Movie review: ‘Tremors’

Todayt I’m looking at “Tremors.” It’s a cheesy kind of sci-fi flick that is so bad in places that it grows on you and you can come to enjoy it. The acting isn’t much in “Tremors,” but the actors had do some good in being so bad; the special effects were solid for the time (but not so much so in this CGI day and age); and the story is just fair to middling. I guess it’s the cinematography that brings the cheesiness to the fore – it’s not bad for the time, but even had that TV-movie look about it when it was fresh in theaters in 1990. “Tremors” makes the rounds somewhat continually on the cable movie channels, so you won’t have any trouble finding it.

‘Tremors’
(1990; 96 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Ron Underwood and starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Finn Carter)

I’M GLAD I DON’T LIVE IN THE DESERT

I really like how the sci-fi effort “Tremors” was mostly a failure in theaters (it was the 71st ranked film of 1990) that then became a cult classic on video and raked in a bunch more than what it did on the big screen. It’s a bad film – with some good spots, especially the supporting turn by country music star Reba McIntire – but it is also bad to the point of being good. It’s actually fun to watch and even more fun to enjoy when you realize that some of the acting is really that bad.

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Just in case you wanted to know early, the co-stars of the film are Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. Bacon is the headliner (it’s his name across the top of the movie poster), but the two have the biggest chunks of screen time and it’s pretty much a buddy movie for them and despite Ward being much worse, Bacon has his down moments while you just keep watching.

In “Tremors,” Bacon, who plays “Valentine ‘Val’ McKee,” and Ward, who plays “Earl Basset,” work out in a sparsely populated area of desert. They stumble across mysterious deaths and ultimately find that a creature that moves easily through the ground is responsible. They warn the local townfolk, who have to make a last stand against several of the big sand worms (called “graboids” in the film). Through a variety of means, they manage to kill all the worms before the worms can eat all of them (they do get a few dinners before being taken out by the townfolk).

The premise is solid (the screenwriter said he came upon the idea while resting on a rock in the desert and wondering what if something came up out of the sand and got him) and takes time to develop the story of the worms, how they act and how the people manager to outsmart them.

The cast isn’t too deep since the small town has only a few residents and no one’s visiting when all the graboid hits the fan. However, besides McIntire, there are good performances especially from Finn Carter, who plays graduate student “Rhonda LeBeck,” and Michael Gross, who plays “Burt Gummer,” and is in his first role after TV’s “Family Ties.”

Here’s a look at some of the principal cast members:

  • Bacon looks young here, but he was already in his 17th film with “Tremors” (try “Animal House,” “Diner” and “Footloose”) and there are just some moments his talent leaves him. However, he’s earnest and energetic and actually works well with Ward. Bacon is the (somewhat) youth movement along with Carter here and while he has some less-than-stellar moments, he does a good job here. I also liked him in “Hollow Man” with Elisabeth Shue.
  • Ward is the kind of actor who either hits a homerun (try “The Right Stuff”) or comes off wickedly bad (try “Remo Williams: The Adventure Beginsclick here for my review). Well, in “Tremors” he’s wooden, overplays the character and … well, OK, just like Bacon, he’s energetic in a good way. I guess it is Ward’s obvious energy to try in the film that makes him likable. He also in Clint Eastwood’s “Escape from Alcatraz” as well hitting a homerun in comedy with “Road Trip” (click here for my review).
  • Carter does a good job and holds her own against the headliner(s). I know, it should be easy here, but it’s not. Carter’s somewhat naïve character grows as the film moves along and she provides a solid presence in each of her scenes. The best thing about her work is that it elevates the character – she becomes almost a third buddy with Bacon and Ward. Carter’s character is similar in backbone to Samantha Mathis’ “Terry Carmichael” in “Broken Arrow” (click here for my review) where Mathis shows her strength in coming to the aid of Christian Slater against John Travolta. Carter has been in “Ghosts of Mississippi” and was also watchable, but not as good as here, in the teen comedy “How I Got Into College” (click here for my review).
  • Singers don’t always translate well to the big screen, but McEntire does here in her first film. McEntire plays “Heather Gummer” and is the wife of Gross here. She is just so loose and affable in front of the camera from expressing herself to arming herself with a variety of weapons that it’s difficult to remember that she’s a singing star first and not an acting talent (actually, she has that). It’s just a pleasure to watch her here. McEntire was nominated for a Golden Globe for her self-titled TV series “Reba” in a brief career of 19 credits.
  • Like McEntire, Gross does a good job here but it is difficult to get his “Family Ties” roots out of your head during the film. He doesn’t look anything like the TV character and does a good job, but there’s just something missing in his work here (gosh, in THIS film? Ha!). Gross would go on to do other films in the “Tremors” franchise as well as stay active on television.

The other actors and their work here just aren’t really worth mentioning. So, I won’t.

I haven’t spent any time on the creatures here and don’t need to focus on them. They’re good sci-fi fodder but don’t really exhibit the class or willful menace such as the monsters in “Aliens” (click here for my review) or “Predator” (click here for my review).

As I’ve already written, “Tremors” was the 71st ranked film at theaters with $16.6 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Factoring in video revenues, “Family Ties” made $48.5 million on its $11 million budget, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Home Alone” with $285.7 million while “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze was second with $217.6 million. Other films from 1990 that I have reviewed are:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Gross began work on “Tremors” the day after his last on “Family Ties.”
  • If you pay attention, you’ll realize that there are only two interiors shot in the whole film: the store and the survivalists’ basement. All the rest of the scenes are shot outdoors.
  • It took workers approximately two months to construct the small desert town.
  • Finally and directly from com: “The original ending of the film was much different. Val and Earl head out to Bixbie and Val doesn’t hook up with Rhonda. But it is implied. The two are looking for their lighter and realize that Rhonda still has it, they turn around and head back. This ending was shot, and tested for one audience, and was not well received. It is available in the documentary on the DVD.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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