Throwback Review: ‘Tremors’ Is Still Kevin Bacon’s Magnum Opus [Opinion]

With 'Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell' recently released, we're now six movies deep, which may have been five more than we needed.

A look back at 1990's Tremors
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

With 'Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell' recently released, we're now six movies deep, which may have been five more than we needed.

Referring to Tremors, the Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward classic of 1990, as “the one that started it all,” would suggest that the franchise didn’t definitively begin and end with Tremors, and that would just feel inaccurate. While canonical sequels to Tremors do exist, everyone is too entranced by the original to risk wasting a perfectly good movie night on something similar to Tremors, but ultimately not Tremors.

Some have said, “well no, it’s not as good as the first one, but it’s still fun.”

Well if it’s a similar premise to Tremors, but not quite as good as Tremors, then why not just watch Tremors?

Others have said, “well maybe I just want to see something I haven’t ever seen before.”

It’s an understandable temptation and makes perfect sense on paper, but less so in practice. Watching movies that are not Tremors is an overrated past-time. Full stop.

Picture this, it’s Saturday night, you’re in the mood for a fun, mildly scary, masterpiece film about giant worm monsters coming up out of the ground and eating people. What movie do you reach for? Tremors 3, where apparently the monsters now fly? Tremors: The Series from 2003, which was so bad even SyFy had to cancel it? Are you really going to roll the dice on imitation Bacon? Absolutely not, you’re putting on Tremors for the 73rd time since Christmas, because you know exactly what happens when you put on Tremors — you have an amazing time and everything is perfect. The likelihood of a Tremors sequel topping the original must be somewhere near the same probability as winning Powerball. If there are two things I don’t do, it’s gambling my hard-earned money on the lottery and watching sequels to Tremors.

What other movie opens with an outraged Kevin Bacon raving about “bologna and beans?” Such conviction. We viewers can feel the frustration of Valentine McKee as he defends the existence of another protein-heavy breakfast gone by. Without question, Val had cooked bologna and beans the morning prior. But if he didn’t, he sure thinks he did. Bacon’s demeanor as Val McKee in the opening scene of Tremors is too taken aback and confused to be conveying a liar. Val speaks the truth.

It’s well established all throughout Tremors that Earl takes advantage of Val’s stupidity. But where Val lacks in brains, he makes up for in swagger and sleeveless button-up shirts. They’re a fantastic team, honestly. Each the missing French onion dip to the other’s bag of Wavy Lays.

Fred Ward, Kevin Bacon’s best frenemy in ‘Tremors.’ Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Val and Earl have a terrible hustle going, whereby they must go do hard work for money. Frankly, that sounds awful. Furthermore they must deal with a deeply sinister teenage boy named Melvin. Melvin is one of the more horrific characters in movie history, as he’s constantly behind a jokey facade of asinine humor and a taunting demeanor, but beneath the surface he is summoning huge worms from the depths of hell to devour the town of Perfection.

Or at least that’s one analysis.

Also living in Perfection is Burt and Heather Gummel, who are tough-talkers, own a lot of guns and ammo (in terms of weaponry, but also probably the publication as well), and simultaneously want to tell everyone what to do, while asserting their self-sufficiency.

The whole of America’s shortcomings as exemplified by two characters? Killer writing.

So Val and Earl catch a whiff of the evilness within Melvin and decide to spend the next 25 years living it up, before Burt and Heather inevitably become Trump supporters.

They ditch the fine folks of Perfection, Nevada, and set off for Bixby, which to hear Val and Earl talk about it, is presumably a town where simple, happy lives are on tap, and easy pickings. A stressed out Tyrannosaurus Rex on amphetamines couldn’t keep me from such a place. Alas, Val and Earl are halted by a dead man on a power line and a lady who appears to be terrified of sunburns, but only specifically on her nose.

Gigantic monster worms packed full of smaller monster worms appear, swallow cars and people whole, and detectives Val and Earl show up, unable to figure out where the “golden oldies” are coming from. The mystery is solved some two and a half seconds later, when they realize they’re standing on top of a car with the radio blaring.

Come to think of it, Tremors seems different when synopsizing it, as opposed to watching it. This all sounds like a movie made by someone who shouldn’t be making movies, but when presented onscreen, no one can look away.

So Val, Earl, and Sunburn Lady sit on a rock for two days and decide to pole-vault across the desert to escape the monster-worms living inside the ground. They make it back to town, and proceed to hang out at a convenience store and spend the rest of the movie trying to be quiet. Except for when Burt and Heather break out the elephant gun, then things become the opposite of quiet.

In the film’s most disturbing moment, a man by the name of Nestor Cunningham is running scared from what Walter calls a “graboid” and tries to escape a giant, man-eating ground worm by laying on top of a tire. That’s not an exaggeration and yes I’ll repeat it. Nestor tries to escape a giant, man-eating ground worm by laying on top of a tire. Melvin lets slip his evil nature by delivering the most manufactured reaction to witnessing a human death as can be imagined.

“No way. No way man. No way.”

I’m telling you, Melvin is controlling all of this.

Tremors climaxes with Val McKee screaming a war cry as the final graboid goes over the side of a cliff.

“Can you fly?”

Indeed, the graboid cannot fly, not until the third movie, which I have never, and will never see. The descending graboid’s lack of flight capabilities become apparent as it splatters across the rocky bottom of a canyon, resembling a garbage bag full of Campbell’s tomato soup slapping against an asphalt road. Or perhaps its closer to a tomato bisque. Difficult to tell, even in 1080p.

Sincerely, Tremors is obviously a bit silly, a bit over the top, and a fantastic movie to joke about, but it’s as fun as movie-watching gets. If you’ve seen it before 50 times, then you’re slacking and you’re probably ready for number 51. If you’ve seen it once, and didn’t care for it, maybe now is the time to give it another chance. And if you’ve never seen Tremors, please, find a way. It must be experienced by everyone at least once. You’re really missing out.

And to SyFy, for passing on Bacon’s pilot for a new series in 2018, which could have fixed this franchise, you didn’t just break my heart, you broke all of our hearts.

Tremors gets a 10/10.