Then & Now: Tremors

Geoff Harris

Tremors (1990) follows Valentine “Val” McKee and Earl Bassett, two hapless workmen who do odd jobs for a town built on a defunct mining camp in the high desert east of the Sierra Mountains in Nevada. Dreaming of one day leaving for bigger and better things, they putter along until finally deciding that TODAY is the day they break ties and make the great plunge and start anew elsewhere. Their escape becomes jeopardized when a client turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. They find the client buried alive. Who would do such a thing? Not who, but what? The tension mounts as the attacks begin from below as a creature, as yet unknown, surfaces to feed upon the citizens whose only refuge is the nearby rock formations.


I had lived in Lancaster, California for a couple of years before seeing this movie. The town has since expanded and filled out but while I was in residence there were huge tracts of open desert and vacant space within walking distance of my house. I remember having to cross a patch or two on my rounds to the local shopping areas. Imagine my surprise to see a movie featuring a monster that lurked just below my feet? It made a special connection between me and this movie. These were lonely days. I spent hours on my own and my depression was getting worse. If the movie had come out just a year earlier, I would probably have become a hermit out of paranoia. Earthquakes are common in the Golden state. How do you hide from an attack that comes from under you? The very safety of gravity betrays. Good horror plays off a loss of control. Being placed in a situation beyond your ability to handle or process. Tremors delivers a solid premise that not everywhere is safe. We take our security for granted.


Lancaster is a stain on my memory. A footnote. Tremors, however, is a “Top Ten Rainy Sunday” movie. Yes, I know it almost well enough to remake it by heart. That’s what makes it a friend. It has a really smooth flow and a good build-up. The tension ramps up slowly and hits a strong clip. What I really enjoy most is how the monster is, for its time, a unique throwback to the old 50’s classics. We don’t need to know about the “Square Root Law” (Square Root Law basically says a creature cannot exist past a certain point based on it’s mass and need for food. An ant as big as a small car would starve in a matter of days or suffocate because of gravity) nor do we care about where they came from. Big nasty wants to make you lunch. As in, you’re the main course. That’s all you need to know.

Tremors is about people dealing with a problem. Simple. It doesn’t stick its head up its own ass. (Although, the sequels do a bit. Especially towards the last two.) The characters are likeable and you sincerely want to see them triumph over the Big Bad. I like the point-of-view camera work, a nod to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. If you’re looking for a good popcorn movie, give it a watch.

But…tread softly. I think I just felt something brush my leg.

Gotta go.

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