Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The action sequences are properly thrilling yet just silly enough to remind us that the film appreciates its cheap and cheerful origins."

Few film genres divide audiences and critics more spectacularly than the creature feature. With its origins in B-movies, this is a genre that contains so many truly awful entries that it's tough for it to win respect. It is also one of the most consistently entertaining, even in its awful moments. But one creature feature that successfully bridged the gap and won support from all quarters was Ron Underwood's 1990 horror comedy Tremors. Equal parts scary, daft, witty and warm hearted, it has a fantastic cast and a beautifully judged script that will win you over in no time. It also understands rule number one: the less you see of the monsters, the scarier they are. In this case that's easy to get right, as they're under the ground.

Tremors has been criticised in some quarters for essentially just stealing the sandworms from Dune, but sometimes the old ones are the best, and it plays them well. Kevin Bacon, terrible in so many ostensibly more sophisticated roles (remember Hollow Man?) finds his niche as slacker handyman Val, doing odd jobs alongside his buddy Earl (Fred Ward), the two of them never quite getting things together to move out of the decaying desert town of Perfection. It's a shithole of the sort one only really sees in Westerns: buildings barely held together, everybody dirt poor, with no real prospects. And that's before the mysterious deaths begin.

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When we're waiting to see people picked off one after another, three things matter: strong characters, inventive death sequences and successful pacing. Tremors scores highly on all three. Its ensemble cast engage enthusiastically with their roles, each deftly drawn and carefully situated within the group dynamic. Michael Gross and Reba McEntire are the standouts as gung-ho survivalist couple the Gummers, and Finn Carter provides more than just love interest as Rhonda, the seismology student who conveniently happens to be passing through. It's the chemistry between Bacon and Ward that really clinches it, and screenwriter Maddock's obvious affection for these no-nonsense blue collar characters recalls the early work of John Carpenter. The action sequences are properly thrilling yet just silly enough to remind us that the film appreciates its cheap and cheerful origins. The pacing is superb, with both horror and comedy timed to perfection - the film only slows down when it wants to make us really nervous.

Tunneling monsters aside, there's not a great deal of depth to this film, but attempting to flesh it out would have been a mistake, as a series of increasingly sorry sequels shows. It does a fine job of using its simple set-up to challenge prejudices about trailer trash communities at the same time as milking them for comic effect. We may begin by laughing at its hapless characters but soon we're really rooting for them to survive - their very human foibles make them much more appealing than the average slasher or disaster movie cast. The affection characters have for one another makes them easy to identify with and it would be difficult not to engage with a film where all involved are having this much fun. Tremors is a treat.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2012
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Horror comedy about a desert town, with mysterious monsters underneath the ground.
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Director: Ron Underwood

Writer: SS Wilson, Brent Maddock

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Robert Jayne, Tony Genaro

Year: 1990

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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