The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13: #4: Tremors (1990)

I remember very well when I first saw Tremors. I recall going to the theater my freshman year of high school not really knowing what to expect from a film that featured both Remo Williams and Alex P. Keaton’s dad, but the promise of Dune-esque giant sandworms was enough to get my butt in the seat. Tremors flopped upon that initial release, but in my heart, it was one of the movies of the year. Funny, exciting, and gory, it had everything that a teenage boy could want… except nudity, but you can't have it all. When Tremors came to VHS, it got a second life, and the franchise became popular enough to spawn several sequels which are surprisingly not that bad. Tremors was one of the first films to have a mainstream second life on home video that the box office would not have anticipated. With its wild creatures, a well rounded cast, and keen, sharp pacing, Tremors has always had a special place in my heart. So I invite you to come on into that special place, and join me as I dig into #4 on the B&B H13, 1990’s Tremors.

Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) are handymen in the small town of Perfection, Nevada think their life there is anything but perfection. Already dissatisfied with their meager work, when dead bodies and mysterious happenings start spreading through town, they resolve to get out of the city. Their escape doesn't go so well when they find themselves trapped by a rockslide, but the menace isn't a murderer on the loose; it’s a pack of giant sandworms named Graboids by the local store owner Walter (Victor Wong). Gathering in Walter’s store, Valentine, Earl, Walter, and the comely seismologist Rhonda (Finn Carter), must try to find a way to save themselves and the town’s population from becoming earthworm food. Thanks to the firepower of nearby neighbor Burt (Michael Gross) and his wife Heather (Reba McEntire) they just might have a chance, but the longer they plan, the smarter the worms get until the last chance is a face to face showdown.

There are so many great facets to Tremors, but I'm going to start off talking about the Graboids themselves. As a creature, they are entirely different than anything that has ever been on the screen unless there was an interstellar spice trade going on, and even those sandworms did not feature the tentacled mouth and general sliminess that Tremors’ creatures had on display. They are truly, truly, nasty nightmarish creatures, and of all the myriad of ways I could go that I have seen and written about, I think the worst for me would be being eaten by a giant worm. Certainly the lowly worm climbing to the top of the food chain is one level in which the monster engenders fear, but as I have talked about in so many of these films, there is a metaphoric level to their appearance as well. They really don't appear until Valentine and Earl are getting ready to get out of their dumpy town, and surely on some level the worms present a literal roadblock to getting out. They are the fear of being unable to escape in slimy, segmented form.

While the creatures sell the film, the performances are what really makes Tremors. Today’s film (and tomorrow’s, but you'll have to wait to see what that is) benefit greatly from having a solid cast working in the science fiction genre with the backing of a major studio. Kevin Bacon is basically a national treasure I'm sure we can all agree. I don't even like but a handful of his flicks, but based on those alone he deserves to be remembered in the highest echelons of American actors. Now I would say the same about his co-star, Fred Ward, as well, but I’m thinking that unless you're the type of person who wishes The Adventure would Continue, then you probably don't agree with me. Bacon and Ward have a genuine chemistry that rises about what could have been “typical “buddies”. The pair, plus Ms Carter’s scientist, makes for a classic film trio. Their dynamic was straight out of 50s sci-fi cinema, but with a reality that made it all gel. The same can be said of the supporting cast. I always love seeing Victor Wong in anything, and Tremors is no exception. My only flaw with the film is that it doesn't stay enough with my favorite duo, Bert and Heather, played by Family Ties dad Michael Gross, who started filming the day after his classic 80s sitcom wrapped, and country singer Reba McEntire making her screen debut. They give such solid performances that I kind of wished the movie was about them. Sadly while Gross and Ward returned for the sequels, Bacon and McEntire moved on to greener and less slimy pastures.

Writer S.S. Wilson is an unsung hero of my childhood. It wasn't until I was researching Tremors for this article I found out what a big impact he had on my viewing as kid.  First off, he wrote the Saturday morning cartoon series MASK, and I was so into MASK when I was a kid. I know other folks liked it, but I had MASK bed sheets. I was a no joke fan. Then he wrote a pair of movies that I adore from watching them countless times on HBO, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2. I wasn't so much a fan of his next feature *batteries not included, but I do like that it is the only title I know of that requires an asterisk. After that he wrote Tremors, and the Tremors sequels. The less said about his involvement in Ghost Dad and Wild Wild West (Did he bring in the giant spider in the 3rd act?) the better. He really went all out with Tremors crafting homage to the classic 50s giant monster movies that lost all the hokey unintentional humor and replaced it with belly laughs that come from situational comedy. The script also played to the strengths of director Ron Underwood who would hit the big time with his next feature City Slickers which kept the Western adventure and lost the giant creatures (opting for a small creature, namely Billy Crystal) and then be banished to the small screen when he made Pluto Nash.

Tremors was an earthquake. It took a shakeup that would provide a perfect cast who responded to the material and treated it both as a genre film and a serious undertaking, a director whose touch with both adventure and drama propelled the film, a script which was both clever and clear with characters that were uniformly likeable. That’s one of the best things about Tremors. There’s no guy that tries to double cross everyone to get free or a schemer waiting to sell them out to the worms. The town bands together and helps each other in a way that could also be associated with communities of the era Tremors was paying respect. The film even benefits from a killer country soundtrack with tunes by Tanya Tucker (“It’s a Cowboy Lovin’ Night”), Bobby Bare (“Drop Kick Me Jesus”), and even the closing track by star McIntyre (“Why Not Tonight”) add to the richness of the film as a whole. If it were not for minor quibbles about the film, then Tremors could have easily ranked as high as the other films on this list any given day. Speaking of ranking, down below you will find the ranking of giant monsters from a very special lady, Christine Hadden of Fascination with Fear.  So check that out and join me back here tomorrow as turn my eyes to the massiveness of the penultimate penultimate #3 on the Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13! 

Bugg Rating 

I know I’ve said this before for practically every person who has had a list on The Halloween Top 13, but Christine is the type of person that I thank my lucky stars that I started doing what I do because I might never have met her otherwise. Fascination with Fear is consistently one of my favorite reads, and my self proclaimed “internet cousin” always impresses me with her interesting viewpoints and analysis of the horror genre. So it should come as no surprise that she also has an incredible list to share. So I won’t take up any more of your time. Take it away Ms. Hadden:  

1) Godzilla/Gojira - It really is a total toss up between my top two, because anyone who knows me knows I am insanely in love with Jaws...but damn, Godzilla is the original giant monster, am I right? When I put on my DVD of the original 1954 Gojira, that music just takes me away and I am in heaven for an hour & a half.  People running in fear on the streets of Tokyo? You really do gotta love it!  I admire Godzilla also for eventually becoming a hero in Japan, instead of a mere monster!

2) Jaws - People. I love this film. But my great taste in horror aside, there can really be no bigger fear than something that can eat you alive and actually does exist. I vacation at the shore every year and each time I am there I am always watching out for fins. It has made such an impression on me (and the rest of the world, I'm sure) that it has become my favorite horror film.  It's just that damn scary.

3) Jurassic Park T-Rex - Seeing the T-Rex on the big screen when this film came out was pure excitement and adrenaline. Its roar, its teeth, its big giant eye looking through the car window! Much like Godzilla of course, Rex has no competition in the animal world.

4) King Kong - Truly one of the original Big Baddies. I prefer the 1933 version over any of the other ones. Kong really makes you feel for him and his situation, and by god I've always rooted for the gigantic gorilla over his captors anyday.

5) Rogue - So much bad shit happens in Australia in horror movies that it really doesn't make me want to travel there anytime soon. Even more so if there is a giant crocodile ready to pounce. This movie was a pleasant surprise - it's beautifully shot, has a fantastic score, decent acting, and loads of palpable tension.

6) The Mist .What can I say?  I hate bugs. Ever so passionately. And these bugs are giant fucking insects. Like pterodactyls or something! Underneath all the blatant horror, there's a morality play going on. How far would you go to ensure the safety of your loved ones in a time of crisis? Awesome ending, as well. Sometimes, bleak is better.

7) Lake Placid - Betty White and a big croc! Can't top that in my book. Put this film and Rogue together as a double feature and you've got an event!

8) The Kraken - (Pirates of the Caribbean) - You know what I almost like better than Johnny Depp?  Yep, a giant mythological sea creature meant to destroy ships and eat people. And all those tentacles. Flat out creepy. Isn't the ocean scary enough with Jaws in there? They really had to go and add a giant squid? Gah!

9) The Fly (1986 version) - I can't say enough about this film. I don't know how much of a monster film it is, but if you think about it Jeff Goldblum as the titular character is quite a bit larger than your average fly. Science project gone oh-so-wrong!

10) Anaconda - So bad it's good...with Jon Voight chewing up scenery and J-Lo looking all hot and bothered, you can't help but to like this giant snake (dare-I-say) classic.

11) The Blob - I'm talking the '88 version here, though really, either one would do. A whole lotta jello doing its thing, Seems weird. IS weird. But it certainly has it's monster creep-out value.

12) Mimic - I can't really think of anything any worse than a giant cockroach.  Except maybe being stuck in a New York subway system.  With multiple giant cockroaches.

13) Them! (1954) - The Sci-Fi sub-genre is so famous for big monsters. Rats, mice, rabbits...even (as in the case here) giant ants. This old gem is one of the first giant monster movies I ever saw. On a Saturday afternoon, curled up on my couch with my mom watching either Vincent Price films or these old monster films. They are dear to my heart.

They’re dear to my heart as well Christine as are you. As are all of you. If you’ve made it this far though the countdown, well I bet you’ve whittled it down to just a few selections that could be waiting at the top three slots on the list, but which one and in what order? Tune in tomorrow and every day until Halloween to find out! 


  1. Tremors is one of my favorite movies of all time. And yeah, I was one of the few to see it in the theater. The poster hangs behind my TV.

  2. I can totally see you being a Tremors fan! See the next day's post for how I know which posters you have up.


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