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Movie Review: Tremors

“Run for it? Running's not a plan! Running's what you do once a plan fails!” Tremors (1990) is an efficient, wholesome monster movie about killer underground worms.

When I sat down to rewatch this movie for the first time in over 30 years, I mentally drafted an opening line to this review: “I cannot imagine why my childhood best friend and I watched this movie so many times.” But now, having rewatched it, I can imagine why: this film has a graceful simplicity that avoids caricature. It’s also as heartfelt as a film about giant worms could be.

The plot is not complicated. Just outside of the remote, tiny town of Perfection, Nevada, handymen Earl (Fred Ward) and Val (Kevin Bacon) discover giant underground worms. Think Dune, but when the worm opens its mouth, smaller eel-like worms emerge. The worms can sense movement through underground vibrations (ahem, “tremors”), and are large enough to topple a house. That means Earl and Val must help the other townfolk survive, fight worms, and escape their boxed-in valley.

The movie was made in 1990, so stunts and effects are real, not CGI. After so many Marvel movies, I absolutely love watching a real human jump onto and off of things. It’s inspiring even when it’s obviously a quick cut from a stuntperson to a starring actor. The worms are convincing and silly at the same time. They won't give you nightmares but they may gross you out.

The characters are simple without being cartoonish. There’s a grocery store owner, a geology grad student, a single older man, a family of four, and a married couple who are fully prepped for the apocalypse (their stash comes in handy, and Reba McEntire plays the wife). They all have an easy repartee and are just funny enough that you feel comfortable, but rarely funny enough that you guffaw.

The stars of the show are Earl and Val, who are jacks-of-all-trades and such good buddies that I wonder why the movie bothered to include a love interest for Val. These guys can do almost anything, but differ in one crucial respect: their affection for planning, as clearly outlined by Earl in these lines: “Damn it, Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view, I mean here it is Monday and I'm already thinking of Wednesday... It is Monday right?”

Yeah, it’s not sparkling dialogue, and it’s not deep character nuance, but honestly I did laugh at that. It’s nice when both characters refuse to take themselves seriously, and it’s nice when bickering reveals the simple love of knowing someone so completely that you’ve forgotten to parse out their flaws and virtues the way we usually forget to parse out our own.

Nobody moves to the desert because they like the idea of neighbors, but in this movie everyone—not just Earl and Val—seems to love their specific neighbors. I’m using “love” here in the abstract sense: Tremors is not about people “coming together” to fight a common enemy. It’s about people who are already together, on their own private, individual terms.

They don’t all like one another, but they all know one another, right down to quirks and habits and skills and deficits. They bicker, because it’s amusing for us to watch, and because there’s not much to talk about in the desert. But when push comes to shove—when giant underground worms invade their town—they automatically take care of one another, no questions asked.

It’s easy to assume a movie like this has nothing to say, no stance to take. But films like this are built on unexamined assumptions about how the world works, and they often reveal a subtler, more implicit argument. This movie is deeply optimistic about people, about our ability to care for one another, about a general hope for shared compassion as a praxis.

It is optimistic, above all, about our ability to fight giant underground worms.

It is an A+ B-movie.

Bits and Pieces of Exploded Worm:

• According to Wikipedia, the film was originally rated R for language, so they dubbed in some milder language, like “motherhumper."

• I’ve written, numerous times, about my affection for any story about disparate people coming together in a strange place, and I wonder if that affection is rooted in my childhood love for this movie, or if my tastes simply have not changed in three decades.

• According to the internet, there are eight Tremors movies. I think I’ve seen the second one. I do not plan to watch more.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Josie, thank you for my laugh for today. I especially love that it's an "A+ B-movie." Says it all.

  2. Thank you. Tremors is a perfect movie, I don't care what anyone says, that's a hill I'll die on.

  3. Adam, if your hill is made of granite, the worms won't even be able to get you at all!

  4. Yes 8 movies and a TV show

    Burt gummer is in every single film including his ancestor

  5. "I think I’ve seen the second one. I do not plan to watch more."

    Good plan. Most of the sequels are horrendous. This was a good movie though.

  6. I think we all need to acknowledge how weird it is that there's an action franchise headed by Michael gross

  7. The second movie is a good sequel, well worth the watch (or rewatch). They haven't turned into self-parody yet. Three is okay for completing the life cycle, but is getting rather ridiculous. Don't recommend past that at all.


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