Tremors Limited Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Arrow Video
Directed by Ron Underwood
Written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
1990, 96 minutes, Rated PG-13
Released on December 15th, 2020
Kevin Bacon as Valentine McKee
Fred Ward as Earl Bass
Finn Carter as Rhonda LeBeck
Michael Gross as Burt Gummer
Reba McEntire as Heather Gummer
Bobby Jacoby as Melvin Plug
Victor Wong as Walter Chang
The remote desert town of Perfection, Nevada, population fourteen, is a quiet community where not a lot happens, but trouble is brewing under the surface. When Val and Earl, a pair of disenfranchised handymen, decide to leave the town behind in pursuit of a more satisfying life, they run into a series of ominous obstacles that hinder their exit. They discover something is killing the residents and their livestock, and race back to town to warn the others there is a psychopath on the loose. The situation is much worse than expected, as we soon learn the town is under siege by giant, carnivorous, mutant worms that burrow underground and respond to sound. Val and Earl team up with a dedicated seismology student named Rhonda and the local gun-happy survivalist couple Bert and Heather Gummer to find a way out of this mess. The monsters, dubbed “graboids” attack the local market where our heroes retreat to the roof to seek shelter. It will take quick thinking and a lot of luck to escape this nightmare, but fortunately Val and Earl are up to the challenge.
Monsters in 1950s genre movies tended to come from outer space or were the results of science run amok. In films like Tarantula, Them! and The Deadly Mantis, everyday animals and insects grow to towering heights and cause death and destruction. Usually what happens in these pictures is a good-natured scientist and his lovely assistant uncover a crisis and try to convince others of the danger until the military or some other authority figures can be brought in to restore order. The trend returned in the 1970s with films like Night of the Lepus, Empire of the Ants and Food of the Gods expanding on themes of nature striking back against man.
In 1990, director Ron Underwood (City Slickers) made his feature debut with Tremors, a funny and exciting homage to the classic sub-genre. Written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, the guys behind the original Short Circuit, the script keeps the spirit of what came before but refines the tropes for a modern sensibility. We get the isolated community, the desert location, the smart lady scientist and most importantly an oversized, seemingly unstoppable foe. Our unlikely heroes are proactive blue collar workers who don’t wait for the police, the FBI or the Marines to come save them. The characters are well-rounded and likeable. Everyone is decent; there are no sinister archetypes, no bickering or infighting. The town pulls together to face a common enemy.
Tremors strikes the perfect balance of horror and comedy, finding humor in the extremity of the situation without resorting to clever quips or terrible one-liners. Wilson and Maddock take a simple premise and build a compelling story full of energy and creativity and never force their characters to make dumb decisions simply to advance the plot. Mistakes are made, but they feel like natural human error, not contrived storytelling. There are many standout moments in the film; one of the best involves synchronized pole vaulting among desert boulders. Tremors is the last pre-CGI Hollywood creature feature where all of the effects are practical. Created by make-up artists Alec Gillis (Leviathan) and Tom Woodruff Jr. (Pumpkinhead), the graboids have a unique appearance that is frightening and iconic.
Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th) and Fred Ward (Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins) star as Val and Earl, two working class guys who generally don’t bother to plan more than a day ahead, pushed into saving an entire town from certain destruction. They are resourceful and intelligent and prove themselves worthy when facing incredible odds. Bacon and Ward are instantly likeable and feel like two old friends with a long history between them. Both have their goofy moments, but each is given a heroic moment to shine. Finn Carter (How I Got into College) plays Rhonda, the brains of the operation. She is not your typical clichéd damsel in distress constantly in need of rescue.
One of the more interesting character is Burt Gummer, prepared for a crisis of just about any variety, and Michael Gross (Cool as Ice) fills the role with a vitality that allows him some decent scenery-chewing. Burt is a no-bullshit kind of guy who in some way seems almost joyful at the opportunity to finally use his arsenal. Country music legend Reba McEntire makes her acting debut as Burt’s wife Heather and she has some of the more comedic moments keeping him grounded. Supporting players include Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) and Bobby Jacoby (Night of the Demons 2) as store owner Walter Chang and Melvin the good-natured teenager respectively.
Taking some inspiration from the game “the floor is lava” and mixing in elements of Jaws and other classic monster movies, Tremors is above all else, fun. With its memorable characters, quotable dialogue and creepy creatures the film demands repeat viewing. It was a modest success at the box office and a few years later spawned a direct-to-video sequel with Fred Ward and Michael Gross returning. Gross is the heart of the franchise, reprising his role in all six sequels (so far), plus a short-lived TV series in 2003. Kevin Bacon initially distanced himself from the film but over time has embraced it and even returned to the franchise in a failed pilot for a series reboot in 2018. The graboids continue to thrill audiences even as the original film celebrates its 30th anniversary, and if you haven’t visited Perfection in a little while, it is definitely worth the trip.
Video and Audio:
Universal released Tremors on Blu-ray in 2010 with a dated and disappointing transfer that was dull and was marred by edge enhancement issues. For this new special edition, the original camera negative has been scanned in 4K and remastered with the image presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality takes a tremendous step up with sharp detail, colors are vibrant and black levels are deep while flesh tones appear natural throughout.
There are three audio options, starting with the newly restored original theatrical stereo track presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0. We also get a DTS-HD MA 4.0 surround mix and an expanded DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that opens up the rear speakers for an active display of music cues and sound effects. Dialogue levels are clean and clear without distortion or hiss and pops.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Disc 1: Feature Film and Bonus Materials
In celebration of the film’s 30th anniversary, Arrow Video delivers a wealth of newly produced bonus content as well as some legacy extras spread across two discs. Kicking things off we get two insightful audio commentaries, the first from director Ron Underwood joined by writers/ producers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. The filmmakers share their memories of the production and how the project came together. The track is laid back and conversational and carries a positive vibe as the trio recounts their experiences making the picture.
The second commentary comes from author Jonathan Melville (Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors) who offers a constant stream of trivia and other information regarding cast and crew and various notes about the production.
Making Perfection (2020, 31 minutes) is a brand new documentary celebrating the cult classic, featuring interviews with several members of the cast and crew, including Underwood, Wilson and Maddock, as well as actors Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross and Ariana Richards, among many others – but sadly no Fred Ward. There’s a lot of good stuff here, including a contemporary look at the original shooting locations. If there is any one complaint, it is that the piece isn’t longer, as it could easily sustain twice the running time. This issue is addressed in the additional supplements found on Disc 2.
Co-producer Nancy Roberts details the lengthy road to production in The Truth About Tremors (2020, 22 minutes), starting with developing the script and securing interest from a major studio. She talks about the writers and the director as well as the cast and shooting location. Other topics include the marketing campaign and her involvement with the first three sequels.
Bad Vibrations (2020, 11 minutes) catches up with cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski (The Craft), who opens with some biographical information before moving on to this project. He reflects on the challenges of shooting almost exclusively day exteriors and working with special effects. The film holds a special place for him, as he met his future wife on set and got engaged during production. He concludes with anecdotes of the movie’s legacy and international appeal.
Associate producer Ellen Collett remembers the challenges of the shoot in Aftershocks and Other Rumblings (2020, 13 minutes). She talks about the constraints of working on a tight budget and the headaches that come with practical special effects. She comes from the world of Roger Corman filmmaking and tells of his influence on the production. She admits that it was a tough but fun shoot and shares her memories including her engagement to Gruszynski and their long lasting marriage. She concludes with an account of the film’s soft box office performance and growing cult following.
Several members of the film’s visual effects crews are interviewed in the segment Digging in the Dirt (2020, 21 minutes), including miniature artists Robert Skotak, Christopher Warren, Gene Warren III and Elaine Edford, as well as rotoscoping/opticals artist Bret Mixon. They look back on the work that went into creating and matching visual effects to the practical gags shot on set.
Tremors features the work of two composers, one replacing the other to punch up the score. Both are interviewed in the segment Music for Graboids (2020, 14 minutes). First up is Ernest Troost, who wrote many of the main character themes balancing the mix of the horror and comedic tones. Robert Folk was brought in for the bigger action scenes that populate the second half of the film. Both offer insight into their writing process and what they brought to the picture.
When the film was released theatrically it carried a PG-13 rating for language and some violence. For television audiences some scenes were trimmed while the offending dialogue was redubbed, sometimes with humorous results. A newly constructed scene by scene comparison of the two versions appears in the section Pardon My French! (2020, 16 minutes).
The archival documentary The Making of Tremors (1995, 43 minutes) by Laurent Bouzereau first appeared on the Laser Disc release and has been carried over here. This is an engaging look back at the production featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the writers and director. Anyone familiar with Bouzereau’s work knows they are in for an entertaining and informative ride.
The aptly titled Creature Featurette (1990, 10 minutes) is a compilation of on-set camcorder footage documenting the design and creation of the graboids. There is no production audio, but the piece is set to music from the film.
The original 1990 EPK featurette (4 minutes) is paired with a trio of short interviews with stars Kevin Bacon (3 minutes), Michael Gross (2 minutes) and Reba McEntire (2 minutes) providing an overview of the film and its characters.
A short collection of deleted scenes (5 minutes) includes a look at the original opening sequence.
The marketing campaign is represented by two theatrical trailers, three TV ads, a VHS promo and eight radio spots. Additional trailers for the entire Tremors franchise are also included.
There are five photo galleries dedicated to various aspects of the project, including: production stills (114 images), behind-the-scenes stills (56 images), storyboards (62 images), the Laser Disc gallery (113 images), posters and video artwork (23 images). We also get two different drafts of the original screenplay.
Disc 2: Interviews and Short Films (Limited Edition Exclusive)
Fans of the new doc Making Perfection will be happy to learn this disc includes hours of extended interviews with several participants, including Ron Underwood (48 minutes), S.S. Wilson (82 minutes), Brent Maddock (63 minutes), agent Nancy Roberts (51 minutes) and creature designer Alec Gillis (60 minutes),
Outtakes (11 minutes) offers a collection of flubs, goofs and laughs featuring optional introduction and commentary with S.S. Wilson. Picture quality is from a low-res VHS dub, but the material is genuinely entertaining.
In 2015, in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary, a screening was held at the Arc Light Theater in Hollywood featuring members of the cast and crew. So many participants showed up for the Q&A, they had to hold two sessions, one with the cast before the film (27 minutes) and one with the crew after (45 minutes). The material was filmed from the audience on a consumer camera and everyone is lined up in a row of chairs in the front of the auditorium. Picture and sound quality are not fantastic, but this is another rare gem worth watching.
Three early short films are also included:
- Recorded Live (1975, 8 minutes) – S.S. Wilson’s student film about a man consumed by film.
- Dictionary: The Adventure of Words (1968, 16 minutes) – an educational film from Maddock, Wilson and Underwood
- Library Report (1984, 25 minutes) – an educational film directed by Underwood, written and animated by Wilson.
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