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Tremors (1990)

That the underrated and underseen Tremors is both the (arguably) ultimate homage to 50’s B-movies and one of the formative films of my childhood can be considered something of a happy accident. Enraptured by cinema's impossible and fantastical in my youth, it wasn’t long until I came across this early 90’s flick, which found a prominent life on video and television after passing quickly out of theaters. Already familiar with the slew of monster/giant insect movies Tremors draws heavily upon (take your pick: The Deadly Mantis, The Killer Shrews, etc.), it wasn’t hard to appreciate the film’s pitch-perfect encapsulation of the genre’s many clichés and absurdities. Treading this kind of ground is a risky affair, even with the best of intentions in mind, but Tremors stands out in part to its intelligence and sheer sense of fun: the script is sound as is (once you accept the fact that the plot centers around man-eating worms, that is), so the loving indulgences into genre familiarities are but icing on the cake.

The creatures of Tremors are something of a forgotten monster masterpiece, deserving of equal ranking with the Alien series’ titular extra-terrestrials, with which their inception shared some of the same creative minds (for the record, the Lenny Kravitz-imitating Predators have always struck me as a bit lame compared to how much hype they receive). Twenty-plus feet long, they are an ancient example of Darwinian perfection; completely subterranean, they burrow underground, sensing the vibrations of moving creatures above, their jaws encasing three snake-like tongues that aid in catching their prey. How they surviving so long, and undetected, is never explained, and nor does it matter for the moment to our protagonists. In the isolated desert town of Perfection, the miniscule population is terrorized by the sudden emergence of these creatures, which quickly cut off both transportation and communications as their snacking slowly diminishes the humans’ numbers in a series of increasingly inventive and entertaining set pieces.

Tremors is a complete exercise in genre formulation, a tight rope to walk, with triumphant audience satisfaction on one side and droll, lifeless tedium on the other. With the pacing and tone both down tight, what really makes the film click is the immensely likable, immediate performances from a very capable cast. Granted, everyone here is forced to play but a caricature already clichéd to the archetypal monster movie (the Chinese man, the single mother and daughter, the douche bag teenager, etc.), but they don’t simply put forth stereotypical qualities: they embody them as if nothing else would be remotely natural (that the film’s aspirations are hardly Altman-esque certainly helps). Nearly twenty years later, the film’s charm and thrill has only accumulated, its creature effects still as believable as they come (especially in an era of artificial, overused CG) and its indebted cinematic references (among them Jaws-like point-of-view tracking shots, and a scene remarkably similar to Quint’s demise) even more savory. It says something that three sequels and a television series followed, even despite an initially poor box office performance; the steadily declining quality of said successors is an unfortunate blemish on Tremors’ wonderfully tongue-in-cheek indulgences.

Feature: Horror Marathon 2006

This is indeed one of the criminally underrated comedy gems .. if you haven't seen it, I recommend the recent Slither, with Nathan Fillion, in the same vein .. it should be out on DVD by now

I did want to see that in theaters, were it not for time and money constraints. I'll try to check it out on DVD before the year's out.

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