of her work. She’s the brains of the outfit, and is an equal partner with our heroes when it comes to saving the settlement from certain death.
Because the settlement is under threat! FROM GIANT CARNIVOROUS WORMS (see image, above). The movie’s small budget means the worms are basically huge rubber puppets full of glop, so they aren’t inherently scary – all of the tension comes from the actors selling it with all of their hearts. Horror movies of this genre really only work if everyone involved agrees to be in on the joke, and no one phones it in here. Every character does their damndest to make us care what happens to them, and we do. It’s hard to remember in the post remaking-Japanese-horror-movies era, but it is actually possible to put a good scare into people without creepy lighting and weird ghost children.
And just when you think this movie can’t get any more awesome, along come Burt & Heather Gummer, survivialists who live just outside the main settlement in their freaking awesome ultra-modern apocalypse bunker. Played by Reba McEntire and Michael Gross – yes, really! – they have enough weaponry in their basement to power an army, or as Burt Gummer puts it when they have to run for it: “Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter. Bomb shelter! Underground… God damn monsters.”
This is one of those movies, like The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, that I will watch whenever it shows up on TV. I’ll even sit through terrible commercials and put up with the overdubbing of the cussing (not that there is much, actually.) I was twelve or thirteen when I saw it, and my dad and I were howling with laughter, even while the gross-out bits and jump-scares were sucking me in.
You should check it out, if you haven’t seen it before. It’s a fine entry in the filmography of Kevin Bacon, if nothing else, plus you get the fun of seeing the dad from Family Ties play the exact opposite of that character. It’s funny, and smart, and scary all at once. Well worth a look.