Universal // 1990 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 2nd, 2011
They say there's nothing new under the sun. But under the ground...
At long last, I can get rid of my non-anamorphic "collector's edition" DVD of Tremors, as the well-deserved cult classic finally makes its Blu-ray bow (it was previously available only on HD DVD) courtesy of Universal.
The town of Perfection, Nevada, has some new residents -- giant, worm-like monsters that live underground and pop up from time to time just to eat people. That's a problem for local handymen Val (Kevin Bacon, Super) and Earl (Fred Ward, Short Cuts), who were on their way out of town for good to start a new life for themselves. Now, their trapped by what they've come to call the "graboids" alongside a small band of Perfection's residents: survivalist couple Burt and Heather (Michael Gross of Family Ties and singer Reba McEntire), obnoxious kid Melvin (Bobby Jacoby, Boy Meets World) and cute Rhonda (Finn Carter, How I Got Into College), a graduate student in town to study the abnormal vibrations in the ground. She doesn't know the half of it.
Tremors might be the best horror movie of the 1950s to be released in the 1990s.
The '90s were not a particularly good time for horror. The '80s boom had ended (driven into the ground by countless Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels), and the years leading up to the Scream-inspired renaissance in 1996 were a particularly fallow period. And, yet, there were a few bright spots -- assuming you knew where to look. The decade kicked off with one its best entries, Ron Underwood's throwback Tremors. Not only is it a terrific horror '90s horror movie, but it's a terrific PG-13 horror movie, which is practically unheard of even in 2011 (sure, a lot of horror movies are rated PG-13, but most of them suck), much less 1990. Though not much of a box office hit when initially released, Tremors is the kind of movie that picked up steam thanks to video rentals and endless replays on cable TV. That's because it's a pretty hard movie to dislike; assuming you have any affinity at all for the genre, I defy you to not have a good time watching it.
From the onset, it's clear that director Underwood and screenwriters S.S Wilson and Brent Maddock know exactly what they're doing. Tremors establishes its tone right at the start -- it's silly and funny, but never knowingly dumb or campy. It's a movie that has a sense of humor about itself, but never becomes self-consciously ironic or smug or lapses into self-parody. Tone is such a tough thing to pull off when mixing comedy and horror, and Tremors is one of the best examples of that balancing act done just right. We get to spend a lot of time getting to know and love our two lead characters, Val and Earl, and the colorful supporting cast that we'll be spending the rest of the movie with. That gives their predicament a weight that most horror movies don't have, since they're too busy introducing characters for the sole purpose of killing them off (yes, Tremors does a bit of that, too, but that's because it is still a horror movie). We like and care about everyone. We want them to survive, and the fact that they might not at times has us all the more invested.
It's the sense of fun that makes Tremors such a blast, though, and what makes it feel like a relic from the 1950s. The movie lacks any cynicism, and coming off a very cynical decade for horror, it's an incredibly welcome change of pace. The cast all have a handle on the tone, and play their characters in a way that's broad and just this side of cartoonish -- they're funny without ever having to call attention to how funny they are . Bacon and Ward make a great comic team, but they're almost shown up by Michael Gross (playing against type, and who gets the movie's best line) and country singer Reba McEntire in her first film role. It's rare for a horror movie to have this many terrific characters. The gags work, the scares play and the grossness is just right for a PG-13 horror. Over 20 years later, everything still plays. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but Tremors still remains a one-of-a-kind movie. For a great example of a movie trying to do Tremors and coming up short, check out 2002's Eight Legged Freaks. Or, better yet, any of the direct-to-video Tremors sequels.
Unfortunately, Universal's Blu-ray of Tremors is kind of a disappointment. The 1.85:1 transfer is in full 1080p HD, but plagued with a number of issues that keep it from being a worthy effort for a catalogue title. Colors are represented well enough, but rampant edge enhancement and noise reduction plague most of the movie, leading to visible halos around the actors and sets and a lot of digital smearing where there should be fine detail. It's really too bad. The lossless DTS HD soundtrack is much better, but at times appears to be overcompensating by going too loud -- especially during the "graboids tunneling through the dirt" sequences. Overall, though, it's a good track, with clear dialogue throughout and some good, dimensional surround effects.
Fans of the movie may be disappointed by the bonus features, too, since everything has appeared on a previous edition and nothing new has been included. The centerpiece of the supplemental section is a quite-good "making of" featurette that runs nearly an hour, giving a good overview of the background and the production and proving what a special alchemy was needed to make Tremors work as well as it does. Also included is a short promotional featurette, three profiles on stars Bacon, Gross and McEntire, a couple minutes of outtakes and two trailers for the movie. All of the bonus material is presented in standard definition.
Tremors is such a fun, special movie -- that kind of thing that really only works once -- that it's a shame its Blu-ray release doesn't do the movie justice. Aside from getting a proper widescreen transfer (as opposed to the original non-anamorphic DVD), there isn't much reason to upgrade to the HD version. I'll never tire of praising Tremors, but I wish I could have nicer things to say about this disc.
The movie is not guilty, but the Blu-ray comes up short.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13