When the small desert community of Perfection, Nevada, suffers through a series of bizarre incidents that result in the disappearance or deaths of almost half the population, the town Rubes / Handymen soon get to the bottom of this crisis and unravel the mystery -- make that unearth the truth, and, facing certain death from below, realize they waited just one damn day too many to move out of this formerly peaceful valley.
I wouldn't call Tremors underrated or an overlooked gem, but I do think it is under-appreciated. Followed by three sequels and a TV series, the entire franchise has a solid cult following that it thoroughly deserves, but, perhaps lost in the haze of what followed, one tends to forget just how good the first film really is. Good? Hell -- it's friggin' fantastic.
Tremors began as an idea scriptwriter Steve Wilson had while sitting on a large rock in the middle of the California desert, where he imagined what it would be like if some thing was lurking in the sand that kept him trapped there indefinitely. Taking that notion and running with it, with long time partners Brent Maddock and Ron Underwood, the idea soon germinated into something truly special, a darkly comedic tale about giant, man-eating sandworms, which is kinda amazing when you look at the trio's output before and after (-- the highlight being Short Circuit, and use that as a measuring stick anyway you feel like it.)
Somehow, from the rock-solid cast (-- anchored by Bacon and Ward, and firmly buoyed by a career redefining role for Michael Gross as gun-nut Burt Gummer), to the characters, to the F/X that brought the monsters to life, when combined with a salty script that hooks you with a mystery and then clobbers you with several outstanding action set-pieces, which also lets those characters be as quirky and goofy as they wanted to be but kept the danger very, very real, Tremors caught lightning in a bottle -- that, sadly, was largely ignored during its theatrical run, but soon exploded on Home Video.
What's truly sad is that between Tremor's release in 1990 and Cloverfield in 2008, I'm hard pressed to recall any other authentic, giant monster movie at all except maybe Eight-Legged Freaks or Starship Troopers that got a theatrical release. (And yes, I'm purposefully omitting the cinematic black hole known as Deanzilla.) Lots of giant asteroids, lots of serial killers, ghosts, and self-aware slashers, but no monsters. *sigh*
The world needs more graboids.
Tremors (1990) No Frills Film Production :: Universal Pictures / EP: Gale Anne Hurd / P: Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson / AP: Ginny Nugent, Ellen Collett / D: Ron Underwood / W: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Ron Underwood / C: Alexander Gruszynski / E: O. Nicholas Brown / M: Ernest Troost / S: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Charlotte Stewart, Ariana Richards, Tony Genaro, Victor Wong