Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source cable television
Watching a film like Mission Impossible I am prompted to think, to mentally engage with the very medium I am detached from as a viewer. The end of the film contains an action scene in which Tom Cruise is thrust from a moving helicopter to a moving train. I am so wowed I have forgotten how he got there or what it is, exactly, he was there to do.
Mission Impossible — a very good film if you have the patience for it — has a möbius strip of a plot, where important and often overlooked details come with the frequency of weeds in an unkempt garden. By the time the credits roll, I forget exactly how the film began.
For those of us who devote our tired selves to deciphering a film like Mission Impossible there is a remedy. It is the B movie.
Given its typical construction, it may seem that the B movie is easy to dismiss. For example, Anaconda stars two pop music artists, Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez, Oscar winner Jon Voight, and a big fake-looking snake. It takes a viewer with discriminating tastes to wade through the schlock and to discover the aesthetic merits of a film about a big fake-looking snake.
The primary mechanism of the B-movie generally involves the ravenous attempts of anything from killer grannies to killer vegetables (notice the trend?). In the B-movie dramatic subtlety is replaced with exaggeration. Nemeses cannot be big enough, scary enough, or thirsty enough for human blood.
In the B movie the monster or group of monsters, preferably exaggerated in stature, is in turn disturbed by mankind, be it nuclear experimentation or being poked with a stick. The monster proceeds to go on a murderous rampage until he (or she maybe?) is inevitably disposed of at the film’s climactic end.
Jaws is the quintessential B movie (and, moreover, most thematically realistic). In it the monster, killer shark, poses a threat to an entire legion of people. In most B movies a sort of intimacy develops between the monster and those whose ploy it is to kill it; it is implied that the heroes must know their enemy in order to defeat it. This philosophy is lost in Jaws, as its killer is capable and seemingly eager to eat people in droves.
This is a film singularly capable of inflicting its viewers with a collectively-felt paranoia. Psycho made its viewers fear showers, and Jaws raises the ante, inspiring vacationers to fear the water. In Jaws the only way to stay safe is to remain on land (this rule is brilliantly complicated by the setting; the film is set on an island).
This notion of safety is reversed in Tremors, being that its monster travels underground. It is both a clever homage to Jaws and throwback to the creature features of the 50s.
Understand that it is difficult to commend Tremors after mentioning Jaws — the standard classic for the genre. I believe Tremors achieves something in its simplicity. The film has no big stars or realistic drama. It is by design modeled after dozens of films known for their small budgets and clichés. In order to differentiate itself from other B movies, Tremors employs one of the most thrilling gimmicks I have seen. That is, an enemy that you can’t see. Though this may seem conventional, Tremors’ monster rivals most any: it is persistently hungry, innovative, and largely invisible.
Tremors’ monster is a triad of carnivorous worms, big ones. Each has a tongue comprised of three smaller snakes and can burrow fast enough to devour a flight Olympic runners before they reach the finish line.
We are introduced to the monsters, named “graboids,” in typical fashion; we see only the evidence of their attacks. They produce swells in the landscape like enlarged moles. The graboids respond to seismic vibration. Any voice, footstep, or noise is a beacon inviting them to attack.
In the spirit of many B movies there is no apparent reason for the monsters’ sudden appearance on the planet. In the B movie the theory of evolution is deliberately ignored to further what little relevance the plot retains.
The characters in the film are inhabitants of Perfection, Nevada, population 14 and decreasing. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are all-around handymen, who bear the physic and mental incapacity common to any unsuspecting hero. There is an obligatory love interest, and the other characters have dialogue limited to what speech they can muster when running from a big carnivorous worm.
Michael Gross (from “Family Ties” in a violent attempt to shed his typecast) and Reba McIntyre are the Gummer family. They possess enough guns and firepower to accommodate a small army. And, yes, you will see most of their ammo dispensed. A scene involving an elephant gun has to be seen for its panicked intensity.
Tremors is not a great film. It requires absolutely no thought or reasoning. In the context of the B movie, however, Tremors triumphs because of how it handles its subject. The film, for what it is (“contemporary camp” for lack of a more appropriate label), is a success, complete with every laughable line of dialogue and every screaming death.