Tremors (1990) [4K UHD]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2021-01-05 16:53
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Tremors (1990)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: December 15th 2020

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)



The movie:

Whenever someone says the perfect movie doesn’t exist, I feel sorry for them because the poor soul obviously hasn’t happened upon Tremors. Indeed, I like to think that writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson called their shot when they named the desolate desert town of their killer worm movie “Perfection, Nevada.” It’s actually one of the film’s several sly jokes, of course: there’s really nothing perfect about this tiny outpost that boasts all of 14 people leading dead-end lives, brought to life by a wonderful cast that makes this material sing. Not that I need to rehash the greatness of Tremors, especially if you belong to the generation that grew up renting it from your local video store(s) over and over. Somehow, Tremors became that movie: the one hardly anyone saw in theaters but went on to see dozens of times on VHS. We have a running debate in my household between myself and my wife over who’s seen it more. She swears she rented it every other weekend; I must have beaten her to the punch every now and then because I also seemed to rent it just as frequently. It seems likely that we unwittingly swapped that tape out to each other all the time, like passing ships in the night. I’d say our mutual love of this movie means we were supposed to end up together, but, hell, doesn’t everyone like Tremors?

If Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray release is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Tremors may have disappointed at the box office in 1990, but it’s fully completed the cult movie arc at this point, having inspired six sequels, a television series, and even its own fan convention. What started as a sort of secret handshake film among genre fans has become such a beloved franchise that you’d swear it was always the hit Universal expected it to be when the studio sank a decent budget into this offbeat creature feature written by a screenwriting wunderkind duo. I’ve been a fan of this movie for nearly 30 years, and I'm even somewhat shocked to recall it did middling business during its original theatrical release because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love it—and I hope to never meet such a miserable motherhumper.

Maybe you haven’t seen Tremors, which is only slightly more forgivable. Usually, I’d be envious of anyone seeing a movie for the first time, but I can’t imagine this movie not being a part of my life. It’s one of those movies I saw at such a young age that I couldn’t even tell you when I saw it exactly. I can only be certain that I tread lightly upon the ground for days after watching it, lest I disturb the Graboids that might be dwelling beneath my house. Obviously, it wasn’t enough to scare me away because Tremors is too good-humored to really disturb. It’s just such a nice movie, full of magnetic personalities and an infectious spirit that just won’t quit. I would have watched an entire series of movies featuring these people if they never encountered the first underground goddamn monster. Braddock and Wilson envisioned such a rich, lived-in world that was brought to the screen with genuine affection by a cast that never condescends to the material. Perfection, NV feels so authentic that it’s jarring to learn that the entire set is long gone, with an empty patch of desert punctuated by holes dug by the effects team left as the only reminders it once existed, if only on celluloid.

Headlined by perfect, roughneck angels Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, the eclectic cast spits endlessly quotable dialogue, giving Tremors a certain pop and sizzle that you can’t quite describe. In a lot of ways, it’s like trying to describe the dynamic you have with your actual friends: you just have to be there to really get it, no matter how odd it may look on paper. And I imagine it must have looked quite odd to contemporary audiences to see sitcom dad Michael Gross going against type as madman Burt Gummer, not to mention country star Reba McEntire playing his wife. Maybe this is partially why Tremors was such a tough sell for Universal: it’s a movie full of recognizable faces but none had exactly carried a hit movie (outside of Bacon in Footloose, which looked like an anomaly by 1990), and here they were playing rural bumpkins fighting prehistoric sandworms.

We know what this would probably look like today, thanks to the legion of SyFy nonsense that’s twisted the creature feature into a farce, meant only to be enjoyed ironically. But in 1990, Maddock, Wilson, and director Ron Underwood dared to take this material just seriously enough to put Universal in a marketing bind. Is Tremors a comedy or is it a horror film? Not only is the answer obviously “both,” but Tremors is arguably exemplary of the form: it’s as funny as just about any movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s gross and scary enough to earn its horror stripes. Hitting this sweet spot is difficult, if not damn near impossible so it figures that it took perfection to truly nail it.

The disc:

Fans new and old can unite in the wonderful truth that it’s never been a better time for the Tremors faithful. Not only did 2020 see the release of a seventh film, but Arrow Video also released one of its most impressive collector’s editions to date. Released in both 4K and HD Blu-ray editions, this release most importantly restores the film to pristine condition, righting weird, long-time wrong on the part of Universal. Despite Tremors being one of its most profitable home video titles ever, it’s never done quite right by the movie, especially in the digital age, where substandard, artifact-riddled transfers have plagued fans for decades now. That’s no longer a problem thanks to a 4K restoration that has Tremors looking immaculate: the picture is so vivid and filmic that you can almost smell the putrid graboid guts. Short of acquiring your own pristine 35mm print, this is the best Tremors will ever look. Arrow should also be commended for including three DTS-MA audio tracks, including the original 2.0 stereo mix, a 4.0 surround mix from early home video releases, and a 5.1 track that delivers some appropriate rumble with its LFE channel.

While this restored presentation would have been worth the price of admission, Arrow has gone all out with its limited edition offering, decking out two discs full of supplemental features, a 60-page perfect bound book, multiple posters, and even a mock-up of a coupon to Walter Chang’s Market. It’s housed in a sturdy, gorgeously embossed slipcover that almost demands to be displayed in a special, prominent space on your shelf.

The supplements are also quite imposing, if not downright daunting in their volume. The 4K disc is stuffed with both newly-produced and vintage special features, including “Making Perfection,” a 30-minute long documentary about the film’s production featuring key cast and crew from the franchise, with Bacon himself showing up to offer some context for his decision to appear in the film. And while it’s of course nice that he’s there, it’s a little bit disappointing that only Gross and Ariana Richards are the only other on-camera talent included (Jamie Kennedy also briefly appears, an odd choice considering he didn’t show up until the fifth film). It almost feels like a bizarro version of this documentary: usually, you’d see participation from some of the supporting cast members but the likes of Bacon would be understandably absent because of his busy schedule.

As a result, the entire doc somehow feels a little incomplete, almost like Universal cut it down to a 30-minute version of a longer feature. There’s some vital information here, but it’s just surface level: for example, we get some information about some of the casting choices and mentions of some actors, while others go ignored completely. Even Fred Ward gets the short end of the stick, and I don’t even recall McEntire being mentioned at all. “Making Perfection” is more interested in the creative side of things, as Braddock, Underwood, and Wilson feature heavily alongside their agent and co-producer Nancy Roberts, who was instrumental in getting Tremors developed at Universal. The documentary is thorough in tracing the journey from pre-production to its release and ensuing cult status, where the various talking heads discuss how Tremors was a victim of poor marketing (a familiar fate for horror comedies—coincidentally, this would happen again 15 years later at Universal with Slither, which features multiple references to Tremors). It makes for a happy ending, of course, and I especially loved the footage of fans gathering for a convention to express their gratitude to the cast and crew, something none of them could have imagined following the film’s lukewarm theatrical reception.

While “Making Perfection” does leave you wanting more, fret not: the rest of features spread across the two discs more than pick up the slack. In fact, the Blu-ray disc (exclusive to the limited edition, so act now if you want in) features extended interviews from “Making Perfection” with Braddock, effects designer Alec Guiness, Maddock, Roberts, and Wilson, each clocking in at about an hour long on average. For those keeping score at home, that’s five hours of extra interviews alone in addition to all of the other material on the main disc. There, you’ll find five more interviews of varying length, including an entirely different sit-down with Roberts, who goes a bit more in detail about the road to getting Tremors into production, starting with commissioning a spec script from the two screenwriters that she shopped around Hollywood for years. A cool thread that emerges during the interview as she explains how various women played a crucial role in getting Tremors produced: in addition to herself, Roberts consulted with Gale Anne Hurd, brought aboard associate producer Ellen Collett, and relied heavily on line producer Ginny Nugent. Like so many movies, Tremors seems like a minor miracle when you consider the various hurdles that had to be overcome just to get it in front of cameras—and that’s not to mention the difficulties that naturally ensued with such an effects-driven production in the days before CGI.

DP Alexander Gruszynski appears in “Bad Vibrations” to discuss the challenges of shooting a horror film mostly in broad daylight. He also gives a glimpse behind the curtain of the difficult effects shots, particularly those involving the Graboids. Gruszynski’s interview is also somewhat biographical, as he explains how his love for filmmaking flourished in post-WW 2 Poland; he also goes on to recount how he and Collett met and fell in love on the set of Tremors.

Collett expands upon that tale and more in “Aftershocks and Other Rumblings,” where she traces her filmmaking origins with Roger Corman’s studio and discusses its influence on Tremors. The King of the Bs’ presence looms large according to Collett, who explains how she cultivated a mantra of developing low-budget genre pictures with Corman and applied it to this production. It’s a nice comparison that highlights just how much Tremors was a labor of love for so many of its participants, who simply wanted to add their voice to the creature feature arena.

Many of those voices belonged to the effects crew, some of whom feature in “Digging in the Dirt,” which illuminates the film’s extensive VFX work. Tremors found a ragtag crew who had to officially incorporate their business just before shooting in order to comply with Universal’s standards. Most of these guys (and gals) were monster kids or grew up in families already in the business, which resulted in a familial feeling on set because the VFX community was so close-knit during this time. “Digging in the Dirt” isn’t just full of wistful anecdotes, though, as the various artists explain how certain shots were pulled off. Seeing the raw, behind-the-scenes footage of these effects juxtaposed with the finished project gives an appreciation for the craftsmanship involved: in many cases, this was just a group of folks toiling out in the desert, rigging up gags with nothing but grit and ingenuity. Predictably, the feature becomes an ode to the power of practical effects when some of the contributors lament how modern filmmakers have come to lean too heavily on digital work instead of using it as another tool. I really enjoyed this feature because it highlights just how fun it must have been to make Tremors—and it’s no wonder that infectious spirit flows through each frame.

Co-composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk lend their voices to “Music for Graboids,” which recounts the circumstances that found the two contributing different bits to the score. Troost—who received sole credit on the finished film—discusses coming aboard and composing the various themes before the filmmakers decided to go in a different direction for the horror cues. Folk then delivers his side of the story, explaining that he worked without hearing any of Troost’s material. For their both parts, both men look on the situation amicably, even though only one man received credit following the arbitration process. Both seem like consummate professionals, with Troost—now a seasoned veteran—realizing in hindsight that this is just part of the process.

“Pardon My French,” a newly produced compilation of overdubs from the film’s TV edit, serves as a segue to all of the ported supplements found on previous releases, including “”The Making of Tremors” and “Creature Featurette,” a pair of behind-the-scenes looks. The old EPK package, deleted scenes, trailers, tv & radio spots, and an image gallery round out the archive material.

Considering the wealth of on-disc material, the physical bells and whistles truly feel like extra treats. A reversible poster features the iconic theatrical artwork on one side, complimenting Arrow’s newly commissioned art, and a chart diagramming Graboid anatomy is a fun addition. Six lobby cards are also included alongside the book, which features essays and production notes. Arrow’s more elaborate editions have always been terrific, and Tremors is no exception; in fact, it’s arguably their most impressive single-movie release in years, ranking right up there with the incredible Creepshow 2 and The Hills Have Eyes limited editions.

2020 has been an embarrassment of riches for cult video enthusiasts, who have been spoiled with new releases on nearly a monthly basis. Tremors is one last treat before we head into the new year, and, while I can’t even pretend to say I’ve dug through every single one of 2020s most notable releases, I can say I can’t imagine any of them making me as downright happy as this one. Between Universal’s relative neglect of Tremors for twenty years and my longtime love for the movie, this release hits a sweet spot of anticipation and expectations that Arrow met—and then some. If recent releases have been any indication, you’ll probably want to snap this one up pretty quickly: these limited editions tend to hang around for a matter of months, not years, and, while there will be a standard release down the line, it won’t be as nifty as one, so you’d better run like goddamned bastards if you want one. (Pardon my French.)


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