Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week Jesse decided it was time for me to see a movie wherein the monsters are called graboids and Kevin Bacon displays his trademark floppy hair. . .

Film: Tremors (1990)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Ron Underwood, he of City Slickers and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, um, “fame.” Script by Brent Maddock (Short Circuit 2, Wild Wild West) and his longtime writing partner S.S. Wilson, who, in addition to the aforementioned masterpieces, also co-wrote the Tremors sequels and Ghost Dad with Maddock. Zydeco soundtrack by Ernest Troost, with some help from Reba McEntire and some other country music standards. The acting of a lifetime from Kevin “You Can Do It In Six, Guaranteed” Bacon, Fred “Remo Williams” Ward, Victor “Egg Shen” Wong, Michael “J. Fox’s Dad in Family Ties” Gross, Finn “Whatever Happened To Your Career” Carter, and, of course Reba.

Quote: “That’s how they gitcha! They’re under the gottdamn ground!”

Alternate quote: “Who died and made you Einstein?”

First viewing by Molly: Last Thursday.

First viewing by Jesse: As soon as it came out on video. I was eight, and as we were watching it my dad decided I was too scared and so he kicked me out so he could finish it by himself. After much begging it was re-rented and finished a week or two later.

Most recent viewing by both: Last Thursday.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: None. I don’t think I even ever saw a preview.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Big. To this day I have no idea why, but for some reason graboids were the coolest thing ever to young Jesse—chalk it up to my phobia of/fascination with snakes combined with my love of monsters. I would jump from tree to tree in the woods behind our house to avoid them, and run along the rim of the nearby shale quarry to trick them into falling to their splattery doom. I rarely fell from the trees and never from the quarry, which is why I’m alive today despite the odds I stacked against myself.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Somewhat mystified and suspicious, given the variety of reactions. Jesse couldn’t believe I’d never seen it and insisted it was amazing. John just laughed and shook his head sadly, as he does at every movie Jesse and I watch for FoHA. Raechel cackled. I told my ace dawgg Brad that we were viewing it and he said “I sincerely hope it’s for your column,” but then I recalled that Brad has a serious but perhaps not wholly unwarranted longstanding hatred for Kevin Bacon, so I chalked it up to that.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Oh hells yes.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Well, OK, the thing is, I like Footloose and absolutely love Dune, so one would think I should enjoy what is essentially a mashup of the two. . . but Tremors has in abundance pretty much everything I hate in movies: comical movie-style rednecks gaping at things, painful set-ups such as the whole rock-paper-scissors gag that you know from the first time it’s trotted out for something trivial that it will later-on be trotted out for more sincere reasons, doo-doo jokes, “scientists” who are highly versed in every field, “and then this happens”-style plots. I could go on. But I won’t, because oddly enough, I. . . I didn’t hate Tremors.

I found it baffling, and balls-dumb, and not really my sort of film, but I think the last complaint is really just a packaging issue. Tremors is basically Big Trouble in Little China with dusty yokels in the mountains instead of Chinese people in San Francisco, and I’m not just saying that because both have Victor Wong doing. . . whatever it is that he did in movies that I suppose we’ll call acting but really just amounts to saying things ominously and scowling in a comical fashion. Seriously, though—both are films about men having no clue what’s up in a complicated, unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous situation, and yet by virtue of playing along and being crafty, they overcome monstrous adversity. It’s not Tremors’s fault that I personally find Chinese apothecary shops more appealing than “the local diner,” six-demon bags more interesting than shotguns, odd subterranean lairs with neon-lighted skulls policed by elemental forces more. . . just all around better than pretty much everything else in the universe. But my preferred brand of stupid doesn’t make it objectively better, and I’m willing to admit that. At least on the internet.

That said, Kurt Russell is better than Kevin Bacon. Objectively (Jesse says: well, yeah, but can you connect Kurt to Goldie Hawn or Sly Stallone in only…oh. Never mind.).

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: The old magic is still there. I went in expecting to be amused by Molly’s reactions, given that this has high quantities of banter, macho posturing, potty humor, and everything that else she has limited patience for in the best of times, but what I got was so much more. What I got was the thing of beauty that is the motion picture Tremors and Molly’s reactions to the same, which is about as good as it gets, although Molly was admittedly more sedate during this than many a FoHA.

I buy the Big Trouble comparison, and agree that it is the superior film. But one of the greatest things about this damn fine country is that here in the US of A we don’t have to pick between Russelling up some adventure in Chinatown or frying some Bacon to Perfection, no, here in America we can have both, and that’s a beautiful thing. Especially since in both cases monsters are involved.

Monsters movies are better than just about any other kind of horror movie, hell, they’re better than just about any other kind of movie, period, and self-referential ones are maybe the best of the bunch. Taken as an homage to the giant monster movies of the fifties and sixties, Tremors works perfectly, and manages to both be dumb as a sack of hammers and aware that it is dumb as a sack of hammers, and thus never takes itself seriously. It is, in a word, schlock, but the best schlock imaginable, and highly quotable—though admittedly not nearly so quotable as its urban, urbane cousin Big Trouble in Little China. To diss this stupid, clunky action-comedy-monsterfest is to diss everything that is awesome about America, and for all this country’s faults I for one hope the wings of liberty never lose a feather.

High Points: The part where the survivalists battle a graboid. The part where Earl and Valentine are chased into the culvert. Egg Shen’s nigh-Shakespearean death scene. Hell, let’s just say “everything” and leave it at that.

Low Points: These are all Molly’s: the septic tank joke, the annoying hippie-mom and her terrible male child, the absence of one of the characters being a slick city-bred out-of-towner trapped in the boonies due to circumstances, which was pretty much the only monster-movie cliché Tremors lacked.

Final Verdict: “GET OUT OF YOUR PANTS!!!”

Next Time: It’s goddamn October already, and thus for the next two weeks, expect Halloween-themed Films of High Adventure. Next week we allow two special guests to pick the film and review it; for Fantasy we’re doing an iconic movie featuring Tim Curry that just so happens to be watched quite frequently around Halloween. . .