Film: Tremors

See that toothy maw there? That's only one of its tongues.note 

"They say there's nothing new under the sun. But under the ground..."

Tremors is a 1990 horror comedy film about subterranean monsters. It is considered a Cult Classic for the way it plays with the typical monster movie tropes. In the first movie, the citizens of the isolated desert town of Perfection, Nevada find themselves under siege by "Graboids" (as they name them) massive subterranean worm-monsters who hunt prey by sensing ground-vibrations. It falls to two redneck handymen, Val and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward), to save the town.

It was directed by Ron Underwood and it spawned four sequel movies, a prequel movie, and a short-lived TV series:

The fifth film in the series, Tremors 5: Bloodline spent an extended period in Development Hell, but in late 2014, director Don Michael Paul (director of Jarhead 2 and Lake Placid: The Final Chapter) successfully took the helm, and was released Direct-to-Video on October 6th, 2015. Filmed and set in South Africa, this chapter of course once again stars Michael Gross as Burt Gummer.

Tropes used in this franchise include:

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  • Action Survivor: Most of the characters, save for Earl and Grady in 2 and Burt in general.
  • Alien Blood: Graboids' blood is a bright reddish-orange, its exact shade varying slightly between films.
  • All There in the Manual: Promotional materials created by Sci-Fi Channel for the TV series give details on Graboid biology. Fun fact: Graboids are Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Bilateria, Class Cephalopoda, Subclass Coleoidea, Order: Sepioida, Family Vermiformidae, Genus Caederus, Species americana. Using the obsolete Linnaean taxonomy, this means that Graboids are most closely related to cuttlefish.
  • Armless Biped: Shriekers, also Ass-Blasters if wings don't count.
  • Asian Store-Owner: All the same family/store. The one in the first movie is eaten; in the third movie, his relative comes to take over the store; and in the fourth, it's their ancestor settling in the town.
  • Badass: Burt Gummer, all the way. He's probably the only character in any franchise who could survive being eaten by the monster without it being implausible - what would have been Fridge Logic with anyone else becomes awesome because it's Burt, that's the sort of thing Burt does. In the second movie he wipes out over two dozen Shriekers singlehandly, his words implying he killed some with his bare hands!
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Graboids pinpoint their prey using sound and other vibrations, while Shriekers and Ass-Blasters use heat vision.
  • Breakout Character: Burt was a very popular part of the movie and because the only character present in every film and the TV series as a result, more-or-less starring in the forth movie.
  • Bad Vibrations: Caused by the Graboids, but subverted with the first appearance of the Shriekers.
  • Cool Guns: Happens a whole lot in the movies, almost always being used by Burt. Examples include basically everything from Burt's Wall of Weapons, but especially the William Moore & Co. 8 gauge "elephant gun" from the first movie, the gatling gun and punt gun from the fourth movie, and of course Burt's LAR Grizzly Big Boar .50 caliber BMG anti-tank rifle.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Most of the protagonist's plans are a combination of this and the Indy Ploy.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Burt Gummer was Crazy-Prepared even before he learned his hometown was infested with underground monsters. By the third film, he's ready for anythingnote .
  • Crazy Survivalist: Burt Gummer, a heroic version.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Burt tends to run into this problem quite often, and is usually why he isn't able to simply deal with the situations at hand completely on his own. See the Lowered Monster Difficulty entry below for a good example.
  • Daylight Horror: All four movies and the TV series take place mostly during the day, with only a few horror scenes (and even fewer actual death scenes) taking place at night. Justified in that none of the four life stages of the creatures - dirt dragons, graboids, shriekers, or assblasters - use light to see, so they'll attack at any time night or day; they may in fact not even be aware there's a difference.
  • Dig Attack:
    • The Graboids' standard attack is to burrow underneath their human/animal prey, grab them with their tentacles and pull them underground (and into their mouths to be eaten).
    • The Graboids can attack vehicles resting on the surface by digging under them (dropping them underground) or bursting their tires. They have also been known to dig underground tunnels near the surface in a vehicle's path to trap it.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Graboids will eat anything that moves, then spit back out anything indigestible. Taken to the extreme when in the third movie, El Blanco eats an Ass-Blaster.
  • Feed It a Bomb: The easiest way of killing Graboids.
  • Gun Porn: Practically every scene involving Burt.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: Either subverts, averts, or avoids every single trope on the page.
  • Happily Married:
    • Burt and Heather in the first film. Subverted in the second fim; Burt mentions that Heather left him following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    • And dialogue from the second film indicates that Val and Rhonda wound up like this too.
  • Hidden Depths: Burt as the films go along, especially after his divorce. He becomes less Crazy Survivalist and more Combat Pragmatist.
  • It Only Works Once: Played straight in the first and fourth movies, subverted in part 2 (where close to thirty Graboids are killed using the exact same tactic), and mixed in part 3 (two Ass-blasters make the mistake of lighting up in a room already occupied by gasoline and two more are shot and killed with an improvised potato gun, but a third ducks when they fire at it).
  • Karma Houdini: Played with when it comes to Melvin Plug. While the Perfectionites make his life a living hell especially when he's a real estate developer, many audiences were disappointed that neither the Graboids or any thing else kill him.
  • MacGyvering: Common in the later films and TV series. Lampshaded by Miguel in the third film.
  • Magic Bullets: Averted. Bullets behave realistically: small arms can't penetrate the ground to the Graboids, while a massive anti-tank weapon has a little too much penetrating power.
  • The Merch: In-Universe example. Say, your hometown was attacked by giant subterranean monsters, who kill half of its inhabitants before being defeated by the other half. What do you do? Make money on it, of course! Over the course of subsequent movies and the TV series the main characters have become famous science and pop-culture personas, being featured in magazines and TV shows, starring in commercials and documentaries, opening theme parks, having the exclusive license and producing video games, comics, action figures and other merchandise based on the monsters. All while continuing to fight said monsters first occasionally (Tremors 2-3) and then on a weekly basis. The town of Perfection becomes a tourist attraction, with the store from the first film converted into a gift shop. In the third film onward, they even make use of El Blanco, an albino (and thus sterile) Graboid as a tourist attraction. In that case its a little more justified, as El Blanco's sterility makes him much easier to deal with than other Graboids.
  • More Dakka: Burt gets More Dakka each film, culminating in the third film with an anti-aircraft turret mounted on a half-track. The turret was actually in working condition and was fired (albeit with blanks) for that scene. Specifically, an M16 Multiple Gun Carriage aka the "Meat Chopper". Also, the 2-inch bore Punt Gun and the Civil War era Gatling gun from the fourth movie.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Averted as far as the main life cycle stages go. The tentacles inside a Graboid's mouth do have these teeth, although the spikes on the sides of their heads are far more noticeable. The toothy heads featured on the covers of Tremors 1 and 3 are actually tentacle heads, expanded to giant size for artistic effect. However, the strange creatures seen on the covers for Tremors 2 and The Series are entirely made-up for the box art.
  • No Name Given: The Dirt Dragon/Graboid/Shrieker/Ass-Blaster species doesn't have a common name that's applicable to all four life-cycle stages, just a taxonomic name in online promotional material.*
  • Once per Episode: Most of the movies feature the following gags:
    • People being unexpectedly pelted with Graboid/Shrieker/Ass-blaster remains
    • Burt being left with the wrong guns for the job.
    • Trapped individuals seeing or hearing something moving and thinking a monster is on the way only to realize, "It's Burt!"/"It's Mr. Gummer!"
  • Only Shop in Town: Chang's General Store.
  • Reality Ensues: Application of explosives creates...debris.
  • Sand Worm: The Graboids are probably the best known example next to Dune.
  • Super-Persistent Predator:
    • Graboids will wait days for something to come down if they chase it up a rock or a telephone pole. They do go away eventually, but by that time the prey has likely died of dehydration.
    • Shriekers and Ass-Blasters can vary. They'll go after anything that gives out a heat signature, so they'll follow someone wherever they go. On the other hand, since they can't tell what's meat until they bite into it, they can be tricked. In the second movie, Earl drops some pants in hot water and sends them out on a clothesline, causing the Shriekers to pursue.
  • That Poor Car: Vibrations from burrowing Graboids set off the car alarm in the Gummers' SUV, inciting them to destroy the vehicle. The Shriekers and Ass Blasters both have a habit of tearing cars apart mistaking the warm engines for living things.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Used in both the third film and the TV series to introduce Jodi Chang and Rosalita Sanchez, who each inherited the property of an uncle (Walter Chang and Miguel, respectively) killed by monsters. The downside is that the property is in Perfection, so both nieces have to move to monster territory to take advantage of the bequest.
  • Vanity License Plate: Burt Gummer - "UZI 4U".
  • Wall of Weapons: In Burt Gummer's rec room. The Graboid that broke in there got more than it bargained for. The same Graboid's head can be seen, stuffed and mounted on a wall in the same room, in the second movie.

  • Ask a Stupid Question...: In reference to a dead Graboid.
    Earl: Hey, Rhonda, you ever seen anything like this before?
    Val: Oh, sure, Earl! Everybody knows about 'em, we just didn't tell you!
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Val, right after accidentally killing the first Graboid.
  • BFG: The "Elephant Gun". It was actually an 8-gauge side by side shotgun. In case you were wondering, that means the barrel has an inside diameter of 0.835 inch. Let's just say Michael Gross, the actor playing Burt, was lucky he was firing blanks.
  • Book Ends: The first and last graboids both die after ramming themselves through a concrete canal wall and cliff face respectively. It goes further than that - the first scene in the movie is at the same cliff they kill the final graboid at.
  • Brick Joke:
    • As Val and Earl are about to leave Perfection on horseback, Earl comments that he doesn't believe the "snake creatures" could be fast enough to outrun a horse. Val returns with "Shit, for all you know, they can fly". It was later referred to and foreshadowed by Val when he yells "Can you fly, sucker?" at the last Graboid before he kills it by chasing it off a cliff.
    • In the opening, Val approaches Earl, who is snoozing in the bed of his truck, and wakes him by faking a stampede. At the end, after they have discovered the Graboids are sensitive to loud noises, Val uses the last bomb by lighting it and throwing it behind the Graboid, sending it fleeing in pain to carom out of the side of the cliff—a tactic used by ranchers to direct stampeding cattle.
    • A chilling example: near the beginning of the movie, Walter's fridge starts going berserk, and he asks Val and Earl if they can fix it. Val is eager to do so (probably hoping to get out of doing the garbage), but Earl wants to keep to the schedule. Later on, while the group are hunkering down in Walter's shop, trying to keep vibrations to a minimum, the fridge goes berserk again, leading to Walter's death. The joke? Earl was ripping on Val for not "planning ahead" just prior to the first scene at Walter's shop.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Pardon my French."
    • Also "We need a plan," and "I've got a plan."
    • Grady's sheepish "I forgot..."
  • Cat Scare: "Damn prairie dog burrow!"
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The cliff shown in the very first scene.
    • And the lighter that Val and Earl can't keep track of.
    • The bombs Burt and Heather bring along. It's initially considered as just a way to make the Graboids leave them alone (because the noise aggravates their hearing), but then Earl thinks up a fishing idea.
  • Closed Circle: Happens on a large scale. The movie takes place within a large, open valley in Nevada, but it's a valley no one can leave. The telephone lines have gone down, the only road in or out has been destroyed by a landslide, and every attempt to leave via another route is blocked by the Graboids. No one can get in either - at one point someone does try to check on the people of Perfection, Nevada, only to be killed by the Graboids as well.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Some people have generators to power their homes, and Burt does too. A few people have backup power in case the main generator gives out, and so does Burt. But only Burt has backup backup power.
    Earl: What kind of fuse is that?
    Burt: Cannon fuse.
    Earl: What the hell you use it for?
    Burt: For my cannon.
  • Crying Wolf: Melvin Plug.
  • Cute Bookworm: The Love Interests for the first two movies are both geologists.
  • Disconnected by Death: Subverted, albeit over a radio set instead of a phone. Burt Grummer, after being told that the graboids are coming straight for his house, is last heard saying, "Jesus Chr—!" before the line goes dead as a graboid bursts through his wall. As it turned out, that graboid did indeed break into the wrong goddamned rec room.
  • Diving Save: Valentine does this to save Mindy from a Graboid.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Val and Earl and forced to use Walter's horses to try to reach Bixby. Outside of town, the horses suddenly go crazy. Val just thinks Walter gave them bad horses, but Earl disagrees.
    "They got wind of something they don't like."
  • Feed It a Bomb: Subverted when Stumpy spits the bomb back at them. After this, Burt switched to remote detonation, since they'll always bite.
  • Free-Range Children: Melvin, the teen boy, seems to have no parents. When "everyone in town" is escaping no mention of his parents is even brought up. Apparently it's explained in the original script that Melvin's parents were away in Vegas at the time, vacationing without him, something they apparently did quite often which probably explains why Melvin's such an asshole.
  • Focus Group Ending: The movie originally ended with Val and Rhonda saying awkward goodbyes to each other and Val driving away, only for his friend Earl to change Val's mind halfway through and turn back for the Girl after all. Cue credits. The test audience however started chanting "Kiss Her!" during the awkward goodbye scene and so a new ending was shot, with a Big Damn Kiss and a Relationship Upgrade while credits start to roll. Definitely an improvement over original, which can be seen on the DVD.
  • Genre Throwback: 1950's monster movies, particularly the first film in the series.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Rhonda loses her pants because her legs were tangled badly in barbed wire with a Graboid closing in on her.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: With a pipe bomb.
  • Hand Signals: Rhonda escapes a Graboid by climbing up a water tower. When Valentine asks her if she's O.K., she gives him a "thumbs up".
  • Hard To Light Fire: Val and Earl discover they don't have the lighter with them after they start running for the cliff, so Rhonda has to run after them with it.
  • Has a Type: Val explains his preference in women and Earl later criticizes him for it. Val even has a number of pictures taped to his roof of his truck. Subverted in that the woman he ends up with is a petite brunette.
    Val: Long, blonde hair, big green eyes, world-class breasts, ass that won't quit and legs that go all the way up!
    Earl: Damn it, Valentine. You don't go for any gal unless she fits your list, top to bottom.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Val and Earl.
  • Hope Spot: Inverted twice. Burt and Heather unknowingly attract a graboid to their basement, and it bursts through the wall. The last thing his friends hear on the radio is Burt yelling, "God almighty!" and they all hang their heads, thinking that's it for the Gummers...and then they start hearing gunfire. Then it pulls it again a few seconds later, when Burt and Heather run out of ammo for the rifles they were holding...and the camera pulls back to show the Wall of Weapons, which up to this point had never been shown or hinted at.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Averted by Burt Gummer, who shows proper gun-handling technique at all times, and occasionally chastises other characters for not doing so. Crowning example? He gives an idiot a revolver to get him to cooperate - an unloaded revolver. After he takes it back, he pops the cylinder just to make sure it's unloaded. This is what you are supposed to do anytime you pick up a firearm, just so you do not Shoot Someone In The Face. Oddly, it's also waived somewhat in the rec room scene, where the flare gun already has a chambered round when it's taken from the wall.
  • Immune to Bullets: Subverted. The Graboid that breaks into Burt's rec room at first appears to be immune to bullets, but Burt is very persistent and VERY well armed. After taking sustained fire from ever-larger guns for two solid minutes of screentime, the Graboid finally goes down.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: That or just Improbably Good Luck. The final Graboid spits the bomb it swallowed with the precision of a seasoned artillerist, straight into the heroes' hideout, and straight into their cache of bombs.
  • Improvised Weapon: The pipe bombs in the first and third movies, and the fire arrow shooting potato gun in the third movie.
  • Ironic Echo: When Val, Earl, and Rhonda are trying to explain the Graboids to the rest of the gang in Chang's shop, Nestor says that if one of them comes after him, he'll simply attack them with a five-pound pickaxe. In frustration, Val reminds him that this would never work because Nestor would never see the Graboid coming since they're underground. Not even ten minutes later, when Rhonda gets herself tangled up in barbed wire and is seconds from being Graboid food, Val comes to the rescue attacking said Graboid with ... a five pound pickaxe.
  • It Can Think: The Graboids learn at a pretty alarming rate. Shriekers and Ass-Blasters likewise.
  • It Only Works Once: The Graboids have a tendency to find ways to work around the humans' counter-attacks before very long. In the second movie, one of the more successful methods of destroying the Graboids (tricking them into eating explosives) is used, but is adjusted a bit to prevent the Graboids from having a chance to spit the bombs back out (as had happened in the first film).
  • Lampshade Hanging: When everyone keeps asking Rhonda about the Graboids when her guess is as good as theirs.
    *Graboids start poking around the foundation of the buildings*
    Val: Hey Rhonda, what do you think they're doing now?
    Rhonda: ...Why do you keep asking me?
  • The Load: Melvin. Earl also describes all of Val's previous girlfriends as being this.
  • Lowered Monster Difficulty: Subverted, since the Graboids display the ability to learn from experience and innovate.
    "These things are damn smart! They're getting smarter by the minute!"
    "That's fine, we've got some new things to teach them!"
  • Namedar: How the Graboids are named.
  • Nested Mouths: The Graboids have three tongues, each with its own mouth.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Burt was angry at Val and Earl for getting them stuck on a huge boulder while on their way to the mountains. A Graboid set a trap while the survivors were riding on a heavy truck.
    Burt: So you two screw-ups got us stranded out here for nothing?!
    Val: Just back off, man!
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now:
    • Val and Earl each say this while heading for Bixby.
    • And then again when the survivors finally are able to move out of Perfection... but the Graboids are one step ahead of them.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Perfection, until the Graboids arrive.
  • Oh Crap!: For a creature without a face, the last Graboid conveyed this trope remarkably well when it burst out of the cliffside and found that it wasn't at the right stage of its life cycle to fly.
  • One Buwwet Weft: One pipe-bomb left. Also, the "Grizzly" anti-tank rifle only carries one bullet.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Defied. Rhonda's a seismologist grad-student and not a zoologist, and while she does come up with a couple of plausible theories about specifics of Graboid behavior, she's ultimately just as ignorant about them as everyone else:
    Valentine: What do you think it's trying to do?
    Rhonda: Why do you keep asking me?
  • Parental Abandonment: While many viewers of the original film assumed that Melvin was Nestor's son, and had actually witnessed his own father's death, supplemental material reveals that his parents lived in Perfection, but were unsurprisingly in the habit of running off to Vegas and leaving him behind.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: Rather, part of a corpse. (Poor Ol' Fred...)
  • Percussive Prevention: Valentine to Earl over who gets to run to the bulldozer.
  • Premortem One Liner: "Can you fly, sucker? Can you fly?!" Which rather becomes a Brick Joke in the third film. No, it can't, but its ass-blaster parents and children could.
  • Properly Paranoid: Though not a straight example, having an underground shelter with a Wall of Weapons and ammo, supplies and power generator in case of World War III served Burt well when his town got attacked by large subterranean carnivorous reptiles.
    Earl: Guess we don't get to make fun of Burt's lifestyle anymore.
  • Roof Hopping: Well, Rock Hopping actually; averted in town, where the rooftops in Perfection are too far apart for the trapped residents to do this.
  • Running Gag: The lighter never being in the hands of the person who needs it.
  • Shipper on Deck: Earl plays this role for Val and Rhonda.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The Graboids. They don't give up, and anything which drives them away does so only temporarily. Meanwhile they can soak up a huge amount of punishment before succumbing.
  • Taking You with Me: Burt considers blowing himself up along with the graboids as an alternative to starvation, before Val and Earl's idea of "going fishing" averts his need to do so.
  • Tap on the Head: Valentine uses the "sharp shot to the solar plexus" version on Earl.
  • Tempting Fate: "Now there's nothing, and I mean nothing, between us and Bixby!"
  • Trapped With Monster Plot: With the twist that the characters aren't physically trapped; instead, attempting to flee overland attracts the monsters, so that they are forced to deal with them.
  • We Need a Distraction:
    • Several times the characters have to come up with ways of distracting the noise-sensitive Graboids away from their immediate target; the most basic is simply stomping on the ground.
    "Hey, Melvin! Wanna make a buck?"
    • It doesn't work with the last Graboid, Stumpy. As Val realizes, "This one's not falling for it."
  • You Must Be Cold: Earl uses this trope to play matchmaker for Valentine and Rhonda, by borrowing Val's jacket and covering Rhonda with it while she's asleep.