First of all: yes, I’ve been a slackass.
I promised a weekly appreciation of 80s genre cinema, and it’s been…. well, let’s just say longer than a week. Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe not. Either way, I won’t judge. So let’s get this train back on the tracks, shall we?
When I last posted, I promised a look at a film whose influence is still being felt today. I have since changed my mind. I can do that – it’s my column. Instead, I’ve decided to talk about a film that’s one of my “old reliables”, coincidentally celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. We all have them, the ones we revisit when there’s nothing else on TV and nothing in the library is jumping out at you. We could call it “cinematic junk food”, but I prefer “comfort flicks “. And for me, that film is Ron Underwood’s love letter to 50’s creature features, 1990’s TREMORS.
While chronologically not an 80s entry, TREMORS is one of that era’s last hurrahs before entering the darker and self-referential 90s. It’s not a hidden gem or unappreciated cult-classic. You’d have to look long and hard to find anyone who hasn’t seen it and doesn’t (at the very least) appreciate it. So why am I giving it the spotlight this time out? Because, simply put, it does what it does so damned well. I’m posting the trailer here in lieu of a synopsis, as it is the epitome of truth in advertising (and way more fun than anything I could put out via keyboard).
And that’s really all you need to know. The plot is 1950s B-Movie simplicity personified – monsters attack desert community, townsfolk rally to survive and escape – but what makes it work so well is that the characters are so darn likable. The relationships and group dynamics are laid out in quick, broad strokes very early on but it’s enough to keep you interested in what happens to them. The anchor point of the film is our stalwart blue-collar heroes, Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), both of whom shine here. Their chemistry is natural, lived-in, all done through interaction and dialogue, no further exposition necessary. While Bacon gets top billing here, for my money, it’s all about Fred Ward. One of Hollywood’s great reliable “character” actors, Ward has always been a favourite and he’s exceptionally good here. The perfect everyman hero that the story calls for.
Aside from being the era of the slasher, the 80s were also a golden age for the old-school creature feature. GREMLINS, CRITTERS, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, THE THING, THE BLOB, C.H.U.D., etc, etc. Swing a stick back then, you were likely to hit a monster. But TREMORS is one of the best of the bunch because it evokes the feel and tone of its predecessors better than most. It’s not mean-spirited or cynical, towards its characters or the audience. It knows what it is and plays it straight. It’s a mastercraft class in How to Make a Monster Movie 101. More importantly, it’s just fun. And that should be testimony enough.
If, by the slimmest of chances, you haven’t made the trip to Perfection yet, TREMORS is easy enough to find on DVD (and usually dirt-cheap, too – pardon the pun) or on Netflix.
And in a lovely bit of synchronicity, if you happen to be in Los Angeles this week, The Arclight Cinema is hosting The 25th Anniversary Screening of the film on March 26th (details here) with a cast and crew reunion.
Thanks for checking in. Next week (and yes, I mean it this time )… well, let’s just keep it open ended. Cuz surprises are awesome.