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Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts. Like the cowboys who have to face an allosaurus in Ray Harryhausen‘s The Valley Of Gwangi (1969), desert handymen Val McKee (Kevin Bacon from Diner, Barry Levinson, 1982) and Earl Basset (Fred Ward from The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman, 1983) are prevailed upon to confront the monsters. Well, not so much prevailed upon as forced to do so when one of them starts chasing the duo through the desert!

All the characters are memorably written and superbly played – including student seismologist Rhonda Le Beck (Finn Carter) and the gun-obsessed, nuclear shelter-owning couple the Gummers (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire). The latter couple in particular become the butt of the film’s humour, as some parts of their arsenal and defences work well while others are rather less successful.

Unlike the worms in Dune, the desert devils portrayed here are genuinely frightening at times; they also learn from their mistakes – and fast! By the time our heroes have worked out there are four subterranean baddies, the numbers of humans have been drastically reduced. It soon becomes clear that one group of desert occupants is going to survive the other. But will it be worms or humans?

One thing’s for sure – there deserves to be a Tremors 2, and executive producer Gale Anne Hurd would be far better off with that than she was with either Alien Nation or The Abyss.

Although Ron Underwood’s direction never misses a trick, and the special effects are uniformly impressive, the major credit must surely go to Maddock and Wilson for taking such a simple idea and running with it with such consummate skill. Tremors may not have the hype behind it, but we guarantee it’ll exceed all your expectations!

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022.

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