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How Tremors Became a Major Cult Classic

Tremors theatrical poster
poster for Tremors 1990

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Tremors is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to look back on the original film to see what made it so special. It has spawned three sequels with a fourth on the way this October, as well as a TV series long before every franchise started making that jump. It has a loyal fan base and remains strong in the public consciousness. That’s chiefly because it’s a near-perfect horror comedy. The balance of wit, scares and action in Tremors is flawless and it’s something that we simply don’t see that much of anymore.

Of course, Tremors is more famous for Kevin Bacon than anything else. It was not his first starring role. And it came out after Footloose, which is widely considered to be his breakout performance, but this is probably the most lively and charismatic film in the actor’s career. Bacon as Val and Fred Ward as Earl have a great chemistry and play off one another perfectly as two friends stuck in their middle of nowhere town, working odd jobs to make ends meet. When they are finally on their way out, they come across a monster that prevents them from leaving. While Val and Earl are the heart of the feature, the entire cast of characters feel lived in, each with an identity all their own. While some of them are quirky, none of them are completely cartoony. The only one that approaches this is Michael Gross as Burt Gummer and even he feels somehow real.

Watching the original, it’s easy to see why Burt became the sole returning character throughout every sequel. He’s larger than life and over-the-top, yet somehow you buy him. You don’t question that there are Burt Gummers of the world, waiting for their great battle in the form of a giant worm. Gross plays the part perfectly too, and clearly loves the character, given his return in the sequels as well as the spinoff television series.

While the cast is great, the importance of the creature effects in Tremors cannot be overstated. These are massive, difficult monsters to convincingly bring to life, yet the team designing them makes it look effortless. A lot of thought went into the Graboids, both on the page and in the sculpting of the actual effects and all of that certainly pays off on screen. These monsters feel like lost relics.

Tremors works as a comedy, as an action movie, and as a horror film. While this sort of cross-genre film was not uncommon in the early-to-mid 1980’s, it had all but died out by 1990. When Tremors was released, this sort of feature wasn’t being made anymore and that helped it tremendously in terms of making it stand out. It didn’t do that well in theaters, although it was not a flop. It built up its audience over time. More and more people went back to view the film as the years went on. Ironically, some of the success of Tremors was built by its sequels. Even though it wasn’t a box-office smash, it had producers that had faith in the concept and the property. They made Tremors 2 for less money, but it got people to go back and watch the first movie.

From there, its audience only grew. Tremors is one of the few cult classics of the 1990s. It boasts a campy nature, great characters, great creature design and a concept that simply works. Most horror movies of the decade were focused on being psychological thrillers. After the success of Scream, focus shifted to a brief resurrection of the slasher. Tremors is different from all of these. That might be a large part of why it didn’t do exceedingly well at the box office in its initial release, but it’s also why the movie works. More than anything, Tremors is insanely fun. It’s a thrill-ride from beginning to end that has you laughing, but always keeps you on the edge of your seat. That, more than anything, has been the key to the movie’s success over the past twenty-five years.

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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