Beautiful Creatures: Graboids Gone Wild!

Whenever I think about giant desert dwelling worm monsters, and yes, it does happen more than you think, my mind wanders back to a sunny, dusty little place called Perfection. Blue skies. Open prairie. Majestic mountain vistas. It’s an absolutely delightful place to find yourself besieged by prehistoric, man-eating worms the size of a Volkswagen. And, going on 31 years since this movie’s original release, Tremors is still hands down one of the most entertaining monster movies of the 90s. Let’s dig down deep and find out why.

The Writing

Tremors is the story of Earl and Val, a pair of drifter handymen living and working in the dusty, isolated valley town of Perfection. Fed up with doing all of the shit work that the dozen or so residents just don’t want to do, the pair decide to change their fortunes and get the hell out of town. Unfortunately for them, they waited just one day too late and are the first to discover that something is murdering the residents of Perfection one at a time. Things escalate quickly as a tentacle is ripped off and dragged back into town wrapped around Earl and Val’s truck axle and the pair sell this oddity, now called a Graboid, for a quick buck while trying to figure out how to get help into the isolated valley.

That’s an oversimplified version of the plot but fairly accurate at the same time. For a PG-13 horror flick, it proves to be well-paced with decently written characters and character development. You spend the first act of the movie building a relationship with the characters and find yourself invested in their lives and what happens to them. That’s not to say that there isn’t a strong reliance on monster movie tropes and formulaic outcomes because there’s definitely a lot of that too. And as long as you don’t ask that one nagging question that could unravel the whole plot, you’ll find it’s a wonderfully written story.

Graboids Gone Wild!

Being filmed in 89/90 Tremors still relied heavily on practical effects and creature builds which made for some amazing and, at times, super cheesy imagery. The Graboids themselves are two separate creatures in one with the larger worm making up the whole of the monster and a collection of slime saturated, snake tentacles that act as tongues/eyes/arms being the second part. Initially, it’s the tentacles that we see and are led to believe are the monsters wriggling under the sand. Each of these tentacles is about a foot in diameter and looks like a giant tendon with an eel head and four small horns at the end. Covered in a thick, sticky orange slime, there are lots of scenes where you can see the fishing line used to articulate them which makes you laugh but doesn’t detract at all from their gruesome appearance.

Now, the Graboid proper looks like an overfed grub with four massive, hooked mandibles that form something close to a beak when the mouth is closed. When opened, however, you see the writhing snake arms and barbed teeth deep inside the gullet of the beast. It’s actually a very Lovecraftian looking thing to have ended up deep in the American Southwest rather than off the shores of Rhode Island. There are also black barbs along the body of the main Graboid that help propel it through the sand and, in one notable instance, right off a cliff where it erupts like a swollen blister full of orange goo. You have no problem believing it when the characters complain about the awful stench of the creature as the dusty flesh and dripping mouth tendrils really make it look like the kind of animal that would stink to high Hell.

Again, the Graboids are puppets, animatronics, and in a few shots scaled models, and they look amazing. The backdrop of a desert surrounded by giant mountains only makes the builds look that much more impressive. The colors chosen and the time and effort put into blending those tones with the setting make them look almost real in some scenes. Yeah, as I said before, there are plenty of times where you can see wires pulling snakes and things that look absolutely fake, but when you’re into the movie and really watching and enjoying it, you hardly notice.

The Legacy

Tremors spawned a series of sequels, including an old west themed prequel, and a short-lived television series. Trust me when I say you’re not missing much if you haven’t watched any of the follow up material. It’s like the Jurassic Park franchise in a way: you want to see the giant prehistoric monsters eating people and causing panic but, with each successive film it just feels a little less exciting. The original is by far the best in the entire series with the most iconic characters and scenes, although seeing the Graboid head mounted with the other taxidermy in crazed prepper Burt’s rec room in the second one is funny as hell. Still, nothing beats the first in this series and for good reason. The pacing is wonderful, the characters are fully realized, and there’s a certain sense of excitement that you feel watching as they fight their way to freedom.

After 31 years, Tremors is still just as much fun as it was the first time around. If you haven’t watched it, or haven’t watched it in a long time, then maybe you should take a trip to Perfection.

Oh, and that question that ruins the entire plot? If the Graboids have been trapped in that valley for millions of years, why did they just now decide to start eating people?

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