Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On...

In the early 90s, Universal had a slew of projects that were released to moderately good reviews but low box office success.  Later, when the films hit video, they would make a killing in rentals and tape sales (that was what we watched before DVD and Bluray to you younguns...we even had Laserdiscs) because the films were quality crowd-pleasers, well made and unfortunately victims of bad advertising (explaining why no one showed up when they were in the theaters).  This group of under-appreciated gems included such fan favorites as Sneakers and Heart and Souls, as well as 'the little monster movie that could'.  It has spawned 3 sequels and several imitators, itself an imitation of the monster movies from the 1950s, and has given the film world several memorable leading characters.  Lets examine where this franchise began and dig into Tremors.

Perfection, Nevada is a small town in the middle of a desert valley and has a maximum population of 11 people.  Its fairly removed from the outside world and that's the way it's residents like it...all except for Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett who are tired of being the town's go-to men for every menial chore.  They decide one day to finally make their break and go to Bixby, the nearest town.  However on their way out of town they find one of the residents dead on an electrical tower.  They first think he's had a heart attack, but then find that he died of dehydration...meaning that he had to be up there for at least 4 days.  Soon more people are ending up dead and Val and Earl, along with the rest of the residents, discover that the culprit behind the deaths are giant, subterranean worms.  They're fast, smart, and quickly turning Perfection Valley into a smorgasbord.  The road is out and the phone lines are down, and their only hope is to head toward solid rock, the mountains that boarder the valley, as the worms can only pass through dirt.  Will they make it, or will they succumb to the worms' never ending hunger for human flesh?

Tremors is a wonderful example of a monster movie.  It takes place in an isolated area (in fact, many of them took place in the desert) with a few colorful characters and, most importantly, has a huge beastie that's hard to kill.  Writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, hot off their success with Short Circuit, took their original idea Land Shark, about underground creatures, and turned it into a sleeper phenomenon that people truly enjoyed...once they took the time to actually see it.  Part of what makes the film so endearing its its sense of humor and well differentiated characters.  Val and Earl (played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) are a wonderfully witty and down-to-earth duo who carry the film effortlessly by playing off one another in a 'buddy cop movie' kinda way. Also perfect are Victor Wong as Walter, the general store proprietor, Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, the local survivalist and gun nut, and Reba McEntire as his wife Heather.  Also of note is Finn Carter as Rhonda, the graduate student who is studying geology in the valley.  Carter hasn't been seen in much since then and its a real shame as she is a real beauty and has great comic and dramatic timing in the film.  She is still working, but not in any mainstream films and sometimes appears on television.  I only hope she gets to be seen in a big film again sometime.  If you're one of the 20 or so people that hasn't seen Tremors yet, its definitely a lot of fun and worth your time.  Its perfect for a summer adventure.

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