61 Days of Halloween- Tremors

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.


Michael Gross and Robert Jayne in Tremors (Universal)

Tremors is without a doubt a very surprising and very fun film that is likely to be enjoyed by a wide variety of filmgoers. It’s an hour-and-a-half of escapist cinema that is both funny and engrossing at the same time. Upon first glance this might seem like the kind of film you’ve seen a thousand times before but it is definitely worth a closer look.

The first few minutes of the film seem to set a tone of a schlocky take off comedy that isn’t going to offer much in the way of content. However, the groundwork for the forthcoming events are laid very well during the comedy-dominant portion of the film. The rest of the film is an intricate balance between humor and science fiction elements. When the inciting incident occurs the old man is found perched high about the desert on power lines the movie starts to move quicker. The pace of this film from there on out is fantastic and then the beginning no longer feels out of place.

A great asset to this tale is the ensemble cast which is often preferable in such a tale as this but rarely well utilized. In this group of characters we definitely have our central characters defined and in the forefront. While the secondary characters are sketched in broad strokes they are each individuals and do not seem like stereotypes. However, an ensemble of unique quirky characters would be nothing without a good cast and Tremors boasts that as well.

Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward play best friends who appear to be quite similar and therein lie their conflicts. These two carry the film throughout but whereas with many films the two lead actors wandering through the plot complications may get bothersome they get help along the way. Michael Gross formerly of Family Ties is great and absolutely hysterical in a supporting role and Reba McEntire always seems to be a service in a small and over-the-top part not to mention that she adds quite a catchy tune to the closing credits.

This film draws upon a few cinematic techniques to make it effective. Firstly, the use of the subjective camera along the ground to represent the “snakeoids” worked very well to create suspense and tension. For quite some time the filmmakers also decided not to reveal the creature knowing that the fear (if it in fact caused fear) of the unknown was the greatest fear of all. Those involved in making Tremors made the unusual decision to have most of their action take place during the day time in which it is very difficult to create an effective horror film but the way in which they used the ingeniously simple concept of being trapped makes all the suspense elements work.

Aside from being tremendously funny and having an amazing score at the climax along with an equally interesting climax Tremors succeeds in two very interesting methods both illustrated by the way these creatures attack. First, in a very unique way I felt this film took the fear of being buried alive and elevated it to new heights by blending it with ghoulishness and at the same time without being grotesque allowing the thought to stay in the imagination. It’s a very interesting concept which I would like to see a straightforward horror film take on sometime. Aside from dealing greatly with the concept of being trapped which is always a great premise to go with in the horror/sci-fi genre. Tremors also deals with a seemingly insurmountable opponent which has an unstoppable method of attack, the snakeoids being sensitive to seismic vibrations would obviously eventually kill these people it seems.

It is a perfect setup for A Nightmare on Elm Street-type ending but the original filmmakers didn’t go for the sequel (at least an obvious one, as there have been sequels) and truly came up with an ingenious way for out heroes to be victorious which is sure to please.

While Tremors is undoubtedly based and inspired on the science fiction films of the 1950s I think it’s no accident that it was produced and came out towards the end of the Cold War. It is never affirmed what makes these creatures the way they are but the idea of residual radiation at the end of the arms race is something that may also have been an implied message from this film.

Tremors is, however, a film you take away whatever you brought to it there is no heavy-handed attempt at a message and if you just want to have fun you most definitely will, although considering that the sci-fi films of the 50s always had some sort of message it’s something to consider.

One notable deviation I noticed from the 1950s Sci-Fi formula is that although Tremors is a film about fun but it did seem that Bert (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) were exaggerated to fit the liberal interpretation of countryside conservatives as card-carrying NRA members with an artillery in their basement. Any commentary in this regard and/or rebuttal against it is veiled in humor and is used to serve the plot and doesn’t seem to be an unnecessary catechism about socio-political norms. This film never takes itself that seriously and it’s all the better for it. Whether it’s a spoof or an updating, thriller or comedy you can’t help but love Tremors. Whatever it takes its inspiration from it manages to be a film that stands alone and is unique in its own way. It’s definitely worth seeing.