I must disagree with Kevin Bacon. I think it was his high point.
I love "Tremors." It's one of my fall-back movies to watch when I don't know what else to watch. It's just one of those movies you can watch over and over, and my family has watched it so many times that when we watch it together - it's become our family tradition to sit around and watch it every Christmas - people call out their favorite lines of dialogue.
The story of "Tremors" (for those of you who don't know it because you are among the lucky ones who've never seen it and so can still look forward to the experience of seeing it for the first time) is set in an isolated desert town of fourteen people where the already small population is being suddenly decimated in strange ways. The town's two ne'er-do-well handy men Valentine and Burt (played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) and a grad student geologist named Rhonda (Finn Carter) discover giant pre-historic subterranean man-eating killer worms that race unseen under the ground towards their prey then pop up from the ground and grab their victim with snake-like tongues. And so the townspeople, surrounded by mountains, their phone lines dead, and trapped by the monsters, which they call graboids, try to evade the predators while trying to come up with a plan to destroy them.
So that's the plot. But believe me, it's much better than it sounds.
But what makes this movie with the silly plot so good?
Along with a certain indescribable je ne sais quoi that some movies just seem to have that makes them rise above their subject matter, I'd say that "Tremors" has several things going for it that make it work really well:
Great Setting: Set miles from nowhere, the mountain and desert scenery is stark, beautiful, and creepy.
Great Characters: Among the towns people are a hard-core survivalist conspiracy- theory couple named Burt and Heather who keep an arsenal in their basement and never go anywhere in their town of 14 people without their guns; a supremely annoying teen-ager named Melvin who's dying to get into trouble but can't seem to find any meaningful trouble to get into in this place; Nancy, an arty pottery-making woman who b**ches about everything; Walter Chang, who owns the general store and appears to likewise own every material good in the town; Rhonda, the young geology student, a plain, brainy girl who ends up joining forces with the two low-life hired hands Valentine and Earl to fight the graboids. The chemistry is wonderful among all the characters.
Great Dialogue: Snappy, funny, engaging. Quotable quotes abound. A few samples:
1. Earl: "Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view, I mean here it is Monday and I'm already thinking of Wednesday...It is Monday right?"
2. Valentine: "Who died and made you Einstein?"
3. Earl: "Hey, Rhonda you ever seen anything like this before?"
Valentine: "Oh, sure Earl. Everyone knows about them we just didn't tell you."
4. Rhonda: "No, you don't understand, these creatures are absolutely unprecedented!"
Nestor (a townsperson): "Yeah, but where do they come from?"
5. Earl: "Is this a job for an intelligent man?"
Valentine: "Well, show me one and I'll ask him."
6. Earl: "What kind of fuse is that?"
Burt: "Cannon fuse."
Earl: "What the hell do you use it for?"
Burt: "My cannon!"
Great Suspense: It has that sort of creepy "something is coming" pall that hangs over the beginning scenes of all good suspense movies. In the beginning we sometimes see things from the monster's view as it scopes out its prey. Plenty of near-misses with the monsters. Plenty of surprises. Keeps you comfortably close to the edge of your seat. Even if you've already seen if half-a-dozen times.
Now, if "Tremors" were meant to be a spoof or a comedy - it's neither - it wouldn't work nearly so well. But it's not campy or quirky - it's just an especially good monster movie.
I guess I could concede that there might be a few folks out there who would agree with Kevin Bacon that "Tremors" might not have been his finest hour and a half. Me, I think it was. In fact, there's one desert scene in which Kevin Bacon ends up doing a rather graceful little pas-de- deux with a graboid tentacle which involves him balancing on one leg and which probably could not have been pulled off by someone who wasn't a dancer.
Anyway, I think "Tremors" is one of the great unsung movies of our time, and for those out there who are of the same persuasion, or for those who will now take the initiative to see "Tremors" for the first time, I've listed below a few questions for discussion. Perhaps some of you out there can come up with a few more.
"Tremors" Discussion Questions:
1. Who does Melvin belong to? Claire and Miguel thought he belonged to Nancy, Theresa thought he belonged to Nestor and I thought he belonged to Walter through adoption, though I guess I could see him as a step-kid Nancy somehow got stuck with from a former marriage.
2. What is the tragic moral to be found in Burt's lament as he shakes his head and gazes upon his wrecked bomb shelter: "Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter, bomb shelter. Underground...God damn monsters."
3. In an existentialist sense, what do the graboids hiding beneath the surface symbolize?
4. What is the significance of the fact that of all the townspeople, it is the life-long, edge-of-society non-achievers Earl and Valentine who are called upon to save the town from the evil from below that is dragging them down?
5. Could Valentine and Rhonda be together?