THE ULTIMATE UNDERGROUND MOVIE. IT WILL LEAVE YOU LEGLESS!
Yep, that was a tagline for the 1990 horror/comedy flick, Tremors. It didn’t bother me one bit, because—heck, they had me at its main protagonist, Kevin Bacon, one of my favorites. (Factoid: he played in the original Friday the 13th in 1980. One of the camp counselors, he wound up with an arrow in his throat.) A sorta/kinda homage to the cheesy “monster movies” of the ’50s and ’60s, Tremors was just goofy enough to eventually wind up as a cult classic. No surprise there.
Bacon and Fred Ward steal this show as Val and Earl, a couple of doofus ne’er-do-wells who perform odd jobs in and around the “town” (I use that word loosely) of Perfection, Nevada, population 14. That doesn’t include a graduate student named Rhonda (Finn Carter), who conducts seismology studies and wonders why some of her readings are off the charts. What could be causing those underground disturbances?
Val and Earl don’t know the answer to Rhonda’s question, but they soon discover that the population has begun to shrink. They find the town drunk dead atop a power pole, where something trapped him for days. Next they come across an old sheepherder—or at least his head. Hurrying back to Perfection they warn a couple of road construction dudes, who blow them off. A few minutes later, those two are toast.
After their truck is slowed down by—something, Val and Earl reach Perfection to warn the residents. There, they discover what looks like a giant snake or eel—part of one, anyway—attached to their rear axle. Walter, the shopkeeper (the late great Victor Wong, who played Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China), buys it from
them and plans to make it a tourist attraction.
With the only road in and out of Perfection destroyed, the boys leave the next morning on horseback to get help. They find two more dead bodies, a doctor and his wife, their station wagon dragged nearly all the way under the ground. One of the creatures soon appears, scaring the horses, which run off. The creature is a heck of a lot larger than the thing that attached itself to their truck. In fact, that “snake” is merely one of a number of tentacles that emerge from the giant worm-creature’s mouth.
Val and Earl tear ass for their lives as the worm (later named a “graboid” by Walter) chases them through the ground. They try to leap a concrete aqueduct but wind up falling to the bottom. The graboid bursts through the concrete wall at full speed, the blow killing it. Rhonda shows up as they celebrate, and she tells them that her
readings indicate the presence of three more creatures in the valley. Sure enough, another one shows up and chases them atop a boulder, where they’ll be safe, so says Rhonda. Yeah, but the thing won’t leave until they climb off. That’s what happened to the drunk on the power pole. Solution: they pole vault from boulder to boulder until they reach Rhonda’s truck. (I’m not making this up! Told you it was funny as hell.)
They return to Perfection, which at least one of the graboids has under siege. Walter and one other townie are killed, and soon all three of them are attacking. Everyone is now up on one roof or another, and the graboids begin working on the foundations of the flimsy buildings. Val manages to salvage a CB radio and contacts the town’s other residents, Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire—yeah, that Reba McEntire), survivalist whackos with a home arsenal that could’ve ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forewarned, they go down to their basement to make ready, but the vibrations from their tumbler attract one of the graboids. It bursts through their wall, and they kill it, but their basement is destroyed.
Now there are two left, but it appears that these creatures learn from each experience, and now that Heather and Burt are atop their roof, even Burt’s elephant gun can’t hurt the graboids if they stay underground. Oh, what to do! As the monsters continue to destroy the town from below, Val and Earl hatch a desperate plan—one that just might be crazy enough to work…
Notice, no spoiler alert. If you’ve seen Tremors, you know how it all comes out. If not, just know that it’s quite an explosive hoot. The flick did so-so at the box office, but its subsequent cult status saw it earn a heck of a lot more in VHS and DVD sales. It also spawned THREE direct-to-video sequels (none of them with Kevin Bacon, though Fred Ward did show up in the second one) and a short-lived TV series in 2003. But nothing, of course, tops the original—96 minutes of true guilty pleasure. It’s on my once-every-two-years list of must-sees. Enjoy!