Why Tremors Is a Perfect B-Horror Movie

Why Tremors Is a Perfect B-Horror Movie


More often than not, B-movies throw us into some pretty questionable territory; they’re passion projects, with relatively unknown actors, and small budgets. Though they’re not without their charm, B-movies have considerable odds stacked against them, because finances are stretched thin, and they don’t always rely on star power. B-horror movies naturally face similar obstacles, but when the cast and crew pull through, we’re given a form of cinematic magic that is hard to replicate. We’ve seen it happen with the original Evil Dead film (Bruce Campbell), and in this case, we’re going to talk about 1990’s Tremors, starring Kevin Baconand Fred Ward.

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Tremors is not only a perfect B-horror movie, it’s just a perfect movie that has a lot going for it. It was followed by several sequelsand it stands on its own as a perfect example of what can be accomplished with a relatively small budget. We owe this film’s success to the acting talent, clever use of practical effects, and the quick pacing that doesn’t leave us wondering. And in regard to the horror element of the film, Ron Underwood knew exactly when to pull the curtain back and show us the monsters that are terrorizing the town of Perfection. We’re about to get into why Tremors is a perfect B-horror film, but we’re going to tread lightly so the Graboids don’t hear us!

Related: Best Kevin Bacon Movies, Ranked


Well-Developed Characters Early in the Film

Universal Pictures

Val McKee (Kevin Bacon), and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are your typical odd-couple slacker duo, and they work as handymen in the town of Perfection. And it doesn’t take much exposition in the form of visual cues and dialogue to let us know exactly what kind of characters they are. The film opens up with them arguing over whose turn it is to make breakfast, and they play a quick game of rock-paper-scissors to figure out who is busting out the skillet to get themselves fed before a hard day’s work.

Though both men are clearly talented general contractors, Val is the more relaxed of the two, and Earl is a little more calculating. Within the first five minutes of the film, the viewer knows exactly how these characters are going to act when put in extraordinary situations. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, absolutely zero time is wasted in getting our protagonists established, and that just gives us more room for the action that’s to come.

Believable Chemistry Between Protagonists

Tremors Val and Earl 2 1200 x 630
Universal Pictures

One of the main plot devices used in Tremors is Val and Earl’s desire to leave the town of Perfection for bigger and better things. Earl is always one to plan ahead, but Val likes to play things a little more fast and loose. They have an argument early on when they’re doing their rounds in which Earl states that they have a schedule, and they need to stick to a plan. When offered a quick odd job at the convenience store, Earl turns it down, to which Val replies “We plan ahead, that way we don’t do anything right now, Earl explained it to me.” Though it may seem like a throwaway line, a lot is revealed. Val is expressing his frustration with Earl’s reasoning, and also throwing Earl under the bus for not wanting to take the job, so they could keep to their schedule. Though Val and Earl often butt heads, they truly love and respect each other, and they show their affection through playful jabs throughout the film.

The Blue-Collar Humor Had Mass Appeal

Tremors Kevin Bacon 1200 x 630
Universal Pictures

When Val, Earl, and Rhonda bag their first Graboid, they’re debating on how they should haul the carcass into town, and their contemplation is hilarious. They’re trying to make sense of an unusual situation by using blue-collar lingo, and they run through their options. They wonder if they should be using a winch, but decide that a crane might be a better option.

This is a good time to tell you what a Graboid is, if you haven’t yet seen Tremors. Graboids are massive worms with multiple heads that use sonar to hunt their prey, and they’re fast as heck. The fact that Val and Earl are discussing how to properly transport the massive creature back into town like it’s a regular job has so many layers of comedy; they almost got swallowed whole by an unknown, possibly alien creature, and they’re arguing semantics like it’s part of their contracting gig. Tremors is expertly laced with this kind of humor, and it’s a through line that blue-collar workers can truly appreciate. The fact that they’re relatively un-phased is pure comedy gold.

Dialogue Always Adds Comedy to the Tense Scenes

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Universal Pictures

A lot of the comedy in the second and third acts of Tremors comes from a self-proclaimed survivalist, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross). Have you ever had a real-life encounter with a doomsday prepper? Because Burt is that guy. When he starts packing heat, and lobbing homemade pipe bombs at the Graboids, Val and Earl ask him what the hell is in those things, and he quickly replies, “a few household chemicals in the proper proportions.”

Burt is also always at odds with a teenager named Melvin throughout the film, and a lot of the funniest quotes come from this relationship. Melvin is a bit dimwitted, and Burt doesn’t trust him with a gun. When everybody decides to run for it, Melvin refuses to move until he’s provided with a firearm, which Burt reluctantly obliges. However, the gun is not loaded, and when Melvin calls him out, Burt simply replies, “got you moving, didn’t it?” Every single call and response in Tremors has either witty or deadpan delivery that elevates the film.

Related: Tremors: Every Movie in the Franchise, Ranked

Monster Isn’t Revealed Until Later in the Movie

Tremors Graboid 1200 x 630
Universal Pictures

One of the major failings in low-budget movies is the scare factor. Tremorson the other hand, puts the onus on the viewer because they never see a full Graboid until well into the third act. Not unlike Jawsthis method of not revealing the primary source of antagonism adds suspense, because the mind is capable of conjuring up images that are more frightening than what it could possibly see on a screen. It’s also worth mentioning that the Graboids are absolutely disgusting, and when they finally are revealed, they do not disappoint.

Good Old-Fashioned Practical Effects

Tremors Practical Effects 1200 x 630
Universal Pictures

Tremors came out in 1990, and it couldn’t have come out at a better time. Director Ron Underwood knew that pushing the envelope with computer graphics might have hurt the film, the budget couldn’t really accommodate over-the-top special effects anyway. As a result, Tremors relies heavily on practical effects. And they use them expertly; there are plenty of explosions, and when Val and Earl’s car gets beat up, it looks exactly like a car getting beat up, because they were in fact beating up a car on the set.

At the end of the day, Tremors is one of those b-horror movies that holds up. To this day, it’s a hilarious, and gross film, rooted deeply in its character development, and it has a charm that’s hard to look away from. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward have so much chemistry that they look like they’re having fun, even when they’re about to get swallowed whole. This just goes to show you that if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, and don’t have a lot of money to throw around, that you could still put out a quality film that will stand the test of time.



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