Midnight matinee treat

Creature feature that's fast and funny

Published: Apr 10 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, January 19, 1990.
TREMORS. Written by Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson. Music by Ernest Troost. Directed by Ron Underwood. Running time: 94 minutes. 14 Years Limited Admission with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some gory scenes, very coarse language.
THE CITY OF PERFECTION has seen better times. "Established 1902" according to its highway marker, the Nevada desert town currently has a population of 14.
    Even that number is rapidly declining. For one thing, handymen Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Basset (Fred Ward) are moving on to Bixby, some 38 miles down the road.
    For another, there's been a sudden epidemic of nasty deaths. Yesterday, Val and Earl found town drunk Edgar Deebs (Sunshine Parker) halfway up a high tension tower, dead from dehydration.
    All that's left of old Fred (Michael Dan Wagner), the local truck farmer, is his head and a few sheep parts scattered about his property. "This," says Val, "is weird."
    Raise a small cheer for No Frills Films. On its second outing, Gale Anne Hurd's
independent production company gets it right.
    In co-operation with the producer-screenwriter team of Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, No Frills offers Tremors, a model matinee movie.  A solidly crafted, thoroughly entertaining creature feature, director Ron Underwood's picture recalls the sunshine shocks of 1950s monster master Jack (It Came from Outer Space) Arnold.
    The title refers to the unusual seismic activity being monitored by MSU graduate student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter). Eventually, we learn that Perfection's population is being reduced by a school of subterranean land sharks, carnivorous, 10-metre-long things that sport multi-tentacled tongues and move beneath the earth like jet-propelled moles.
    What the heck are they?
    "Some kind of mutation," suggests Val.
     Where are they from?
     "I vote for outer space," says Earl. "No way these are local boys."
    The questions are left open. Credit writers Wilson and Maddock (previously responsible for such mechanical creations as 1986's Short Circuit and 1987's *batteries not included) with carefully thinking through the powers and limitations of their biological horrors.
    As a result, their picture works to, well, perfection within the bounds of its genre. Making it work dramatically is a cast that obviously had as much fun making it as it is fun to watch.
    Bacon and Ward are just right as the good old boys who turn out to be brighter and braver than expected. Newcomer Finn Carter makes a fine, Kathleen Turner-like heroine, providing "scientific" explanations as needed.
    Providing robust comic relief are TV series player Michael (Family Ties) Gross and country singer Reba McEntire. Cast as the gun-toting Gummers, they are a be-prepared survivalist couple whose rec room arsenal would be the envy of any Third World generalissimo.
    Tremors is unpretentious, old-fashioned thrills and laughter for the Monster Chiller Theatre crowd.
*    *    *
FOR THOSE KEEPING SCORE, No Frills Films' premiere release was 1988's Bad Dreams. A low-budget Nightmare on Elm Street clone, the Andrew Fleming feature generated no thrills at all.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1990. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: While working as an executive assistant to low-budget film legend Roger Corman, Gale Anne Hurd met a young art director named James Cameron. Together, they collaborated on the screenplay for Cameron's breakthrough feature, 1984's The Terminator, her own debut as a film producer. They married in 1985, and she produced his next two pictures, 1986's Aliens and The Abyss (1989). They divorced in 1989, with Hurd continuing to produce interesting genre films. Her No Frills Films made just one more feature, 1992's The Waterdance, the story of a paralyzed writer in rehabilitation that starred Eric Stoltz. Among her more recent credits as producer are director Ang Lee's Hulk (2003) and Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk (2008), both based on the Marvel Comics character. (I personally preferred her 2005 release, director Karyn Kasuma's much more inventive Æon Flux.) She is currently producing the popular AMC cable television series The Walking Dead.
Tremors found its intended audience, and was followed by four direct-to-video sequels (1996, 2001 and 2004, with the last scheduled for release later this year) and a 13-episode TV series (2003). The only one of the principal players to appear in all five features and every TV episode is Michael Gross.

Rio recalled: On December 27, 2013, the Rio Theatre showed its fine appreciation for what makes a Christmas movie by featuring 1988's Die Hard. In April 2013, CBC Vancouver program host Stephen Quinn appeared (in costume) on the theatre's stage to introduce a screening of one of his favourite films, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984).  Tonight (April 10), in addition to it's midnight screening of Tremors, the Rio will be showing director Ridley Scott's "Final Cut" version of 1982's Blade Runner.