Tuesday 24 June 2008

Tremors (1990)

You know, it's amazing how Tremors can pick me up. Get a headache, feel down, get stressed up, watch Tremors, everything's fine. This is my feelgood movie, an affectionate tribute to the monster movies of yesteryear done with style and panache. It's a joy from beginning to end, set in a gorgeous location, populated by wonderful characters and filled with joyous dialogue. It's leisurely and effortless and it's a joy. It's also blissfully down to earth.

We're in Perfection, a tiny and remote Nevada town with a population of 14. That's not a lot of people and the numbers decrease quickly. As odd job men Val and Earl attempt to leave Perfection, they start to discover the residents who aren't resident any more. Edgar climbed a pylon and died of thirst, then old Fred is mostly eaten along with his flock of sheep. The doctor and his wife get sucked down into the ground, station wagon and all. Even a couple of engineers working on the road get taken out and the resulting rockfall blocks the one and only road out.

For a monster movie, there's so much character here. The writers, S S Wilson and Brent Maddock, both of whom worked consistently on what would become the Tremors franchise, created some really great characters that we just plain care about. There's Nancy Sterngood, the single artist mother, and her daughter Mindy, who pogoes her way through life. There's Walter Chang, the market owner who pays Val and Earl $15 for the snakelike creature that wraps itself round their truck's back axle. There's Bert and Heather Gummer, conspiracy theorists and survival nuts who have their own arsenal. There's Nestor and Miguel and even young asshole Melvin, all real people in a very unreal situation.

The cast is first rate, led by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as Val and Earl. Bacon has played a lot of very different roles in a lot of very different movies, but this one is probably the most fun he's ever had. Fred Ward is stunningly underrated as an actor and is perfectly cast here. Michael Gross is an excellent Burt Gummer, and he'd be a consistent fixture in the franchise, returning for all three sequels and the entire 13 episode run of the TV series. He started shooting one day after finishing Family Ties. Country singer Reba McEntire, of all people, is just as solid as his wife Heather, in her first movie as an actress.

I know some of the others from other material, such as Bibi Besch from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Victor Wong from Big Trouble in Little China or Charlotte Stewart from Eraserhead. They're all perfectly cast, as are those I didn't know such as Ariana Richards, who I was surprised went on to be the girl in Jurassic Park, or Finn Carter, after this probably best known for the daytime soap As the World Turns. Here she's the college seismologist who becomes the closest thing to an expert the town has on these monsters, which travel underground, sense movement through vibrations and shoot out snakes from their mouths. They're very cool indeed.

I'm a confirmed Tremors fan and I've seen all of it: this one many times, the sequels, the TV series, the works. The subsequent material is fun, to different degrees, but, as is so often the case, nothing matches the original. Something about this film touches me. Maybe it's the dialogue, which is incredibly quotable without ever being artificially cool. I use the line 'I don't care what they're doing as long as they're doing it way over there,' a lot. It doesn't read like much but it's so memorable the way Kevin Bacon says it and so are so many of the other lines here too. Maybe it's the location, which is magnetic. I could happily move to Perfection myself, if I had a means of income. Maybe it's the cast or the monsters or the timing that everyone has. Mostly though I think it's the humour. I don't know how many times I've seen this film but it's always fresh and it always makes me feel good watching it.

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