There isn’t a more perfect monster movie than 1990’s TREMORS. In the small, geographically isolated town of Perfection Valley, just outside of the Sierra Nevada mountains, people and animals start turning up dead – not just dead, but torn to pieces. While trying to change their unfulfilled lives by leaving town, best buds and all-around handymen, Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), stumble upon a couple of murdered road workers just outside of Perfection and head back to warn their friends. Soon they, along with spunky seismology student, Rhonda (Finn Carter), discover that the recent string of deaths were caused by giant, worm-like creatures that travel underground. The trio try to seek help, only to realize the monsters have trapped them in Perfection.
Having to fend for themselves, Val, Earl, Rhonda, and a handful of residents arm themselves with guns, thanks to local married couple and hardcore survivalists, Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather (Reba McEntire). Rhonda eventually figures out the creatures can only move through the loose valley soil, attracted to their prey by vibrations and sound. As the animals – dubbed “graboids” – slowly tear the town to shreds, Earl gets the idea of using a nearby bulldozer to carry everyone safely to the mountains. But when the graboids wise up, it puts a damper on the humans’ plans just as they’re about to reach safety.
What sets Tremors apart from the glut of similarly-themed Weird Monster Movies is its pitch perfect script by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and director Ron Underwood. Seamlessly blending comedy and suspense, the film is impeccably designed to work on all levels, and in doing so creates a truly original and infectiously fun movie. The awesome cast undeniably heightens the story, as the actors make the characters their own, including Bacon, Ward, Carter, and especially Gross who steals all his scenes as the know-it-all but lovable Burt. Everyone works well together and has great chemistry, making many of the scenes more intense – these are characters you don’t want to get eaten! As with the best of genre movies, you want to be a part of this world, even if that means being chased by mutant, underground worms.
But what really makes Tremors stand head-and-shoulders above the rest is its endless energy; from beginning to end the film doesn’t have a dull or needless moment. Everything about it works, including the authentic excitement the viewer feels when the monsters break out from underground and set their bloodthirsty tentacles on unsuspecting would-be victims. Underwood keeps the monster attacks tight and thrilling with lightening-quick pacing and unpredictable moments.
A quartet of college friends seeking last minute fun on their sun-filled vacation get more than they bargained for in the 2008 survival shocker, THE RUINS. On their final days at a Mexican resort, two couples, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone), and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), are invited by friendly German tourist, Mathias (Joe Anderson), to check out uncharted Mayan ruins. While Amy wants to be lazy in the hotel before their flight home the next day, pre-med student, Jeff, wants to soak in some local culture, so the four join Mathias on his adventure.
After trekking through thick jungle, the group arrives at a pyramid-like structure covered in weird, green vines. Thinking they’ve hit pay dirt, the friends are shocked when they’re surrounded by hostile locals who threaten them with violence, refusing to let them leave the ruins. Jeff and company are forced to the top of the pyramid while the locals keep guard at the bottom. It’s at the top of the mysterious structure that they find several desiccated bodies wrapped in the green vines, as well as an entryway inside the building. Very quickly, the desperate gang discovers the plants covering the structure are alive and thirsty for blood.
A rather silly premise works well here, thanks to tight direction from Carter Smith, and a suspenseful screenplay adapted by Scott Smith from his own novel. The characters seem real and their plight is handled well by the cast, including Tucker and Malone, both of whom are sympathetic and tough. Credit should be given to Smith for not shying away from the red stuff and delivering some truly cringeworthy moments of self-mutilation.
If you like boats, underwater monsters, and gore, then you’ll love 1998’s DEEP RISING. Sort of a hybrid of Die Hard and Aliens, the movie introduces us to a boatload of mercenaries being taken by hired driver, Finnegan (Treat Williams), to some remote islands in the South China Sea. Finnegan’s nosy mechanic, Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor), stumbles upon the mercenaries’ secret missiles in storage, and before you can say MacGuffin, Finnegan’s boat hits another vessel and stalls out. When they come across a luxury cruise ship just floating in the water, Finnegan and gang think they’ve lucked out, only to find the massive vessel devoid of power and completely empty of humans.
While searching the ship, they come across a handful of people, including the ship’s captain, Canton (Anthony Heald), and resourceful pickpocket, Trillian (Famke Janssen). Finnegan eventually discovers Canton is in cahoots with the mercenaries to destroy the ship as part of an insurance scam, but they’re too late as a vicious horde of tentacled sea monsters invade the boat.
Written and directed by Stephen Sommors (1999’s The Mummy), Deep Rising fires on almost all cylinders and delivers a slam-bang monster ride of a movie. While the action aspect is obviously not as enticing as the horror parts – many of the mercenaries are just cardboard cut-outs from other movies – the film does a good job at blending the two genres into a cohesive whole. While many of the CGI effects are dated, the movie does successfully merge both CG and practical FX in several scenes, including the gruesome death of one of the mercenaries, who’s vomited back up by one of the monsters, his face half-eaten away by the creature’s digestive acid.
The cast is good, especially Williams, Janssen, and O’Connor, who would go on to be Sommor’s right hand man and appear in many of the director’s films, including The Mummy, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Deep Rising may not be the most original movie ever, but it’s fast, funny, and fun. | Tremors: A+ Deep Rising: B+ The Ruins: B