A professor in college once told me that all stories are about one of two things: somebody goes on a journey or somebody comes to town. Ron Underwood combines both story lines in his delightfully campy cult classic “Tremors” (1990).
Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, respectively) are burned out on the drudgery of hired hand work in and around the small Nevada town of Perfection, so they load up the old pickup with everything they own and head out of town.
But not before discovering one of the local townspeople with a death grip high up on an electrical tower. Literally, a death grip. The man died of thirst.
And thus begins the realization that someone has come to town: giant, blind, sluglike creatures – deemed “graboids” – that travel underground and suck people down and eat them. That puts an end to Val and Earl’s aspirations of going on a journey since the creatures are capable of swallowing vehicles from below the surface.
“Tremors” confirmed to the newly post-Cold War America in 1990 that – much like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) – evil can still lurk where we can’t always see it and could strike at any time. Evil, whether it’s Russia or supernatural forces, can (and most likely will) outsmart us.
Each character in “Tremors” has a dumb streak, though none thinks it. They have all spent their lives in ignorance aboveground, certain of their safety. When it becomes clear that the solid ground is no longer a refuge, the characters must continually move higher and away from the graboids’ home.
While I don’t know Underwood’s religious leanings, the message in “Tremors” has religious implications. The people live in a town called Perfection, though they’re each imperfect, um, Perfectionists. When evil that has lain dormant starts dominating them, they have no choice but to move toward the sky/heaven/God.
Even if you don’t believe in divinity or hell, you’ve got to admit that big, toothy slugs and Kevin Bacon with a country accent make for great entertainment.