Running time: 96 min.
Release date: January 19, 1990
From the 1930s through part of the 1960s, Universal Pictures was a leading practitioner in the "creature feature" or "monster movie". Audiences came out to see Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, Gill-Man, and numerous other mysterious and horrifying figures. B-movies still have their niche crowd today, and in 1990 Universal released a film in the same vein as these past attempts, Tremors. The movie works as a throwback to that genre of film, and just happens to be a goofy, fun movie overall on its own merits.
The fictional town of Perfection, NV is the scene; a small, sleepy desert town in the Sierra Nevada mountains that has seen better days. Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Basset (Fred Ward) are handymen that need a change of scenery if they are to make a living. On their way out of town, they encounter some strange doings, such as a man who climbed to the top of an electrical tower and then died there, still clutching his shotgun. Another friend is found in the ground, or at least his head is found, and countless livestock have been slaughtered. Heading back into town to give the people a heads up, their track is grabbed by a tentacle coming out of the ground. Val steps on the gas and tears the tentacle to pieces. Something is underground, and damned if it isn't grabbing people and eating them.
There is a scene where a couple are trapped in their station wagon and sucked underground, car and all. Then we get a look at the creature: a giant worm-like thing where the tentacles are actually the creature's tongue. It is revealed that the creature is able to determine its next meal by responding to vibrations from people walking, running, driving, etc. We meet a graduate student named Rhonda (Finn Carter) who is conducting seismology research in the area. Based on her findings, it is found that there are at least four of these creatures in the area causing all this havoc. We get the stock characters in the various townsfolk, including the cafe owner (Victor Wong) and the survivalist couple, the Gummers - Burt and Heather, played by Michael Gross and country-music legend Reba McEntire. They are attacked in their basement, when a creature bursts through their wall. They have an entire arsenal of weapons at their disposal and in the best scene of the film, they empty every weapon they have into killing the creature. Eventually, the creatures drive everyone to the rooftops... until the creatures figure out how to take down foundations.
Director Ron Underwood made his feature film debut with Tremors. He does a good job of keeping a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout the movie. The film comes across as a goofy, silly and fun 90-plus minutes, with Underwood not breaking any ground but knowing when to separate the supposed terror from the lighter moments. The cast is up to the task, having fun along the way. Kevin Bacon carries the charisma he had in Footloose over to this film. Fred Ward does a solid job as the grizzled veteran of the duo, and both supply an energy to the movie that may have gone amiss without it. Michael Gross and Reba McEntire were brilliantly cast. Gross made his career out of television, best known for his work as Steven Keaton on Family Ties. Here he displays a balanced combination of redneck bravado and comedy. McEntire was also very good, finding that same balance as Gross.
In having these giant worms as the antagonists, the film calls back to such sci-fi fare as Attack of the Giant Leeches and Them! Worms are slimy and somewhat disgusting, so amplifying their size a million times and then giving them tentacles or tongue that can grab a person and pull them to their death is an inventive idea. The worms in Tremors even have a semblance of intelligence, as evidenced by their plan to get people stuck on the roof down to the ground by tackling foundations.
The plot has holes to it, such as the question of where the worms came from, or what they were feasting on before these townspeople started disappearing. It is best not to think too hard when watching this movie. Tremors was meant to be a silly escape for an hour and a half. The story presented here has a beginning, with the introduction to the worms; a middle, with our heroes and the townspeople running from danger and trying to protect themselves; and an ending, where the protagonists figure out crude and creative ways to overcome the danger and solve their problem. Telling a story in a straightforward manner, with some energetic and charming cast members can make most movies work.
Tremors isn't rocket science; it crosses multiple genres, but knows that it's not meant to be taken seriously. It breezes by thanks to great performances by the ensemble cast and the pacing and tone set by Underwood behind the camera. It is not a great movie, by any stretch. It has holes in it, but just forget those. Sit back and enjoy the fun that this movie has on display.