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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. 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, respectively), to save the town.

It was directed by Ron Underwood and eventually spawned a franchise with six 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 — 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.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Thrice.
    • One where the citizens of Perfection cheer as Burt and Heather slaughter the Graboid that invades their basement.
    • The next was after feeding a Graboid with a bomb, the survivors cheer at its death, even though its blood splattered all over.
    • The final time is when Val tricks the last Graboid, the aptly named Stumpy, into plowing out through the side of a cliff, sending it plunging to its death.
  • Answer Cut: Early on, the townspeople of Perfection argue their best option is to stay put because someone outside the valley is bound to notice the road is out and the phone lines are down and come check on them. It then cuts to show someone did try to check on them... emphasis on try.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: The graboids are relentless eating machines, but they are smart enough to recognize one another and work together as a pack if they need to. This includes coordinating to dig a giant pit trap to sink the bulldozer the protagonists are riding on.
  • Arch-Enemy: Downplayed given that the graboid in question is still an animal and incapable of hate (no matter how smart it might be), but Val clearly regards "Stumpy" as such given its persistent attempts to kill him and his friends.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: The Graboid, a big, bulky animal with thick hide can take a lot of punishment to finally put down if you don't know where to aim for an instant kill or have the right weapon, such as the elephant gun Burt uses to finish it off.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Shortly after Val and Earl encounter the dead construction workers Earl loads a revolver in the passenger seat of the truck and spends several seconds holding it pointed dangerously close to Val in the driver's seat. Odd for the franchise that gave us everyone's favorite gun-safety aficionado Burt Gummer, but possibly justified in that Earl likely has far less experience with firearms than Burt and both Val and Earl have just been thoroughly spooked.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...:
    • In reference to the first 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!
    • Burt explains that he's using cannon fuse for the pipe bombs.
      Earl: What do you use that for?
      Burt: For my cannon.note 
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Val, right after he and Earl accidentally fool the first Graboid encountered into slamming its head into a concrete wall, killing itself.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: In this case a giant worm.
  • Battle Couple: It's 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.
  • Battle of Wits: What the conflict between the humans and the Graboids ultimately comes down to. Much of the conflict comes from one side trying to out think and outmaneuver the other, coming up with strategies to address the latest wrinkle the other side has thrown their way.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Amusingly subverted: our first view of Rhonda is with a glob of unflattering sunscreen covering her nose. Later she frankly admits that she needs to "take care of some business" along with the two men, and at another point gets her legs torn up in some barbed wire, costing her a pair of pants in order to escape.
  • BFG: The "Elephant Gun". It is 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.
  • 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 film starts with Valentine waking up Earl near the edge of a cliff by pretending that there's a stampede. The movie ends with Valentine using a bomb to stampede the last graboid over said cliff to its death.
    • The first and last graboids both die after ramming themselves through a concrete canal wall and cliff face respectively, although the first dies on impact with concrete, while the last dies upon crashing on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
  • Bottomless Magazines: As with most gun tropes in the Tremors franchise, this is averted. During Burt and Heather's gun battle with the Graboid, Heather calls for an extra magazine when she needs to reload (which Burt tosses to her), and both take to grabbing a new gun from their Wall of Weapons when their current one runs out of ammo.
  • Bowdlerize: The film was initially filmed with an R rating in mind, but it was decided to dial back the language to make it more commercial-friendly, so more than 20 uses of the word "fuck" were cut out or dubbed over ("motherhumpers"). The screenwriters were pleased with this in the end, in that it allowed the movie to usher in younger fans.
  • 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 third movie, of course, they finally can fly.
    • In the opening, Val approaches Earl, who is snoozing in the bed of his truck, and wakes him by faking a stampede. Earl, who once got caught in a stampede and survived, is less than amused. 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.
  • Captain Obvious: When Earl asks Burt what he uses the cannon fuse for, Burt matter-of-factly replies that he uses it for his cannon.
  • Cat Scare: "Damn prairie dog burrow!"
  • Character Catchphrase:
    • "Pardon my French."
    • Also "We need a plan," and "I've got a plan."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several of them:
    • 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.
    • Walter's tractor seen earlier in the minute before the Graboids attack Perfection. It is later used as a distraction for Val to rush towards the bulldozer.
    • At the same time, the bulldozer Earl was driving, along with the semitrailer, would be later controlled by Val to evacuate the surviving residents.
    • The refrigerator in Walter Chang's shop that occasionally squeals due to a bad bearing. It happens again later on, when everybody is trying to be silent to remain undetected by the Graboids. It doesn't end well.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A minor one. Earl mentions having been caught in a stampede during the opening scene, suggesting that he has worked with cattle at some point in the past. At the end of the movie, his lasso skills - presumably picked up during that time - come in handy when he goes "fishing" with pipe bombs.
  • Clingy Sleepers: Valentine and Rhonda are trapped together on a rock by a Graboid and have to spend the night there. When Valentine wakes up in the morning they're nestled together. He quickly scrambles away and when she wakes up she doesn't realize that they were together.
  • 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 real 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 aforementioned lines 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.
    • Burt also mentions having five years worth of food stockpiled, along with air filtration and water filtration, at his and Heather's place. In an early scene, Val jokes that Burt will have a stress-induced heart attack before he gets to survive World War III.
  • Crying Wolf: Melvin Plug repeatedly plays pranks on Earl and Valentine, including wrapping a severed Graboid tentacle around his head and pretending it's attacking him. Finally he starts yelling and Earl, thinking he's still joking, says he's going to kick Melvin's ass. When they go outside, they see Melvin cowering on top of a metal pole — making them realize that this time he isn't kidding — the Graboids are here. You'd likely expect a jerk like Melvin to be counted among the victims in a film like this, but ironically, he survives.
  • Cute Bookworm: The Love Interest, Rhonda, is an attractive seismology grad-student.
  • 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 (eventually) blow the Graboid away with high power firearms.
  • 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.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The toppling of shelves at Chang's store, which tosses Rhonda out the window.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: The final Graboid suffers this after Val lures it into tunneling out a cliffside.
  • Diving Save: Valentine does this to save Mindy from a Graboid.
  • Driven to Suicide: Earl originally believes Edgar did this, unable to believe anyone could chase a man carrying a Winchester rifle up a tower and then "camp out down below to wait for him to die." He quickly changes his tune once he actually sees a Graboid in person.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: When Melvin decides to make a joke with the Graboid's tongue by pretending the thing is still alive and attacking him, everybody else at the store jumps in fright and Burt points out to Melvin that he almost shot him.
    Burt (very angrily): You came that close. Too close. No more games.
    • Earl reacts this way to Val waking him up by pretending there's a cattle stampede.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Val and Earl attempt multiple times early in the movie to leave town for greener pastures, but are stopped when they see situations they are compelled to get involved in and help; seeing Edgar stuck atop a tower, and discovering that he was dead, they brought him back to town for the doctor to look him over. Later, they find that a local farm had been ransacked by a "Murderer" and head back to town to warn everyone and call the police.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Those who’ve heard of the series thanks to the overwhelming discussion and love for Burt Gummer might be shocked to see that he’s actually one of the many supporting characters of the film, and that the main protagonists are a pair of handymen wanting to leave Perfection. It’s also the only film in which he’s happily married.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The main characters are desperately trying to figure out a way to escape from the Graboids, which perform a Dig Attack. Valentine says "We need a helicopter. Or a goddamn tank!" Earl realizes that they can use a bulldozer to pull an open semi-trailer and carry everyone to safety.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog:
    • Farmer Fred notices his sheep acting skittish, but thinks nothing of it. That's his mistake. A minute later he's Eaten Alive by a graboid.
    • 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. He's right: a graboid is about to attack.
      Earl: "Wait a minute, wait a minute. They got wind of something they don't like."
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After one graboid got killed.
    Rhonda: This thing had sensors tripping all over the place. No— (her eyes widened and checked the stats) Hey! The way I figured it, there's three more of these things!
    Val: What?
    Earl: Three more?!
  • Fan Disservice: At one point, Rhonda has to strip out of her pants after her legs are caught in barbed wire, but it's not played for sex appeal since she just narrowly escaped being eaten by a Graboid, and later she needs first aid because of the barbed wire cuts.
  • Fast Tunnelling: The graboids themselves.
  • Feed It a Bomb: This works the first time they try it, but not with the last Graboid survivor Stumpy, who spits the bomb back at them (which unfortunately lands on the other unlit bombs).
  • Flare Gun: A flare gun is one of the many weapons used by Burt and Heather Gummer on the Graboid that smashes into their underground "rec room."
  • Flower Mouth: The graboids and their subsequent forms have large beaks and side mandibles that make their open mouths resemble disgusting flowers.
  • 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 are away in Vegas at the time, vacationing without him, something they apparently did quite often which probably explains why Melvin's such an asshole.
    • Melvin's reaction to Nestor's death can give some viewers the impression that the two are related and that he is the child of Nestor and Nancy, but it's more likely a response to seeing a death up close for the first time.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Val and Earl first meet Rhonda, she asks them if they know of anyone doing any mining or blasting in the valley, mentioning that the college seismographs have been getting strange high readings recently and worries if they're malfunctioning. This highlights the Graboids' method of traveling underground, as well as hinting at how big they really are to be able to make such big signals.
    • There are many to the actual size of the Graboids and the worm-like creatures seen first are just their tongues.
      • Burt notes that the Graboid tentacle that stalled out Val and Earl's truck would have to be "one strong son of a bitch" to manage that. The relative size of the tentacle in comparison to just a person would likely strain disbelief that it could manage that on its own, but the actual creature dwarfs said truck.
      • The sheer speed at which the tentacles are able to grab and drag a full-sized person down into the earth and later still an entire station-wagon hints at some incredible strength that seems out of place for just the tentacles alone.
      • When one of the construction workers ends up spearing a Graboid through the pavement with his jackhammer, the Graboid is able to speed away while tearing the still-impaled jackhammer through pavement and dirt like nothing. There's no way just one tentacle could muster the strength and speed to do that, especially since the jackhammer spike would have pierced clean through most of its body.
    • Early in the movie, Val and Earl discover Edgar, the town drunk, clinging to the top of a power pylon. Assuming him to simply be plastered, they climb up to get him; only to discover that he has died from dehydration after sitting up there for three days, confusing them both. It's later revealed that if one of the Graboids has you trapped somewhere, they'll wait for days until they assume you are dead.
      Val: "That's why Edgar never got down off of that damn tower."
    • Early in the movie, Earl falls out of the back of the truck and hits the ground headfirst, still wrapped in his brown sleeping bag, which makes him look an awful lot like a Graboid. This bears a heavy resemblance to the way Stumpy crashes through the cliff and falls to its death.
    • Two-fold in a scene with Nestor noting that if a Graboid comes after him, he'll just hit it with a five-pound pickaxe. Val retorts that he'd never see it coming in the first place since they're underground. Later on, Val saves Rhonda from a Graboid by slamming a five-pound pickaxe into it while it's distracted trying to grab her, and later still Nestor gets eaten, sure enough, by a Graboid he didn't see coming.
  • Food as Bribe: In an early scene, Val and Earl decide to leave Perfection for good, but are stopped by Nancy, who offers them work with free lunches and beer. In the next scene, they're on their way out of town, hardly able to believe they turned the offer down.
  • Genre Throwback: 1950s monster movies. More so here than in the sequels.
  • Gilligan Cut: Three 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 free beer and lunches (on top of their wages) if they stick around for a month's worth of work, just as they're leaving Perfection. They (much to their own surprise) reject her offer.
    • Rather more grimly, later in the film, after the true nature of the creatures is revealed, Nancy and Nestor posit that with the roads out and phone lines down, someone's bound to check in on them. Cut to the devoured remains of those who did try to check in...
  • Giving Them the Strip: Rhonda loses her pants because her legs were tangled badly in barbed wire with a Graboid closing in on her. Walter gives her a replacement pair from his inventory shortly afterward.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: With a pipe bomb.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Averted, played with and then reinforced. Burt and Heather do manage to take down a Graboid using their massive arsenal, but it takes a *lot* of sustained firepower to even take down a single Graboid. Even then, the Graboid shrugs off a *lot* of high powered rounds. Afterwards, the remaining Graboids learn from their fallen brethren and make sure they don't engage the humans in any way that would make them susceptible to gunfire, causing the remaining humans to rely on explosive ordinance to deal with the final two.
  • Gun Nut: Burt and Heather, naturally, with the twist that they're very careful and responsible about firearms. See I Just Shot Marvin in the Face below for a good example.
  • Gun Porn: The Gummer residence is the NRA member equivalent of the Playboy Mansion.
  • 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, 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, "Jesus Christ!" 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.
    • The movie starts with Val and Earl finally getting sick of being stuck in Perfection working dead-end jobs and decide to leave. Nancy comes up to them just as they're packing up and offers them free food and beer on top of paying them for a new job. They just barely reject the offer, but they don't make it far before encountering a dead body mysteriously hanging on a transmission tower, and it only goes From Bad to Worse from there...
    • After Jim the doctor is pulled underground by a graboid, his wife Megan frantically runs into their car to hide. She seems safe, but after a moment's pause the graboid simply pulls the entire station wagon into the ground.
  • Horror Comedy: Leans more heavily towards horror, although the sequels generally started striking a balance.
  • 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. 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. Also, a minor one, but Burt fails to put the elephant gun against his shoulder when firing it. An 8-gauge shotgun firing live rounds would likely break your wrists or fly wildly out of your hands when fired like that.
  • 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, which is likely its most vulnerable spot. Graboids are very difficult to kill with firearms, both due to their sheer size and the fact they spend most of their time under layers of dirt, "Best damn bullet-stopper there is" according to Burt.
  • 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 Burt constructs from "a few household chemicals in the proper proportions."
  • Indy Ploy: Val playing Chicken with the final Graboid is this, ducking out of the way so it crashes out of the cliff and falls to its death.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Earl has to be at least a decade older than Val, but the two are thick as thieves from beginning to end.
  • Ironic Death: Walter Chang, the man who thought of the Graboids' name, ends up as their next victim.
  • 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. Not only are they intelligent, but they're incredibly patient, too. When Val and Earl find that the town drunk Edgar died of dehydration after being stuck on a tower for three days, Earl skeptically asks "What'd they do, just camp out below him and just wait for him to die?" As it turns out, that is exactly what the Graboids did. At the climax of the movie, Val also acknowledges that Stumpy, at least, is "not dumb".
  • It Only Works Once: The Graboids have a tendency to find ways to work around the humans' counter-attacks before very long.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Subverted. Burt only manages to say "Jesus Chri-" on the radio before it cuts out, and the others think the Graboids got him and Heather... for a few seconds, after which they hear numerous gunshots coming from their compound.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When everyone keeps asking Rhonda about the Graboids when her guess is as good as theirs. It's also poking fun at the cliche of the 50's monster movie scientist who knows everything from multiple disciplines relating to the creature. Rhonda, who's a graduate student in seismology, knows nothing of biology or cryptozoology.
    *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?
  • Living Motion Detector: The Graboids can hear even the slightest noise. This is what prevents the characters from just leaving the valley; the graboids are fast, persistent, and can hear for miles; any attempt to flee on foot would be certain death.
  • The Load: Melvin and Mindy, though to be fair, they're still just kids, and at least Mindy isn't obnoxious about it like Melvin. Earl also describes all of Val's previous girlfriends as being "dead weight".
  • Logical Weakness: The graboids are totally blind and hunt using an extremely acute sense of hearing and vibrational sense, allowing them to sense the movement of prey from miles away. This also makes any loud noises, like explosions, extremely painful for them.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": All the survivors when "Stumpy" figures out their fishing plan and vomits their bomb back at them.
  • Monster Threat Expiration: 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.
  • Mugging the Monster: What happens when a Graboid attempts to attack a pair of heavily-armed survivalists.
    Burt: Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn't you, you bastard?
  • Namedar: How the Graboids are named. Walter decides he likes the "-oid" suffix, and considers "snakeoids" before settling on "Graboids".
  • 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. No one has any back-up plans. Burt believes they could have stood their ground back in town since they had food, water and supplies. Subverted, in that Earl points out (and the movie shows) that this siege mentality is hopeless against graboids, due to their ability to wait out their isolated victims, and the inability of even Burt and Heather's strongest weapons to hurt them while they're underground.
    Burt: Wait. Wait! For Christ's sake, we could have made a stand at our place. We had food, water...
    Earl: You can't fight 'em like that.
    Burt: So you two screw-ups hauled us way the hell out here?!
    Val: Why don't you just back off, string-bean! You know, we could have left your sorry ass on the roof!
    Burt: I wish you had, fearless leader! Who the hell put you two in charge?!
    Val: DON'T PUSH ME!! DON'T YOU GODDAMN PUSH ME!!! (To Earl) If those Graboids don't kill him, I will.
  • 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.
    • And, of course, Val and Earl get sprayed with the contents of a septic tank when the valve breaks early in the movie.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Rhonda displays a good working knowledge of biology, but she is expressly a seismologist, not a biologist. She is genuinely surprised every time the others turn to her for answers, and finally starts to get frustrated.
    Val: What are they up to now?
    Rhonda: Why do you keep asking me?
  • 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Similar to Jaws, we don't actually see the Graboids themselves too often, instead using POV shots or visual signs of their movement, such as Wormsign, to convey their presence.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    Walter: What's the name you call those things? Where do they come from?
    Rhonda: I don't know!
    Walter: You're a scientist, aren't you?!
    Melvin: Yeah, aren't you supposed to have a theory or something?
  • One Buwwet Weft: One pipe-bomb left that Val used against Stumpy.
  • Only Shop in Town: Perfection is served only by Chang's General Store.
  • One-Word Title
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: It's frequently obvious that Finn Carter is actively suppressing her Mississippi drawl.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Gummers are prepared for tyrannical governments, nuclear war and everything in between. The graboid problem, on the other hand, taxes even their capabilities (and firepower).
    Burt: Food for five years. Air filtration, water filtration, fallout shelter, Geiger counter. . . (beat) Underground Goddamn monsters.
  • Parental Abandonment: While many viewers 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.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Val and Earl start to realize something's wrong after discovering the dead body of one of the townsfolk mysteriously hanging from a transmission tower. They were planning on permanently leaving town until this, but realize they have to warn the town
  • Pit Trap: The Graboids set one up to disable the bulldozer, much to Val’s surprise.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Val and Earl manage to get the first Graboid killed by ramming into hard cement, Val drops the sole "F Bomb" in the movie, joyfully screaming "fuck you!" at it.
    • (Another — Val's "two more — repeat — two more motherhumpers" — was rather obviously dubbed over.)
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Can you fly, you 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.
    • Lampshaded by Burt as they drive away:
      Burt: Food for five years. Air filtration, water filtration, fallout shelter, Geiger counter... (beat) Underground goddamn monsters.
    • At one point, Earl and Val warn two construction workers that something is killing people. The one with the jackhammer thinks they're just "pulling [their] chains", while the other grabs a crowbar just to be on the safe side. A lot of good it did for either of them.
  • Rasputinian Death: The Graboid that bursts into Burt and Heather's basement takes getting shot for several minutes straight with a wide variety of guns to finally die. Justified, as huge, bulky animals tend to take a lot of punishment to put down if you don't have the right weapon, like the elephant gun Burt uses to finish it.
  • Rescue Romance: Val saving Rhonda from being eaten alive certainly didn't hurt their budding relationship any.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons:
    • Burt's lifestyle and home were prepped under the belief there was going to be a catastrophe at some point he'd need to be prepared for. He was right, though it turns out it wasn't World War III like he'd thought, but "underground goddamn monsters".
    • When the town is looking over the Graboid tentacle that was on Val and Earl's truck, Burt notes there's no way just one of these things could have eaten Fred and his flock of sheep and guesses there must be more of them out there. He was right about there being more than one Graboid, but they greatly underestimate just how big they really are by assuming that tentacle is the whole creature.
  • Rock–Paper–Scissors: Val and Earl argue a lot, using this method to resolve most everything, such as who makes breakfast. Notably, Val never wins; the one time he does, which was for Edgar's rifle, Heather just lends Earl her far better one. At the climax, they use it to decide who will make a dangerous heroic dash to save everyone.
  • 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. It wouldn't matter anyway, since the graboids start to inspect the foundations looking for weak spots.
  • Running Gag:
    • "Pardon my French", used by a speaker after cussing. Used by Earl to Rhonda the first two times, then by Rhonda back to Earl the third time.
    • The lighter never being in the hands of the person who needs it.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Several, the shop-owner Walter, the farmer Old Fred, the doctor Jim and his wife, the two construction workers, and Nestor are all minor characters killed by the graboids to establish that everyone's going to be eaten if they don't find some way to escape or kill the graboids.
  • Shipper on Deck: Earl plays this role for Val and Rhonda.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Val calls Burt Rambo.
    • When Chang is partially swallowed by the Graboid, it swerves back and forth before drawing back under the ground. It's almost identical to the scene near the end of Jaws where Quint slides into the mouth of the giant shark and it swings back and forth with him in its mouth before sliding back into the water.
  • Sinister Southwest: Monsters and mayhem in the Nevada desert.
  • 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. Some viewers found this disappointing, preferring the mystery in the first film.
  • Stealth Insult: While Earl and Val argue over who should run to the bulldozer.
    Earl: Damn it, Val! I'm older and I'm wiser.
    Val: Yeah? Well, you're half right.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Zig-Zagged. Neither of the Gummers seems to suffer any hearing loss while firing hundreds of rounds into a Graboid while underground in a cramped rec room, but Heather noticeably drops the guns she's holding to cover her ears when Burt brings out the elephant gun.
  • 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. Most notably, if they pursue prey to a place they cannot access or easily undermine (such as up an electrical tower or on top of a large rock), a Graboid won't just leave... it'll wait and listen for the prey to come within striking distance again. Apparently, their senses are keen enough to detect such isolated prey so long as they're alive, and the Graboid won't leave until the prey is dead.
    • It's occasionally subverted in the movie itself in the case where another thing is putting off more vibrations nearby. The graboids generally decide to abandon their current quarry for an easier meal, such as when the townspeople send an ATV out to distract the graboids from the buildings. It doesn't work with the last graboid though, because it's learned when it's been tricked and only pretends to be fooled.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Rhonda gets this look several times, especially when she tells the townspeople that the Graboids are "unprecedented" after quite a few mentions earlier that there is no record of them, yet they still press her to explain where they come from.
    • She gets further exasperated when even the somewhat smarter Val and Earl continually ask her to explain why the Graboids are doing what they are doing.
      "Why do keep asking me?"
  • Taking You with Me: Burt considers blowing himself up along with the graboids as an alternative to starvation. This gives Earl the idea of "going fishing", averting the need for a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Tap on the Head: Valentine uses the "sharp shot to the solar plexus" version on Earl.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Earl and Valentine have resisted temptation (free beer) and left Perfection, Nevada for a new life. As they're driving along Valentine says, "Now there's nothing, and I mean nothing, between us and Bixby!" Seconds later, they see Edgar Deems high up on a power pylon. They stop to help him, and later events force them into a battle to the death against the Graboids.
    • 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.
    • While riding the bulldozer to the mountains, Val and Earl see dust clouds in the distance ahead of them, prompting Earl to wonder what the Graboids are up to now.
      Val: Who cares, as long as they’re doing it way over there!
      [the bulldozer runs across a hollowed out worm tunnel and gets stuck]
      Val: [incredulous] They dug a trap!
  • Tongue Trauma: One of Stumpy's grasping-tongues gets torn off after it latches onto the axle of Val and Earl's pickup (which is what prompts the nickname). When it's found, Burt speculates that it's a mutant snake, and Walter buys it off the guys for $15. Later, Heather blows apart another gripping-tongue with repeated shotgun blasts when the Graboid that breaks into the Gummers' cellar drags Burt off his feet. It briefly stops attacking them to jerk its head up and smash through their basement ceiling with a loud scream.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Melvin. When the other residents are on edge from the discovery of one of the Graboid's tongues, this punk decides to wrap said tongue around his neck and run out of the store screaming. Need you be reminded that one of those residents is Burt Gummer? Burt ends Melvin's kick by making it clear how close he came to getting shot. Even later, when everyone else is up on the roof, Melvin decides that he doesn't want to join in until one Graboid rocks his shack. He survives.
    • Nestor, who decides to hide on a large tire after falling off his trailer. He gets eaten. Though to be fair to Nestor, it wasn't like he had a lot of better options anywhere he could get to in a hurry.
  • 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.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Val and Early are always shooting shit at one another, but they're still best friends.
  • Wall of Weapons: The Gummer residence has one in their rec room, much to the detriment of the Graboid that breaks in.
  • We Just Need to Wait for Rescue:
    • It's suggested that the town could simply wait for rescue, since someone is bound to notice that the lines are down and the road is out. Cut to said damaged road and phone lines where a phone company car is, and its occupant was clearly eaten by the Graboids.
    • Later still, they completely abandon any form of waiting once they see the Graboids are getting smart enough to inspect and attack the foundations of their high ground. As Val notes to Heather on the radio, they'd all be dead by the time anyone shows up, so the best thing to do is grab everyone still alive and make a break for it.
  • 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?"
    • As Val stops to prevent himself from becoming noticed and eaten by the Graboids, the surviving residents throw out yells to give him time. It unfortunately does not work because they cannot hear, so Rhonda kicks the water pipe to attract the worms.
    • It doesn't work with the last Graboid, Stumpy, however. As Val realizes, "This one's not falling for it."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Earl's borrowed horse is last seen sprawled on the ground, injured, and Val's runs off when the first Graboid to be seen in full attacks its companion.
  • Wormsign: The Graboids give these as they tunnel.
    • When Valentine and Earl are fleeing a graboid in the desert, a line of posts fall down as the graboid passes under them.
    • As the protagonists are fleeing inside the store, a line of planks start flying into the air as a graboid goes beneath them.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


You know the rules, Zoran

Just because you're in charge of the Kill Count doesn't mean you can't abide by the rules James set out for you.

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