You can figure out pretty much exactly how Tremors is going to go from the first point at which there’s even the potential for a scary worm monster to exist. A camera crawling along the ground, taking the POV of a dirt trail being left by a creepy-crawly from underground. A couple of good-natured cowboys who are not particularly smart but they’ll make us laugh. Supporting characters who exist simply to be killed off. Tremors is a silly throwback to silly ’50s creature features. Yes, it’s also fun.
The film is centered on the small — ridiculously small, really — town of Perfection, Nevada. Its population? 14 people. Our leads, if you can call them that, are Val (Kevin Bacon) and Early (Fred Ward). They’re the handymen, the one who do random odd jobs because they’ve got nothing better to do. There are a bunch of other people in the town, too, but it would take too long to describe them all. Tremors does a good job at balancing them all. While you might not be able to remember their names, you’ll remember the personalities and motivations, which is more than these movies can often boast.
What happens from here is pretty basic stuff, really. The main road leading out of town winds up blocked, the telephones are out of service, and some giant worm-like creatures invade. The townspeople have to figure out a way to kill all of the monstrosities before they’re all killed. It really is kill or be killed in this scenario, even though there are rarely points that feel very scary; this is a campy horror movie, if you can even call it a “horror” film.
There are certainly moments of tension — those when it looks like the worms, nicknamed “graboids,” are going to win — but Tremors is never particularly scary. It’s quite funny, with its campy nature, good-natured characters, and jokey dialogue. You have a lot of fun while watching it. It’s the type of quote-unquote “bad” movie that is really difficult to dislike. Sure, it’s schlock, but it’s the good kind of schlock — the kind that won’t bore you for even a second.
It won’t bore you because, especially once the graboids start attacking, it moves with a lightning-quick pace. The jokes fly fast, the action is frequent, the threat of death is real, and the few times we get to see the creatures in all their glory make for some great highlights. The great puppet and animatronic work used to create the graboids is just a testament to how great practical effects can look. The cast being able to interact with an actual thing helps with their performances, too.
Now, to be fair, this isn’t an “acting” movie, and any great performances would be lost in the shuffle, anyway. There aren’t many big character moments — ones in which actors get to show their stuff and deliver a memorable scene simply because of the acting on display — but the actors all get the most out of their characters allowing us to tell each of them apart in the process. Sure, we know certain characters aren’t going to make it to the end simply because of who they are, but that’s to be expected in this kind of movie.
What most certainly helps Tremors remain fresh throughout is the intelligence of the graboids. You can kill one in a particular way, and then that way won’t work again for the others. The characters need to keep inventing new ways to try to fight back against the threat they’re facing, which means that we, as an audience, are constantly exposed to new material. The film also subverts some tropes from ’50s monster movies that we’re expecting, even if it adheres stringently to others.
Tremors is a fun and silly throwback to ’50s monster movies. It gives us a small town filled with colorful characters, a light tone, some wonderfully created — through puppetry and animatronics — monsters, a good number of jokes, and a reason to constantly invent new ways to kill the creatures. It’s kind of dumb, sure, and it’s not what most people will say is a great movie, but there are two kinds of schlocky movies, and Tremors is definitely the good kind. It’s not boring, and it’s more likely than not going to be something you’ll enjoy watching.