Film / Tremors

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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 eventually spawned a franchise with four sequel movies, a prequel movie, and a short-lived TV series:


Tropes used in this film include:

  • Ambiguous Syntax: With Rock-Paper-Scissors, of all things, during the climax - Earl claims that since he won, he should be the one to distract the Graboid while the others flee, while Val argues that since he lost, he should act as the distraction.
  • 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. Had he been holding the gun below his shoulder like that, he would have likely broken his wrist or at least had the gun launch out of his hands.
  • Battle Couple: Its pretty obvious what first attracted Heather to Burt; the two of them are the first ones to actually fight a Graboid and win, doing so as a team.
  • Bond One-Liner: After blasting the second Graboid to shreds in the basement, Burt celebrates the achievement with one.
    Burt: Broke into the wrong Goddamned rec room, didn't you, you bastard!!!
  • 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."
  • 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.
    • Mindy's squeaky pogo stick and the bad bearing on Walter's fridge, both of which wind up attracting Graboids.
  • 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. As Burt points out, this is the whole reason he and Heather decided to live there, "geographic isolation", as he calls it.
  • 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.
  • Daylight Horror: By and large, the monster attacks occur during the daytime.
  • Death by Transceiver: Subverted. The other survivors are talking with Burt and Heather Gummer over a CB radio when a Graboid breaks into the Gummers' basement and attacks them. Burt yells "Jesus Christ!" into the radio and the other survivors look at each other sadly, believing that they're as good as dead. Then they hear gunfire coming from the Gummers' house, and we see them blow the Graboid away with high power firearms.
  • 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."
    • Earlier in the film, farmer Fred notices his sheep acting skittish, but thinks nothing of it. That's his mistake.
  • Feed It a Bomb: This works the first time they try it, but not the second, when Stumpy spits the bomb back at them. After this, Burt switches 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.
  • Gilligan Cut: Two of 'em:
    • In an early scene, Val and Earl are bulldozing trash, Val using an old toilet to keep beer in. Val complains how "low" their job is, and Earl says they have to set their sights higher. The next scene, they're working on Melvin's septic tank. When the hose ruptures, they finally decide to leave town for good.)
    • Two scenes later, Nancy offers Val and Earl pay and free beer if they deliver something for her, just as they're leaving Perfection. They (much to their own surprise) reject her offer.
  • 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!
    (snip)
    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, sometimes edging towards Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • 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 and Heather are 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. Worth noting that Burt and Heather were also directing a good chunk of their firepower into the monster's mouth, its likely most vulnerable spot.
  • 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!"
  • More Dakka: Burt and Heather put the second Graboid down by unloading just about every gun they own at it. It's a lot of guns.
  • 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!
  • Nobody Poops:
    • Burt Lampshades the evident absence of any "spoor" when he and Heather return from their search for the creatures (which presumably do poop, but not at the surface).
    • Averted two other times. First with Val, who was evidently peeing over the edge of the cliff just before the opening shot. Second, Earl says he has "some business to take care of" when he, Val, and Rhonda are trapped on the rock at night, and they respond that so do they.
  • 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.
  • Primal Fear: The Graboids themselves embody the fear of being eaten alive (swallowed whole) and enclosed spaces (being buried underground).
  • 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.
  • Rescue Romance: Val saving Rhonda from being eaten alive certainly didn't hurt their budding relationship any.
  • Rock-Paper-Scissors: Val and Earl argue a lot, using this method to resolve most everything, such as who makes breakfast. At the climax, they use it to decide who will make a dangerous heroic dash to save everyone. (Later becomes a Brick Joke in the second film.)
  • 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.
  • The Spook: No one knows what the graboids are or where they came from; they make a few theories (aliens, genetic engineered bioweapon, nuclear mutants, prehistoric organisms), but none are confirmed in the first film. Only in later material is it revealed they're Paleozoic invertebrates related to cuttlefish.
  • 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!"
    • At one point the town residents say that eventually someone will notice the road's blocked and the phone lines are down and come check up on them. It then cuts to show someone did show up to check up on them... but was eaten by the Graboids.
  • 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.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Tremors?from=Main.Tremors