TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TREMORS (1990)

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TREMORS (1990)

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Flick takes place in the small desert town of Perfection, Neveda where local handymen Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are contemplating leaving for bigger and better things. What they get is bigger, but certainly not better, as the remote town becomes surrounded by a pack of enormous, hungry, subterranean worm-like creatures, that the besieged locals dub “Graboids.” As they get pulled under and devoured one by one, prospects for escape dwindle as fast as Perfection’s citizenship.

Delightfully entertaining flick is directed by Ron Underwood (City Slickers) from a script and story by he, Brent Maddock and S. S. Wilson. It’s light-hearted and fun, but smartly plays it just serious enough, to give the Graboids some serious threat. This way, their attacks are intense and suspenseful and we fear for this likable bunch of stranded characters. There is very little bloodshed, but there is enough death and carnage, so we take these monsters very seriously. Mixing horror and comedy isn’t always easy, but Tremors mixes the intensity and scares with the jokes and humor in just the right increments. It’s a blast of fun and the budget is large enough that the effects portraying the creatures and their activity are very realistic and it helps suspend our disbelief as to such beasts’ existence. The origin of the creatures is kept mostly ambiguous and here it works, as does letting us know exactly how many there are and thus need to be dealt with. There are hints of intelligence, too, though we never know just how smart they are, until it’s too late. The California locations are utilized perfectly to portray the fictional Nevada town and the film is fast paced with only small lulls between the action. The score by Ernest Troost adds to the suspense and the cast is as close to perfect as you can get for a big budget B-movie like this…and at heart, a B-movie this certainly is.

As for that cast…Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward have great chemistry as buds and business partners Val and Earl. They work really well together and their bickering only adds to the fun. Some very well written dialog between them, makes these two memorable and reluctantly heroic characters. Too bad they were never brought back together again in any of the sequels. Finn Carter makes for a cute and spunky heroine as geology grad student Rhonda LeBeck, who catches Valentine’s eye. She provides what little scientific exposition we get and proves she can hold her own with the boys. Reba McEntire and Michael Gross are absolutely hilarious as heavily armed survivalists, Heather and Burt Gummer. Another pair that work really well together here. Victor Wong (Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China) is also fun as cantankerous and opportunistic general store owner, Walter Chang and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’s Bibi Besch has a small role as an ill-fated local. A great cast who all get the material perfectly!

This is a really fun and action packed movie that combines the thrills, chills and humor in exactly the right doses. It has a great cast, really cool and well rendered monsters and comes in at a perfectly economical 96 minutes. Tremors was not a big box office hit, but was successful enough on home video to spawn five more direct to video sequels, with a sixth sequel on the way. They all star Michael Gross, the only actor to appear in all the franchise installments, so far.

PERSONAL TRIVIA: A friend and I saw Tremors at a preview screening before it opened. We didn’t know what we were seeing, save that it was a science fiction movie with Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon. We had a blast with it and gave the film high marks when asked to fill out questionnaires at the end of the movie. Nothing got changed when the film was released, so it must have tested well. Not sure why it wasn’t a bigger box office hit, as it had all the ingredients of a great popcorn movie!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Graboids.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)

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SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Film takes place in 1973 with a national guard unit on training maneuvers deep in the Louisiana swamps. A squad of these weekend warriors goes on a recon mission and decides to steal some locals’ boats to cross the bayou. When the owners return in mid-theft, the incident quickly leads to violence and the unit commander (Peter Coyote) is killed. To make matters worse, the soldiers ‘arrest’ a local man (Brion James) and destroy his shack in retribution. Now the remaining guardsman are being hunted through the swamps and killed off one by one by the vengeful inhabitants. With only one box of live ammunition between them and miles of hostile swamp in front of them, their chances of survival seem slim, as their numbers dwindle and they start turning on each other, as well.

Southern Comfort is an action/thriller directed by Walter Hill and co-written with David Giler and Michael Kane, that sadly requires a lot of stupid behavior from it’s main characters to move the story along. Granted the leads are supposed to be a bunch of ignorant and arrogant yahoos, but even for these guys, some of their actions just don’t make sense. That and making most of the film’s principals unlikable, for the most part, doesn’t exactly evoke our sympathy much. Only Keith Carradine’s Private Spencer and Powers Boothe’s Corporal Hardin seem to have some common sense and are the only somewhat likable characters here and even that’s pushing it. The film does have atmosphere and it does seem at times like there could be danger around any tree, but it is hampered by a slow pace and the fact that these guys are more of a threat to themselves and each other, than the locals. Despite being a very flawed film, there is still somewhat of an entertainment value to it, thought. Maybe it is seeing these morons get themselves deeper into trouble and then what’s coming to them, sometimes by their own hands, and sometimes those of their pursuers. It also takes until the last act before things finally start to click on a thriller level and we get some solid action and suspense. On the positive side, there is some nice cinematography of the Louisiana Bayou by Andrew Laszlo and an atmospheric score by Ry Cooder.

I actually saw this in a theater in 1981 and remember it far more fondly than I did upon my recent revisit. It’s not terrible and there is some decent action, but I guess I was a lot more forgiving in my teens than I am now. It’s an OK flick, that’s really hampered by unlikable characters and the constant stupidity with which these trained reservists act, and the fact that they pretty much invite all that befalls them with their actions. It finally gets moving in the last act and the blurred line between good guys and bad guys is lifted for a more straightforward finale, but it’s a little late. Overall, it’s just disappointing when I initially remembered it as a much better movie. Also stars Fred Ward, The Thing’s T.K. Carter, Sonny Landham and Buckaroo Banzai’s Lewis Smith.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

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