Coming of age in the mid-1990s was weird. Sure, there had been lots of horror in the 1980s to give us nightmares, at least when viewed on covers of horror videos at the local newsagents – the Eyeball was a sensitive child – but we loved terrifying monsters all the same. Loved and hated. As we toughened up, we needed a gateway movie. A fun movie. Now, this was back when we found Critters scary. Shudder. As a beginner’s introduction to horror, Tremors and its hungry Graboids gave us something a bit different, even while it was a bit the same, too. It certainly led to an ongoing love of Aliens (also produced by Walking Dead’s Gale Ann Hurd) and the rest is history.
Now, Tremors works so well because it perfectly messes with a very old set of 1950s tropes. In B-Movies from back then, an isolated American town tends to be threatened by a bunch of mutated monsters and needs help from a dashing scientist who’s conveniently there on holiday. Only, in Tremors, the nasty critters are lurking underneath the ground and hidden from view, and the beleaguered town’s only chance of help comes from a pair of incompetent handymen Earl (Burt Ward) and Valentine (Kevin Bacon) who picked the wrong day to try and leave the valley. With much better, albeit still quite hokey, special effects. It was tongue in cheek horror, but brilliantly so, because it was still gruesome.
So Tremors carries it off with panache. With awesome monsters. The Graboids were gigantic underground bugs, who remained a decent threat right up to the final KERSPLAT of luminous orange goo. The final payoff is great and totally circular with the first scene, and a lesson in good writing all on its own. Oh yes, we paid attention even then. But there were plenty of other things we loved about Tremors which left an impressionable mark on a young horror fan. The characters were memorable and you didn’t really want them to die. Except maybe the aggravating Melvin. From the tough lady archaeologist, and survivalists, to the cute cowboy in the form of Valentine (even if we kinda preferred Burt Ward’s sly ol’ dog Earl). Yes, we wanted to hang out in this movie’s world, monsters and all. The Graboids remained the main attraction, but only because the rest of the film was so good to begin with.
So why do the big greasy Graboids rock?
- Culmination of modern animatronics and good ol’ 1950s goofiness.
- They’re like the Dune worms, only way tougher to ride.
- Snake mouths!
- They’re coming out of the goddamn ground!
- Making earth tremors scary three years before Jurassic Park got there.
- No one figures out what Graboids really are for ages, until Valentine finally finds their “ass end”.
- They get smarter, like raptors, and clearly hold a grudge – like raptors.
- No one ever learns where the hell they came from in the first place.
- Plus, three good movies and a TV series, baby…
Interestingly, Kevin Bacon couldn’t believe he was in a film about giant worms and appears to play it down to this day. But it’s easily one of his best loved appearances. However, for the Haunted Eyeball this isn’t about the Baconater (I don’t think Tremors Bacon even turns up in the EE advert he did) but come on, it’s a far better role than he had Wild Things. So, really it’s his loss and a shame if he doesn’t appreciate the Graboids – and good writing!
Also, the film gave a role to Alexis from Jurassic Park (the pogoing Mindy), securing her first taste of monster madness. No wonder the Raptors didn’t faze her. Graboids can pull down cars, workmen, and sheep farmers, but remember kids, they’re just big bags of stinky goo, that’s if you know how to “stampede” ‘em. Keep that dynamite handy.