Thursday, October 08, 2009

“I can’t believe we said no to free beer!”

The monster movie has been a staple of low budget cinema since its heyday in the 1950s. The setup is simple: Innocent civilians are terrorized by an inhuman (whether it be a natural monster like Jaws or an unnatural one like The Blob) creature that starts killing them off. Eventually a confrontation between man and beast takes place to settle things once and for all. 1990’s Tremors is a movie that goes for a purely traditional monster movie route, with several subterranean creatures terrifying a remote community.

In the ironically named town of Perfection, Nevada, two handymen have ambitions to leave and seek their fortunes for the big city. Meanwhile, a young female seismologist sets up camp outside of town in the name of SCIENCE. And then shortly thereafter, unrelated to either subplot, people start dying, food for the terrors lurking beneath the Nevada sands. It’s a simple plot.

Valentine McKee: Kevin Bacon is the younger of the main character duo, and the more impulsive. The arc of the two characters is mostly about how those two keep getting nowhere because they don’t have “a plan” for anything. He develops a thing for the seismologist.

Earl Bassett: The other handyman, played by Fred Ward. He’s the slightly more competent of the duo and more or less plays the straight man to Val’s antics.

Rhonda LeBeck: Finn Carter is the seismologist who meets and then later gets rescued by Val & Earl.

Walter Chang: Victor Wong (Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China and the grampa from *shudder* the Three Ninjas movies) is the crotchety old general store owner who keeps haggling items off of other characters.

Melvin Plug: Bobby Jacoby is the annoying teenager that every one of these kinds of movies seem to have. At least none of the other characters really like him either.

Burt & Heather Gummer: Michael Gross (who’s been in several Tremors movies) and country star Reba McIntyre in her first acting role are the married couple who live just outside of town. They’re actually pretty hilarious, since they’ve built their home and basement into a nuclear bunker armed to the teeth with firearms and food supplies. What’s even funnier is that this kind of preparation pays off, and they’re able to take down one of the monsters that crashes through the concrete bunker by the merits of superior firepower. Then Burt gets the idea to bring along some dynamite on their escape attempt. This is one badass couple.

The Grabboids: There are four of these worm-like creatures in the movie. Each has a mouth that can shoot out three snake/wormlike tentacles with their own small mouths. The creatures are also surprisingly cunning, being able to lead the humans into traps and learning from mistakes. As far as monsters go, they’re actually kind of goofy, but that’s par for the course with B movie monsters.

Directed by Ron Underwood, the pacing of the film is actually pretty good, the locations are great and the build up to the reveal of the monsters is well done. A surprising amount of tension can be built up with Kevin Bacon sprinting along a barbed wire fence and then a few milliseconds later the posts being knocked over by something underground as a grabboid gives chase. Is it cheap? Yes. Scary? No, not really. Effective enough at building tension on the screen. Yeah.

The story by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock and Ron Underwood knows that it’s a silly, low budget monster movie, and characters act accordingly. Dialog is funny (usually intentionally) and the story is a straightforward monster romp that doesn’t need to explain where the beasties came from or why they’re there. They’re there, they eat people, they get blown up by dynamite from time to time.

The original score is by Ernest Troost, but the memorable stuff comes in the shape of the country songs that play throughout, like “Drop Kick Me Jesus.” Its set in the west, so Country music is entirely appropriate.

Tremors is an innocent little monster movie. More of a lighthearted homage to the genre, the movie is self-aware of its B movie status, and presents itself as nothing more than that. Recommended with that caveat.

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