Tremors (1990 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ron Underwood|
|Music by||Ernest Troost|
|Edited by||O. Nicholas Brown|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$16.7 million (US)|
Tremors is a 1990 American monster horror comedy film directed by Ron Underwood, produced by Brent Maddock, and S. S. Wilson, and written by Maddock, Wilson, and Underwood. Tremors was released by Universal Pictures and stars Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, and Reba McEntire.
In the film, tired of their dull lives in the small desert town of Perfection, Nevada, repairmen Val McKee (Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Ward) try to skip town. However, they happen upon a series of mysterious deaths and a concerned seismologist Rhonda (Carter) studying unnatural readings below the ground. With the help of eccentric survivalist couple Burt and Heather Gummer (Gross and McEntire), the group fights for survival against giant, wormlike monsters hungry for human flesh.
The film is the first installment of the Tremors franchise and was followed by five direct-to-video sequels and one prequel: Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996), Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001), Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004), Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015), Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018), and Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020). A television series titled Tremors: The Series aired from March through August 2003.
Valentine "Val" McKee and Earl Bassett are handymen working in Perfection, Nevada, an isolated settlement in the high desert east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They eventually get tired of their jobs and leave for Bixby, the nearest town. As they leave, they discover the dead body of another resident, Edgar Deems, perched atop an electrical tower, still grasping the tower's crossbeams and his rifle. Jim Wallace, the town's doctor, determines that Edgar died of dehydration, apparently having been too afraid to climb down.
Later on, an unseen creature kills shepherd Fred and his flock of sheep. Val and Earl discover his severed head and believe that a serial killer is on the loose. Two construction workers ignore Val and Earl's warning and are killed by the same creature, causing a rock slide. Val and Earl try to find help after warning the residents but find the phone lines are dead and that the rock slide has blocked the only road out of town. Out of sight, a snakelike creature wraps itself around their truck's rear axle but is torn apart when Val stomps on the accelerator and drives away, and is discovered when they return to town.
Val and Earl borrow horses to ride to Bixby for help. They come upon Wallace and his wife's buried station wagon near their trailer, but the couple is missing (having been killed the previous night). As they press on, an enormous burrowing wormlike monster suddenly erupts out of the ground, revealing the snakelike creature to be one of the worm's many tentacled "tongues". Thrown from their horses, the men flee with the monster in pursuit. The chase ends when the creature crashes through the concrete wall of an aqueduct, dying from the impact. Rhonda LeBeck, a graduate student conducting seismology tests in the area, stumbles onto the scene; she deduces from previous readings that there are three other worms in the area. Rhonda, Val, and Earl become trapped overnight atop a cluster of boulders near one of the worms and surmise that the creatures hunt their prey by detecting seismic vibrations. The trio then find some discarded poles and use them to pole vault across some nearby boulders to reach Rhonda's truck, narrowly escaping the creature.
After the three return to town, the worms attack and kill general store owner Walter Chang, forcing everyone to hide on the town's various rooftops. Meanwhile, survivalist couple Burt and Heather Gummer manage to kill one of the creatures after unwittingly luring it to their basement armory. In town, the two remaining worms start attacking the building foundations, knocking over a trailer belonging to Nestor he is standing on, allowing them to drag him under and devour him. Realizing they must leave town, Earl, Rhonda, and Miguel distract the monsters while Val commandeers a track loader and chains a semi-trailer to the rear; the survivors use it to try escaping to a nearby mountain range. En route, both worms create a sinkhole trap that disables the track loader, and the survivors flee to some nearby boulders for safety. The group begins to lose hope of escape until Earl gets an idea to lure in the worms and trick them into swallowing Burt's homemade pipe bombs. The strategy kills one worm, but the last one spits a bomb back towards the survivors, forcing them to disperse as the explosion sets off and destroys all but one of the remaining bombs.
Val lures the final worm into chasing him to the edge of a cliff and then explodes the remaining bomb behind it, frightening the worm into charging through the cliff face, where it plummets to its death onto the rocks below. The group returns to town, where they call in the authorities to begin an investigation while Earl encourages Val to pursue a romantic relationship with Rhonda.
- Kevin Bacon as Valentine McKee
- Fred Ward as Earl Bassett
- Finn Carter as Rhonda LeBeck
- Michael Gross as Burt Gummer
- Víctor Wong as Walter Chang
- Bobby Jacoby as Melvin Plug
- Ariana Richards as Mindy
- Reba McEntire as Heather Gummer
- Charlotte Stewart as Nancy
- Tony Genaro as Miguel
- Richard Marcus as Nestor
- Bibi Besch as Megan—the doctor's wife
- Conrad Bachmann as Jim—the doctor
- Sunshine Parker as Edgar Deems
- Michael Dan Wagner as Old Fred
- John Goodwin as Howard—roadworker
- John Pappas as Carmine—roadworker
The concept of Tremors was originally conceived in the early 1980s, when writers S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock were working for the United States Navy as filmmakers in charge of creating educational safety videos. While getting footage, the two climbed a large desert boulder and asked the question "What if there was something wouldn't let us off of this rock?" This inspired the two to start brainstorming ideas for a monster movie, which was eventually dubbed "Land Sharks". They shared their idea to their friend Ron Underwood, who was working with National Geographic as a documentary director, and used his knowledge of zoology to better develop the "land sharks" into creatures that could realistically exist.
After their script for Short Circuit spawned a major box office hit, Wilson and Maddock quickly began shopping around their idea for Tremors. The name "Land Sharks" was changed owing to a then-popular Saturday Night Live sketch featuring a character of the same name. The original screenplay, titled 'Beneath Perfection', was finished in June 1988.
Filming began in early 1989 and lasted over 50 days. Principal photography took place around Lone Pine, California, and the isolated community of Darwin, California, which the crew liked because of its uncanny similitaries to the fictional town of Perfection, Nevada. The town, which was entirely a set, was built near Olancha, California, at . The mountains in the distance are the Sierra Nevada, and Owens Lake is visible in the background during the film's climax.
The creature for Tremors was designed by Amalgamated Dynamics. The full-scale graboid seen after being dug up by Val was cast in lightweight foam. It was placed in a trench and buried and dug up again to achieve the desired "used" effect.
Composer Ernest Troost's musical score for the film went mostly unused. The studio thought it was "too goofy" and cut most of it, later hiring composer Robert Folk to write a new score that was more "serious and action-y". Despite his contributions, Folk ultimately went uncredited.
Tremors was set for a November 1989 release. However, the MPAA gave the film an R rating owing to language, and the creators decided at the last minute to make the film more commercially available. Over 20 or so uses of the word "fuck" were either cut or redubbed with softer words; examples include "Can you fly, you sucker?" and "We killed that motherhumper", among several others. The film was pushed back to allow more time for editing, and the film was eventually released in January 1990 with a PG-13 rating. Wilson and Maddock later stated they were very happy with the decision to make Tremors appeal to a more family-friendly audience rather than an adult-oriented audience.
Release and reception
Tremors opened on January 19, 1990, in 1,457 theaters against no new releases and debuted at the #5 spot, behind Born on the Fourth of July, Tango & Cash, The War Of The Roses, and Internal Affairs, grossing $3,731,520 in its opening weekend. It dropped to #6 on its second week but would stay in the top 10 for four weeks before finally dropping to #11 in week 5. Tremors had a budget of $10 million and ended up grossing $16,667,084 at the domestic box office, which made it financially successful, though far below projected numbers. In 2019, Kevin Bacon hinted that Tremors only made "a fifth of what the charts at Universal said it would." Its creators blamed the subpar theatrical performance on its marketing campaign; S. S. Wilson felt that the film was not well promoted once its release date was delayed, while Brent Maddock stated the theatrical trailer was "cringeworthy" and likely deterred audiences.
Tremors was hailed by critics for its diverse cast and humor. As of September 2020 the film holds a "certified fresh" rating of 86% at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews and an average score of 7.17 out of 10, with the consensus: "An affectionate throwback to 1950s creature features, Tremors reinvigorates its genre tropes with a finely balanced combination of horror and humor.
James Berardinelli praised Tremors with a 3/4 star rating, feeling that "horror/comedies often tread too far to one side or the other of that fine line; Tremors walks it like a tightrope". Roger Ebert gave the film a 3.5/4 rating and wrote: "Most shlocky creature features seem oblivious to character development... but Tremors is smart enough to realize that the characters are the driving force of a great story, not the monsters or the violence." Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly gave Tremors a B+, saying: "Tremors is the Slacker of monster movies: bemused, improvisatory, willfully low-key... most of its errors can be overlooked and forgiven, which is rare for its genre." Richard Harrington of the Washington Post called the film "a delightful throwback to such '50s and '60s films", and Jeffery Anderson of the San Francisco Examiner gave the film a glowing 4.5/5 star review, calling Tremors "effectively terrifying when it needs to be, effectively exciting when it needs to be, and effectively hilarious when it needs to be... Tremors may very well be the best horror film, the best action flick, and the best comedy of the year".
[Tremors] is very well cast, with [Fred] Ward and [Kevin] Bacon proving affable and enjoyable comedy leads [...] The special effects are first-rate [...] It may not top anyone's 10-best list, but Tremors is nevertheless solid entertainment.— TV Guide, 
In some less enthusiastic reviews, Vincent Canby for the New York Times remarked that the film "was clearly more fun to make than it is for us to watch", and Variety gave the film a C- on the basis that Tremors "...has a few clever twists and characters but ultimately can't decide on what it wants to be: flat-out funny, which it's usually not, or a scarefest, which it's usually not either." Gene Siskel initially gave the film a negative review, stating: "[M]ost of the secondary characters aren't compelling and its horror conventions are lame... Tremors could make a cute short subject but it doesn't sustain itself as an entire film"; but he later gave the film a positive review in his book Cinema: Year by Year 1894-2001, saying: "If you want to see a good B-movie, watch Tremors; it was one of the few monster movies to get the formula right."
While only a modest hit at the box office, Tremors went on to become a massive hit on home video purchases, rentals, and television, becoming one of the most rented films of 1990. Because of this, it has gained a very large cult following over the years.
Tremors debuted on VHS on April 1, 1990, on Laserdisc on April 16, 1996, and on DVD on April 28, 1998. It was released on VHS by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on June 2, 2000. The film was released on Blu-ray on November 9, 2010, and again on September 17, 2013, as part of the Tremors: Attack Pack for region 1 (U.S. and Canada). In the United Kingdom, the Attack Pack was not released on Blu-ray; instead, the second, third, and fourth films were released on Blu-ray separately on August 5, 2013. It was released on 4K UHD Blu-ray by Arrow Video on December 15, 2020.
|Tremors / Bloodrush|
|Film score by |
|Genre||Electronic, Stage & Screen|
|Label||Intrada – ETCD 1000|
The soundtrack for Tremors was composed by Ernest Troost and released in 2000. The album contained nine tracks from the film as well as four additional tracks, also composed by Troost, from Bloodrush. For promotional purposes, the album was released as a limited edition CD.
The Graboid is an ancient species of sandworm. According to UGO.com, "Graboids are to the desert what sharks are to the ocean". Graboids advance through several radically different life cycle stages.
Graboids are described as subterranean animals, superficially resembling gigantic worms or grubs, with long cylindrical bodies. When fully grown, a Graboid will be up to 30 feet (9.1 m) long and 6 feet (1.8 m) across at the widest point and weigh 10–20 tons. Graboids have no eyes; they do not need them owing to living underground. Their heads consist of a massive black armored beak that is used to push aside the dirt while digging. The beak opens like a grotesque flower; it consists of a wide upper jaw, a thinner lower jaw, and a pair of hooked mandibles, one on each side. In Tremors 5: Bloodlines, they are reported to have a semi-rigid internal structure, much like the cuttlebone of cuttlefish.
Graboids have three long, powerful snakelike tentacles, which are prehensile and can have at least a good 6 foot (1.8 m) reach; possibly up to 10 feet (3.0 m) or greater. Each of these tentacles (which have been loosely compared to functioning like the creature's tongue) terminates in a toothed mouth of its own. It is unclear if they bite off and swallow food on their own, or if they are simply used to get a better grip on prey so it can be dragged into the creature's jaws. Normally kept retracted in the Graboid's throat, these tentacles were initially mistaken for the whole creatures, causing the characters in the first Tremors film to underestimate the size of their underground opponents. The Graboid's common name is derived from these prehensile tentacles, which 'grab' prey and pull it back down the Graboid's hungry gullet. At times, these tentacles appear to be semi-autonomous, hissing and writhing like snakes. Food is typically swallowed whole, though early in the first film, they are shown to be capable of dismembering and decapitating prey.
- Graboids are hatched from eggs laid by Ass-Blasters (the final stage in the life cycle), as indicated in Tremors 3. These eggs split open diagonally.
- Dirt Dragons are baby Graboids, first introduced in Tremors 4. Shorter and more compact than adults, their mouth tentacles are not developed enough to aid in hunting, but they compensate for this by hurling themselves out of the ground to tackle prey "like some kind of demonic trout". Like mature Graboids, they are covered in spikes that aid in burrowing, but they are also covered in a row of armored scales on their backs for protection. As they grow in size, Dirt Dragons gradually molt into larger Graboids, too heavy to launch themselves out of the ground, switching to hunt with their now developed mouth tentacles.
- Upon maturing, Graboids measure 30 feet (9.2 m) long and will resume attacking and consuming prey. After that, they will seek a secluded spot where they will metamorphose.
- Shriekers are bipedal, armless predators resembling a flightless bird, with the characteristic mandibles of Graboids. They are introduced in Tremors 2. The most bizarre transition in their life cycle, Shriekers are "born" from Graboids by tearing their way out of them (with an average litter size of three to six), which kills the Graboid. The SciFi Channel website for the TV series contained an article postulating that Shriekers are essentially parasitic "twins": fertilized embryos that gestate inside of their older siblings. Shriekers are not only blind like Graboids, but deaf: they rely on a special heat-vision organ in their forehead. Unlike Graboids, they have no mouth tentacles. Shriekers reproduce asexually: after eating enough food, Shriekers will spit out a cocoon containing a mini version of themselves, which matures into an adult in a matter of hours. This leads to exponential population growth, producing large herds of Shriekers after only a few days.
- Ass-Blasters are introduced in Tremors 3: when a Shrieker is around three days old, it will undergo a Moulting process, turning into an Ass-Blaster. Ass-Blasters can live up to several years (an individual sold to Siegfried & Roy in Tremors 3 was still alive two years later in the TV series). Ass-blasters are so-named because they can achieve flight using an explosive chemical reaction in their cloaca, much like a Bombardier beetle. Resembling a large Shrieker with thinner and more streamlined proportions, Ass-blasters also possess large frilled membranes that serve as crude wings, allowing them to glide through the air after explosively launching themselves. Like Shriekers, they are blind and deaf, relying on heat vision. While Shriekers reproduce asexually once they have consumed enough food, Ass-Blasters will slip into a "food-coma" if they eat too much. Each Ass-Blaster carries a single Graboid egg in its gut: because they can cover large distances when flying, they can spread their eggs over a wide range.
Sequels and spin-offs
A sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, was released in 1996. A second sequel, Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, was released in 2001, followed by a prequel, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins in 2004. These three sequels were all made with direct involvement from S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood at Stampede Entertainment. Following an 11-year gap, Tremors 5: Bloodlines was released in 2015, with the franchise's sixth inclusion, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, in 2018. These two films were made by Universal 1440 Entertainment without any involvement from Stampede Entertainment. All Tremors sequels thus far have been released direct-to-video without a theatrical release, though Tremors 2: Aftershocks did receive a brief limited theatrical run. Another direct-to-video sequel, Tremors: Shrieker Island, was released in October 2020.
In 2003, the franchise spawned a television show titled Tremors: The Series. The show aired in 2003 on the Syfy Channel but was canceled after one season. A 60-minute pilot for a second television series also titled Tremors was filmed in 2017. However, no further episodes of this show were ever filmed.
In popular culture
- On March 21, 2012, the NBC Nightly News story "Shaken and awakened in Wisconsin" jokingly blamed the filming of a "Tremors remake" as the cause for unidentified loud booming noises.
- "Bad Apple!", a 2013 episode of the superhero comedy series The Aquabats! Super Show!, features a scene of a giant underground worm attacking a desert farm which series co-creator Christian Jacobs noted was an homage to Tremors, with some shots mirroring those in the original film.
- "Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm", an episode of the second season of the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants, features a large worm known as the "Alaskan bull worm"; the worm is defeated when it tumbles off a cliff, similar to the death of the final graboid in Tremors.
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- "Shaken and awakened in Wisconsin". NBCNews.com. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
- Liu, Ed (May 28, 2013). "ToonZone Interviews Christian Jacobs on "The Aquabats! Super Show!"". ToonZone.
- "SpongeBob SquarePants - Season 2, Episode 20: Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm / Squid on Strike". TV.com. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
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