Blu-ray Review: TREMORS - 90's Creature Feature Feels Dated But Kitschy Fun

Kitschy 1990 horror movie/Kevin Bacon vehicle Tremors feels incredibly dated twenty years on. Watching it for the first time in well over a decade, courtesy of its release on Blu-ray, the Ron Underwood directed creature feature doesn€™t quite live up to my childhood memories. The giant worm creatures no longer seem scary enough to have once made me genuinely afraid to walk across my bedroom floor (let alone on sand). And yet the film also feels strangely relevant, perhaps disturbingly so, in the time of the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin. Tremors is tongue in cheek in tone and features a group of self-consciously silly characterisations: none more memorable than Michael Gross€™ Burt Gummer, a gun-toting survivalist who went to become a key part of the franchise in its three straight-to-video sequels and ill-fated 2003 TV series. In Burt Gummer we have a valiant champion of the second amendment €“ a man who those on the left would brand €œa nut€, yet who ultimately proves that Americans need guns. After he and his equally gun crazy wife (played by wholesome Christian country singer Reba McEntire) dispatch one of the subterranean horrors using their incredible stash of firearms, Fred Ward€™s Earl comments: €œI guess we don€™t get to make fun of Burt€™s lifestyle anymore.€ Whilst gun-toting survivalists save the day, the film is less generous to the only educated protagonist, a graduate student conducting seismology tests played by Finn Carter. In true disaster movie style she discovers that something is amiss before any of the hayseed townsfolk, yet when asked for ideas during one encounter shouts: €œwhy do you keep asking me?€ Yes, it is true that she isn€™t entirely passive (she does come up with that neat pole vaulting idea midway through the film), but don€™t forget the filmmakers also have her play the role of damsel in distress more than once €“ and at one point the writers engineer a situation so that the only way she can escape a terror is by removing her trousers. Ultimately the arc of the character is the familiar transformation from €œugly duckling€ into the sexy prize of our male hero, Bacon€™s Valentine McKee (a name that is just brilliantly preposterous). But to criticise Tremors for these 80s action movie conventions and disaster movie clichés would be to miss the point. €˜Tremors€™ is actually a sustained exercise in pastiche. The characters are broadly drawn and the situations are played out in the name of comedy, supported by knowingly cheesy horror music. There are some pretty funny lines too, a fair share of which fall to Gummer. For instance, after making some powerful homemade explosives he is asked €œwhat the hell is in these things Burt?€ to which he replies dryly €œA few household chemicals in the proper proportions.€ However, the trouble is that too often the lines aren€™t all that funny and all the film really has going for it is my memory of seeing it as a child and being greatly affected by the idea of its monsters, which sense vibrations and burst from the ground and chew you to bits. The writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson €“ authors of screenplays for Short Circuit, *batteries not included (awesome film) and Wild Wild West (not so awesome film) €“ should be given a great deal of credit though for a few ideas which would later be used in one of my very favourite movies: Spielberg€™s Jurassic Park. Created three years before that film (and almost a whole year before Michael Crichton€™s novel), the creatures in Tremors think and plan in a very similar way to the velociraptors in that dinosaur movie, whilst they also €œcan€™t see you if you don€™t move€ much like a fictional T-rex can€™t. Also, like that T-rex, the monsters in Tremors cause a low rumbling with their movements that ensures their presence is felt long before they are seen. Maybe the similarities between these ideas are no more than coincidence, but in any case they were done here first. (For more blatant plagiarism you can see the influence of Tremors clearly in Starship Troopers and in sections of the Half-Life 2 video game). As director, Ron Underwood €“ who would later go on to direct the much-derided Eddie Murphy flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash €“ does a creative job of finding interesting ways to suggest the underground presence of the creatures, whilst Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are likeable with the friendship between them feels genuine. The fact that two actors gel so well on screen means that Tremors features very little exposition for us to know who these people are and why they are so inseparable.


The extra features are just flat-out awful on this Blu-ray edition of the film. They consist of grainy, twenty year old TV spots, cheesily narrated and lacking in insight. To add insult to injury there are also very few of them (actually maybe that€™s a good thing). The fact that all these features are contemporary means that there is no perspective on the film€™s history. It€™s all just PR fluff from 1990. There are three €œprofiles€ covering actors Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire €“ but not Fred Ward or Finn Carter. These two minute long mini-documentaries overlap a lot and feature only sporadic clips of the actors in question talking to camera about the film, all of it inane as they explain what the film is and who they are playing. In the same trashy style €“ and with the same interminable narrator €“ is a whopping three minute €œfeaturette€ which manages to say even less about the film. The final feature is the one ray of light (if only by way of comparison) as it takes the form of a more extensive fifty-three minute documentary, €œThe Making of Tremors€, looking at the film from its inception to release. It€™s dry but informative, though again let down by its age and poor production quality. It is also notable for the fact that none of the actors take part. Instead the only contributors are the writers and director. That€™s it. There isn€™t even a trailer. Pathetic. Tremors is available on Blu-ray from tomorrow.

A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.