Thursday, January 23, 2020

Giant, Blood-Thirsty Worms Give Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward "Tremors"

 Earl (Fred Ward) and Val (Kevin Bacon) are the unlikely heroes of 1990's "Tremors", now regarded as the "Citizen Kane" of worm movies.


Greetings, movie lovers,

Let's all mosey on down to Perfection, Nevada shall we?

Founded in 1902, this dusty dot is home to Walter Chang's (Victor Wong) grocery story, the workshop of artist Nancy and daughter Mindy (Charlotte Stewart and Ariana Richards), farmers Nestor and Miguel (Richard Marcus and Tony Genaro), supremely annoying teen Melvin (Bobby Jacoby) and doc Jim and wife Meg (Conrad Bachmann and Bibi Besch), who are building a new home. Off a bit yonder are dedicated survivalists Bert and Heather (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire), who are patiently preparing for WWIII.

Despite its abundant charms, freelance handymen Earl (Fred Ward) and Val (Kevin Bacon) have decided to pull up stakes for greener pastures. The only thing stopping them? A group of huge, prehistoric, blood thirsty, subterranean worms!!

Before "In a Quiet Place", there was "Tremors" (1990), a smart, funny homage to '50's monster movies where humans must go Mano O Mano with frightening beasts who hunt by sound. Although not a box office hit on its original release (despite good reviews), "Tremors" has gone on the develop both a loyal cult following AND the distinction of being the BEST worm movie ever made, bar none.

He is NOT a lineman for the county: First victim Edgar.

Part of that honor is based on the smart script by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, which neatly blends comedy, horror, daring-do and a bit of romance amidst the growing threat of a seemingly implacable (and smelly) enemy. One must also single out the taut direction of Ron Underwood, who sets the perfect tone and never waivers. Last but not least is the cast, who embody their roles with humor, smarts and bits of quirky charm.

On their way out of Perfection for good (even turning down a long-term job that included lunch and free beer), Val and Earl spot town drunk Edgar sitting high on a utility pole. When he doesn't respond when the guys call his name, Val climbs up the pole to drag him down--and discovers Edgar is dead. Doc Jim pronounces the cause of death to be dehydration, a process that can take up to 3 or 4 days.

Next, the guys run into grad student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), who notices that her university's seismographs are picking up lots of weird activity. The men can't offer her any help and head on their way--with Val visibly disappointed that Rhonda fails to fit his "dream girl" criteria ("blonde hair, green eyes, world class breasts and legs that won't quit") best embodied by his ex Tammi Lynn. When Earl chides his buddy for his narrow views on female attractiveness, Val explains, "I'm a victim of circumstance". Causing Earl to reply, "I thought that's what you called your p@#$&!"

Moving right along, Val and Earl pass by Old Fred's spread and find all his sheep slaughtered--and Fred's disembodies head lying in the dirt.

Racing back to town, the guys pass a road crew. They warn them that a serial killer is on the loose, but the workers blow them off. Seconds later, a crew member hits something with his jack hammer that squeals and gushes blood. Needless to say, they are soon goners.

 Old Fred has lost his...body?

Back in Perfection, it's discovered the phone in Victor's store is dead. Val and Earl agree to drive to Bixby, the nearest town, to notify the police and get help. When Nestor urges the duo to "step on it", Val announces, "Consider it stepped on."

Unfortunately, things just keep getting worse. Doc Jim, Meg and their car(!) are swallowed up...by something. Another road crew is attacked, causing a rock slide that blocks the only way out of town. When Val and Earl return to Perfection again, they discover a piece of a long, slimy mutant something has attached itself to their trunk axle (they sell it to Walter for $15.00).

How will the residents get help now? Once again, it's Earl and Val to the rescue. This time they saddle up two of Walter's horses and decide to ride to Bixby. This plan appears to be working until a whale-like monster bursts up from the ground and grabs the equines. Val and Earl run like hell, but the beastie dives underground and gives chase...until he knocks himself out...permanently...after hitting a concrete ravine wall.

Wouldn't you know it, grad student Rhonda turns up on the scene, still flummoxed by her seismograph readings. She helps the guys dig up the critter, which turns out to be a 7 or 8 foot long worm with huge jaws and a set of nasty tentacles that shoot out of it's mouth in order to grab its prey. It also smells. Rhonda notices they have no eyes and figures they hunt guided by sound vibrations.

"This is the zoological find of the century!" she exclaims.

Open Wide! A close-up of one of the worm monsters menacing the folks of Perfection, Nevada.

While Val and Earl are gleefully planning to exhibit the critter for profit, Rhonda consults her graphs and realizes that there are three more beasties at large. Sure enough, another giant worm quickly tunnels in their direction. The gang races to a cluster of boulders for safety and pass the time swapping theories about how the worm monsters came to be:

Val: "They're mutations caused by radiation. No, wait, the government made them--big surprise for the Russians."

Rhonda: "Well, there's nothing like them in the fossil record. OK, so they predate the fossil record. That would make them a couple of billion years old and we just haven't seen one until now. Right."

Earl: "I vote for outer space. No way these are local boys." (That's my favorite answer as well as one of my favorite lines from the movie.)

Local or not, these worms are smart and fully prepared to wait out their prey. Or as Earl puts it, "They have the patience of Job." Luckily, Rhonda figures out a way to escape: using forgotten utility poles, she shows the guys how to pole vault from rock to rock to her truck--and it works!


"Come on, it's fun!": Rhonda shows Val and Earl how to pole vault to safety.


However, there's no rest for the weary in "Tremors". Once Val, Earl and Rhonda make it back to Walter's store, the folks of Perfection face a series of ingenious attacks by the "Graboids" (as the monsters are now called) that threaten their collective lives.

First, the Graboids burst into Walter's store via a rickety refrigerator--and sadly, take Walter out, too. This forces everybody to scramble on to the roofs of various buildings for safety. Unfortunately, the Graboids use their tentacles and feelers to size up the foundational strength of these dwellings and proceed to knock the weakest ones down--which is how poor Nester meets his doom. Survivalists Bert and Nancy, meanwhile, come face to face with a Graboid when it smashes into their rec room. The plucky couple bombard the beast with a massive barrage of fire power (from their own lovingly compiled arsenal). A lengthy battle ensues, but the survivalists eventually win the day.

"We killed the mother humper!" an exhausted Bert declares over a C.B. radio.

Alas, their victory is short-lived. The two Graboids left retaliate by destroying Bert and Heather's 4-wheel-drive. Worse, even Bert's highest capacity magazines can't penetrate through dirt, leaving the couple stuck on their roof like everybody else.

Once again, it's Val and Earl to the rescue. Earl sets off the late Walter's lawn mower to distract the Graboids. Then Val ties a trailer to a CAT bulldozer, figuring the worms can't attack such a heavy vehicle. Everybody jumps in one by one, heading straight for the mountains and out of the monsters reach.

"Slow Ride": Val, Earl and Rhonda roll out of Perfection

It's all systems go...until the crafty Graboids dig a trench and stop the CAT in its tracks. Everyone takes shelter on some near by rocks, where its clear, yet again, that the worms are prepared to wait the humans out. However, the gang manages to trick one Graboid into swallowing a home-made bomb (courtesy of Bert and Heather). The final beastie isn't so easily fooled, until Val comes up with a surprisingly simple solution that owes itself to Earl's natural fear of stampeding cattle. The final count? Humans 9, Graboids 0 and all is right in the world again.

At 94 minutes, "Tremors" clips along at a steady pace. There are no slow spots or unnecessary diversions, yet things don't feel rushed. By the end of the flick, Perfection has been saved, a new species of worm has been discovered and true love has blossomed. More interesting stuff happens in "Tremors" than in "CATS" and all those "Transformer" movies combined. And it was cheaper to make, too.

As sequels, remakes, reboots, "re-imaginings" and "film franchises" are against my religion, I have  NOT checked out any of the other "Tremors"-inspired outings (that includes the TV series, too). If a film is done right the first time, why bother? Such activities attempt to squeeze out the last drops of essence from a good idea, yet leave only pulp behind ("The Godfather, Part 2" and "Aliens" excepted). I want to remember "Tremors" with Val and Rhonda in their loving embrace with no Graboids in sight.

In times like these, we need all the happy endings we can get, don't you agree?

And SAVE THE MOVIES, too.

And they lived happily ever after...












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