Tremors (1990)

Rating: PG-13
Director: Ron Underwood
Writer: S.S. WIlson, Brent Maddock, Ron Underwood (story); S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock (screenplay)
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire
Run time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

The Plot

Valentine “Val” McKee and Earl Bassett work as handymen in the remote town of Perfection, Nevada. Val is single and his standards are not to Earl’s liking. Their job is often disgusting – such as cleaning out septic lines at the general store in town – and it also does not pay well. They decide to move to Bixby, the nearest town nearby. As they leave town with all of their meager belongings in the bed of their pickup, they find Edgar Deems on an electrical tower, holding his rifle. Believing him to be passed out and drunk, Val climbs up the tower only to find that he is dead. The town’s doctor determines that Edgar died of dehydration. He had apparently sat atop the electrical tower, unwilling to climb down, for as many as three or four days.

Next, we see something moving under the ground near the home of Fred, a shepherd. We see whatever is under the ground kill Fred’s sheep, and then Fred, by pulling them under the ground. After taking Edgar’s body into town, Val and Earl are again attempting to leave for Bixby. They quip that they waited one day too long to make the journey. Suddenly they see Fred’s dead sheep from the road on their way out of town. They stop to inquire. Then they discover Fred’s head under his hat. The two men again return to town and warn everyone that a serial killer is on the loose. Among those they warn on their way back into town are two construction workers. The two construction workers ignore the warning and are killed by the same underground monster soon after. Their attack creates a rock slide that blocks the one and only road in and out of town. Back in town, the residents find the phone lines are dead. Val and Earl drive back toward Bixby, again, and find the remains of the two construction workers. They also find out that the road is blocked. As they try to leave the place where the road is blocked, an enormous snake wraps itself around their truck’s rear axle. The snake is strong enough initially to prevent the truck from moving. Val accelerates the truck until the snake is torn apart. The people in town find the snake attached to the rear axle of their truck when the two handymen return to let everyone know about the road being blocked.

With the road blocked, the townspeople decide to send Val and Earl on horseback to Bixby for help. On their way, they find the town doctor and his wife’s buried station wagon near their trailer. They continue riding, much more fearful, unable to fathom how the snakes could pull a stationwagon under the ground. Just then, an enormous snake-ish monster comes out of the ground and grabs one of the horses. They see now that the creature from their axle earlier was just one of a MUCH larger monster’s grabber-tongues. Val and Earl are now on foot and the enormous snake-monster is chasing them. The two men try to jump across a concrete aqueduct to escape. They do not make it across. However, the creature crashes into the concrete wall thereof and dies on impact. Rhonda LeBeck, a graduate student conducting seismic tests nearby, walks up on the two men only moments after this occurs. Based on her prior seismic readings, she determines that three other worm-monsters are within a few miles. Val, Earl, and Rhonda find one of the other three monsters moments later. They flee on foot to some boulders where they sleep all night. Rhonda guesses that since the monster they found had no eyes, the monsters must hunt by feeling vibrations in the ground. It did not leave their hiding spot on the boulder because it could feel their vibrations through the rock. The three use long wooden poles, adjacent to the boulder they slept on, and pole vault from boulder to boulder until they reach Rhonda’s truck. Once there they hurriedly start the truck and barely escape with their lives.

Val, Earl, and Rhonda return to town. At the general store, most of the town is now gathered. The worms – which Walter Chang has named “graboids” reward him for the name by coming through the floor of the store and killing him. After, everyone in town flees to their rooftops. Burt and Heather Gummer, a pair of survivalists who have been driving around looking for sign of the monsters since they got word of Fred’s death, return home. Val and Earl manage to warn them that the graboids are on the way. The couple kill one of the monsters after it tries to attack them inside their well-armed basement (though it did take Burt using an elephant gun, first.) Two graboids down. Two more to go. The remaining worms get smarter. They begin attacking the building foundations. They succeed in knocking over a trailer belonging to a man named Nestor. Then they drag him under the ground. The townspeople realize that they cannot stay in town and hope to survive. They come up with a plan to drive a track loader and haul a semi-trailer behind it. They believe the track loader is too heavy for the monster to stop or pull under. The plan is to drive the people from town into nearby the mountain where the worms presumably cannot travel through the granite ground. With the safety of the mountains in sight, the track loader crashes into a ditch dug by the worms. Everyone topples out of the trailer and runs to some nearby boulders. Earl comes up with a plan to trick the monsters into swallowing Burt’s homemade dynamite. The plan works on the first graboid. It swallows the explosives. A few moments later, gooey bits of the monster are flying into the air. Three down, one to go. Unfortunately, when they attempt the plan again on the last monster, it spits the dynamite back at the them. They run from the explosion. The explosion lands close enough to the remaining home-made bombs that it also destroys those, too. Val has the only remaining bomb in his hands.

Without explaining what he is doing, Val suddenly begins running toward the edge of a cliff. As the graboid chases him, Val throws lights and throws the bomb behind the monster. The sound of the explosion scares the creature into racing forward through the cliff face and to its death on the rocks below.

The film ends with everyone back in town. Val still plans to move to Bixby. With some encouragement from Earl, though, he kisses Rhonda who seems to have fallen for him.

REACTION:

This movie is fantastic. As monster-movies go, this is one of the absolute best.

Though it does not come through in the plot description, Tremors is a horror-comedy. The movie works and holds up well, thirty years after its release, because almost everyone we meet is perfectly cast, charismatic, and real. The resulting gallows-humor banter among everyone – especially Kevin Bacon’s “Val” and Fred Ward’s “Earl” – is hilarious in the midst of the tension and tragedy.

One other reason this movie works is that none of the characters do anything overtly dumb. They try to outwit the monsters, and it does not always work out, but nobody ignores clearly established dangers.

The movie manages to provide a believable romantic subplot between Val and Rhonda (Finn Carter) with very little dialogue or narrative overtly pointing in that direction.

Despite the “horror” element of the movie, there is not a *lot* of blood, gore, or dead bodies. The monsters pulling their victims underground more or less prevents that. However, there is some blood and guts – primarily in the aftermath of the attack on the sheep and each time one of the graboids die. If you’re a horse-lover, you might not enjoy the scene where one of them gets pulled down by a monster.

My favorite scene in the film was the shoot-out in the Gummers’ basement. Michael Gross and Reba McEntire were just absolutely perfect as a western survivalist couple. They did not mock or parody survivalists, either. They behaved and reacted believably – if humorously – within the context of the story.

My one and only gripe with this movie has nothing to with with the movie itself. As is my custom with seemingly every movie made in this era, I am going to complain about the rating. This was PG-13?! There is a lot of swearing in this film (as one might expect if monsters attacked a small town) and there is a high death count (several people, sheep, and a horse.) But on the bright side, I suppose, if the censors had tagged this movie with an R rating, the directors might have been tempted to better earn the rating with more (unnecessary) gore, violence, swearing, etc. In any case, if you want to watch the movie with your young teenage kids, you might want to preview it first. It might not be suitable for all 13 year olds.

Of course, I definitely watched this movie before I was 13 and I turned out alright. Well, you know, decide for yourself if I turned out okay and make good choices for your kids.

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