Little known fact: even the most popular monster movies from cinema history – those populating the Universal Pictures library of the 1930’s and going by such landmark names as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman – were practically forgotten by audiences … that is until the popular comedy duo Abbott and Costello revived them as co-stars for a series of film adventures. Suddenly, monsters found themselves in vogue; and the 1950’s saw a bit of a resurgence with Universal expanding its line-up to include the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Still, audiences have for reasons unknown traditionally shied away from turning monster movies into big bucks at the box office; so perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a little something-something called Tremors failed to make much impact when it was originally released in early 1990. (Tremors cratered, in its own way.) The film came out with little fanfare and disappeared as quickly; I do remember the wifey and I finally stumbling across it at a neighborhood bargain theater, so we were one of the lucky few able to behold its glory on the silver screen. And we loved it! We couldn’t believe more people hadn’t discovered it …
… and thirty years later the film continues to dig deep into our collective consciousness. Granted, the explosion of the home video rental business of the 1990’s unearthed this gem for a growing number of homebodies looking for something they’d missed at the cineplex. Tremors fit the bill perfectly – the flick’s flawless mix of moxie, comedy, and monstery goodness struck a chord with countless viewers who thought they were the first to discover it – and ‘the instant classic’ was born.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers solely necessary for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers who a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Tremors is that rare slice of perfection, ironic as it is that ‘Perfection’ is the name of the small isolated town featured in the motion picture. Arguably, it’s perfectly conceived, perfectly timed, and perfectly executed. In one sense, it’s only natural that Universal Picture’s marketing department would have a bit of trouble coming up with a way to frame its story for the coming attractions (after all, how often is one tasked with advertising perfection?); but – in their defense – it’s also become all too easy to blame the marketers for a picture’s failure to translate into box office gold. The film came out in January, 1990, and the post-holiday box office season (i.e. January and February) have traditionally been known as the ‘dumping grounds’ for films the studios didn’t or couldn’t work into a more favorable release window. I’d argue the decision to hoist Tremors up that particular flagpole was probably their single greatest mistake. While I can’t prove that a summer slot (maybe an August sleeper?) would’ve earned Kevin Bacon a wider audience, I do believe it would’ve had a better opportunity to be found the way some features are while others aren’t.
But I digress …
Tremors isn’t any one thing to any viewer. Part-Comedy, Part-SciFi, and Part-Horror is a daunting combination for any single picture; and digging deeper shows that, yes, marketing would be an uphill battle. Comedies tend to score better with audiences when they’re billed with leading comic actors, and Tremors has none to its roster. Science Fiction tends to involve space ships, blasters, and trips into the deep dark; and yet Tremors’ singular aliens are rarely fully seen as they live primarily beneath the surface. Lastly, Horror features tend to be shot in tight frame, with a hot young cast, and usually under the cover of night, while Tremors is shot in some wide open vistas, has an ensemble populated with all ages, and takes place in the bright, desert sunlight. In this case, sure, it’s easy to conclude that the usual marketing tricks probably would’ve done little good: everything about this ‘little film that could’ went against the grain of established rules.
And perhaps that’s exactly why the film works for countless fans around the world: it isn’t what audiences had come to expect from any single genre, instead choosing to burrow its way with grit and determination, much like the flick’s singular handymen played by Bacon and the delightful Fred Ward.
Thirty years later, the film continues to delight. Arrow Video has celebrated it with nothing short of an incredible assortment of special features and an all-new 4K restoration. Much of these new extras invest a fair amount of speculation into why the film didn’t do better in its first go-round in theaters – a common dissection for films which find a new life on home video – but so far as this viewer is concerned it’s all academic. You can’t prove why something failed – you can’t prove a negative; all you can do is speculate, and everyone involved in any significant way speculates here until the graboids come home. Sure, it’s interesting fodder, but fodder nonetheless.
As I’ve remarked in reviews of this sort before, fans should have immeasurable respect for the packages Arrow puts together for these special films. The company is seriously unrivaled in this business – in many cases, they’re in a league of their own – and Tremors gets the gold star treatment for brand-spanking-new content including interviews, commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes (some new, some old), and a host of other associated tidbits the company’s die-hard aficionados unearthed. This collection goes further by including some incredible lobby card reproductions (postcard sized), an all-new Tremors poster (featuring the art from their release), and even a graboid diagram with all its biological specs. You want more? Arrow provides with an impressive 60-page booklet examining the groundbreaking original film as well as the franchise as a whole … or were you unaware that Tremors is one of more successful direct-to-video franchises in history?
Highest Recommendation Possible.
As I said, the wifey and I were one of those rare few who had the good fortune of experiencing Tremors in its original theatrical run. We loved it then, and we probably laughed even more through this viewing. Perfection comes over time, and this film is definitely one for the ages. If you’ve seen it, then watch it again (this time in 4K). If you haven’t seen it, then this is the package definitely for you.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video provided me with a Blu-ray of Tremors by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.