Saturday, June 02, 2012

80s Revisited: Tremors

Tremors (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Brent Maddock & SS Wilson; produced by Gale Hurd, Brent Maddock & SS Wilson

I saw this movie a lot back when it first came out on video; my sister couldn't get enough of it because it was funny and violent (her two favorite things, seemingly), but somehow in the years since I hadn't come across this flick too much. Then there it was on Starz the other night, so I figured, why not?

I always had the image of this flick in my head as a sort of Gremlins-style horror parody, but really it's a B-horror that goes for comedy as much as suspense. I remembered thinking it was wildly funny when I was 14, and it does have a lot of character humor (it wisely never invites us to laugh at the expense of the characters, who could easily be played as backwater hicks with no spark), and there's some great parody of the survivalist mindset, but it's not the comedy I remember it being. That's not to slam the movie in any way, because it's funny and highly enjoyable, but it's interesting to me how something can seem wildly funny at 14 and then seem more mild (but inventive) at 35.

What sets this apart from your basic "trapped and pursued" horror flick is really the tongue-in-cheek humor drawn from the sometimes batty characters. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are very likable as Earl and Val, a couple of handymen in a tiny town with the ironic name of Perfection, Nevada. Val meets cute with a spunky geologist (and I do like that there's some movie out there that allows me to put those two words together), but soon they're trying to survive while pursued by gigantic sandworms with grabbing tongues. The worms--Graboids--can feel their vibrations on the surface of the desert, and basically function as sharks on land. The special effects and creature design are effective and amusing; the flick creates genuine suspense partly through judicious creature use, and partly through--and this is where too many movies get it wrong--establishing characters that we like and don't want to see killed. (One of them is Victor Wong. Victor Wong is always awesome.)

The high point of the humor is the gun crazy survivalist couple played by Michael Gross and, in her film debut, Reba McEntire. I remember especially finding Gross hilarious as a teenager, since he had just come off playing the far gentler Steven Keaton on Family Ties through the 80s. Their basement, with many types of guns fighting for position on the walls, is one of my favorite sight gags in the movie. (A wall full of guns was an all-too-common visual in movies from the time period; at least one movie manages to show it up as utterly ridiculous.) Seeing this again, I instantly wish we'd seen more Michael Gross in movies--though apparently he's in all four (!) Tremors movies.

Anyway, if you just want to have some popcorn and soda and laugh at a horror flick that embraces its silliness without compromising its characters, you could do a hell of a lot worse. It's not as great as I remember it being, but it's by no means a bad movie, either. Director Ron Underwood apparently makes nothing but Christmas movies for cable now, but right after this he made the excellent City Slickers and the underrated Heart and Souls. He also directed Speechless, a movie I've never seen but which does, apparently, have both Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve in it, making it the only movie I know of that has both Batman and Superman in it. So there's your trivia.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Great, fun monster movie. Can't get enough of a good Fred Ward movie like 'Miami Blues' and of course 'Remo Williams'.

SamuraiFrog said...

I love Remo Williams. And of course ol' Fred's in The Right Stuff, which is probably in my top 10 of movies.

Creekwalker said...

One of my favoritest movies of all time. Funny every time it comes around. I also like the second movie, the third a bit less and few memories of the prequel. But Tremors remains a wonderful way to much popconr and sip beer.

SamuraiFrog said...

I saw the second one years and years ago when it first hit video... I don't remember much about it, and had forgotten Michael Gross was in that one. I do remember being quite captivated by Helen Shaver in tight jeans, though...