Michael Gross is an unlikely leading man for a franchise that has spawned four films and rumors of a fifth exist. However, the supporting actor of the 1990 Universal monster movie "Tremors" went to star as Burt Gummer in the short-lived television series and the first three "Tremors" movies. In the fourth film, Gross played Gummer's great-grandfather Hiram in a story that served as a prequel to the films where he played survivalist Burt. Gross was best known for his role as the hippy father in the television show "Family Ties," but for many science fiction enthusiasts, Michael Gross is the man who delivered pain to a plethora of Graboids. This first film starred Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. Bacon went on to six degrees of better things and Ward is a forgotten star. Michael Gross is the man who has carried on the torch for fans of the horror-comedy series that paid homage to the classic Universal monster movies of the first half of the twentieth century with their light-hearted blend of humor and frights.
Valentine "Val" McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are two handymen who do odd jobs to scrape by for the dwindling population of Perfection Valley. They are two good ole' boys who would rather smoke cigarettes and argue over who has to make breakfast than think too hard about the future or do too much work in one day. However, they are well liked and well utilized by the various townsfolk of Perfection. Neither man is overly intelligent and thinks nothing of having beans and bologna as a meal. One morning while building a barbed-wire fence, they run across a pretty young college student, Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), who is studying seismic readouts in the area of the old mines that once held the livelihood of Perfection Valley. Rhonda isn't the leggy and busty blonde that Val pines for, but Earl thinks Val needs to change his standards and the seed of attraction is planted.
Back in town, Val and Earl are expected to get rid of garbage and clean out a septic system. They refuse to help store owner Walter Chang (Victor Wong) fix a failing Pepsi cooler because they claim to be too busy. The ridicule young Melvin (Robert Jayne) and call him "Pizza Face." Comments are made about local survivalist Burt Gummer (Gross) and his wife Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire). They boys are needed around town and they get to things on their own schedule and the town seems fine to rely on their lazy schedule. However, Val and Earl have had enough when their septic pump breaks and sewage is spewed all over them. They pack up their things and prepare to leave Perfection Valley with everything they own and find a new and better life. Val even takes the vacuum cleaner in hopes of one day hiring a maid. They don't get very far.
On the outskirts of town, Val and Earl discover the dead body of town drunk Edgar Deems. He was found on a power line tower with a Winchester 30-30 rifle. It seemed he had died of dehydration and something had scared him bad enough to die a slow and painful death. They also discover partial remains of a farmer, Fred. There is something out there and it is killing people. They alert the townsfolk and are sent to the closest city, Bixby for police help. They do not get far again when they discover some utility workers murdered and only a few small body bits can be found. When they flee the scene in terror, it seems that Val has backed his truck against a dirt mound and gotten it stuck. However, when they return to town they find the remains of a very large snake-like creature stuck on the axle. Whatever is out there is quite big.
Eventually, the creature reveals itself and the snake-like creature was only part of the creature's size. It pulled a station wagon into a hole. The creature also caused Val, Earl and Rhonda to become stuck on a pile of rocks and pole vault to safety. Val and Earl had managed to kill one of the creatures, but the one that tracked them down to the rocks and information from Rhonda suggested that three more of the creatures existed. They manage to get back to Walter Chang's store and alert the townsfolk to the dire situation, but the creatures follow them back to Perfection Valley and everybody in town goes scrambling to get onto their rooftops or someplace other than ground level. The monsters begin to show intelligence and destroy the various structures to feed upon the terrorized townsfolk.
Burt and his wife kill one of the creatures with their weapons stockpile. Val and Earl concoct a plan to use a large tractor and a steel sled to transport the residents of Perfection to safety. They need to leave soon because the graboids are destroying the town and it won't be long before there are no more roofs to stand on. As they flee, the find that the graboid's set a trap and they are forced out of their safe passage. Burt's arsenal and weapon knowledge allow him to build bombs and Earl kills two of the creatures. Val doesn't want to be left out of being a hero and he attempts to kill the last creature, but it spits the explosive back towards the hapless survivors. They find themselves again in a dire situation, but Val comes up with a plan that saves everybody from the carnivorous graboids. The story ends with Val nearly losing the love of Rhonda, but engaging in a romantic kiss as the credits roll.
"Tremors" is a lot of fun. It is reminiscent of the old drive-in monster movies of decades ago. There are some laughs and a few tense moments, but nothing overly frightening. There is some cheesiness and silliness during the running length of "Tremors," but it is all in good clean fun. The dialogue in the film wasn't meant to win any awards and it certainly didn't get any. There was a little gore and a little adult language from Val and Earl, but the movie is mild enough that even those just under the PG-13 rating would have little problem in watching "Tremors." I remember growing up on old black and white horror movies on Saturday mornings and "Tremors" reminds me in many ways of those old films. The monsters are revealed early to help alleviate many fears and there is always plenty of warning of when a strike by a graboid is going to occur. "Tremors" isn't intended to be scary, but it does have a small sense of danger; just as many of the old monster movies. It is good cheesy fun.
Kevin Bacon has made a wide variety of films and he was very good as the lazy good ole boy who became the unlikely hero. Bacon is a personable fellow and he has succeeded as an actor for good reason. His performance in "Tremors" fits the tone of the picture and the movie benefited from his involvement. Fred Ward, on the other hand, is not as familiar to audiences as Kevin Bacon, but his performance fits the bill as well. Ward certainly played the sidekick in this film and I think a supporting role was better suited for his talents. Michael Gross is best remembered for his part in the television series "Family Ties," but he was quite funny as a survivalist who felt the government had conspiracies for everything. The role was a huge departure from being papa Keaton and he was good enough to earn a spot in each of the subsequent sequels to "Tremors." The cast in general does an affable job in bringing this modern drive-in film to life and nobody can be said to have been slacking.
I have always enjoyed "Tremors." I do not consider it to be a classic. Nor do I find it to be either scary of downright funny. It is an homage to the cheesy monster film of long ago that entertained us in a similar manner. It mixes humor and horror in a way that captivates us without ever excelling in either category. I never cared much for the various sequels to "Tremors," as they only attempted to continue on with the same formula and lacked the key ingredient of Bacon. "Tremors" is a film that is easy to like, but difficult to explain just why it is liked. My belief for years has been that "Hollywood" has forgotten to have fun and only strives to make bigger and more magnificent films. The little cheesy picture has been lost in the shuffle and "Tremors" was that rare instance where the big studios managed to capture the allure of the old drive-in B-movie horror picture.
"Tremors" is a sharp looking film on HD-DVD. It exhibits excellent coloring and high amounts of detail. The individual pebbles in the soil around Perfection Valley can be counted, as can be each blade of prairie grass. The highly detailed film also shows each hair on Fred Ward's chin and many other small details that is only possible with high definition. Coloring is also strong and I was very surprised at just how colorful "Tremors" looked on HD-DVD. This is a film that is nearing the twenty year mark and it looked almost as impressive as many recent films that have been released by Universal. The 1.85:1 film is mastered with the VC-1 codec, which is the method of choice for Universal. Black levels are strong, although the amount of detail does drop in some of the darker moments. I found graboid vision to be some of the lesser impressive moments in the film. Source materials were also clean with only a few minor flaws present. About the only complaint I have with the print is the heavy edge enhancement that is present when the sun is at its brightest intensity. This is a solid catalog title that isn't perfect, but is above average.
The above average visuals are bested by the very strong Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix contained on the HD-DVD. "Tremors" was surprisingly aggressive and the audio was enveloping and powerful. A lesser impressive English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix is included for those without the ability to playback TrueHD sound and a Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 mix is thrown in for the Spanish speaking folk. With the TrueHD soundtrack being as potent as it is, "Tremors" combines a very strong low frequency effects channel and solid usage of the rear surrounds to carry the action throughout the ninety five minutes of the film's running length. Sound moves very nicely between each channel and does so in a crisp and clear fashion. Highs and lows are both handled strongly, as is the film's dialogue. I found "Tremors" to be equal to many more recent films in its soundtrack and felt the rear surrounds and bass were on par with all but the most impressive modern soundtracks. "Tremors" is yet another example of how TrueHD should be included with each an every HD-DVD release.
Universal has pulled over all of the features from the previous collector's edition DVD to the new HD-DVD release. As before, the extra materials are nice, but not nearly as good as what "Tremors" and its fans deserve. The only major supplement is the Making of Tremors (53:31) feature that does a good job of conveying what it was like behind the scenes of making this classic monster comedy. The feature is your basic EPK styled documentary, but it is lengthy and shows a lot of footage on just how the film and its monsters were created. I enjoyed the making of feature and felt it to be an above average making-of documentary. The Outtakes (5:07) are short and contains some deleted material not contained in the film. They were short, but sweet. The oddly titled Featurette (3:52) is a promotional bit that could have shown on Cinemax between films to help promote "Tremors." The three profiles, Kevin Bacon Profile (2:56), Michael Gross Profile (2:23) and Reba McEntire Profile (1:56) are short moments with each of the actors and their involvement with the film. They are very promotional in feel and I think each one dropped Gale Anne Hurd's name. This was Reba McEntire's first film. The Theatrical Trailer is also included.
"Tremors" is a lot of fun that reminds me of the fun and cheesy monster movies that polluted the Saturday morning airwaves when I was growing up. All that is missing from this drive-in homage is the singing soda cup voicing the lyrics "Let's all go to the lobby" between pictures. This is a movie that does not excel in any single category, but the sum of its parts presents a very fun and entertaining experience. There are some laughs and there are some chills, but for the most part, "Tremors" plays it safe. Kevin Bacon and Michael Gross stand out in their roles. This is a movie that is very easily liked. The HD-DVD release had a very good looking picture and near-reference soundtrack that seemed unlikely given the twenty-seven year age of the film. The bonus bits are nothing to shout about and are exactly the same as those from the previous DVD release. Still, they are better than nothing and most will enjoy them. This is a fun film and a good HD-DVD release that would be perfect for a late Saturday morning with nothing better to do.