Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tremors and the Subtle Art of the Horror Comedy

...or How a Movie About Giant Slugs Erupting form the Ground and Eating People Can Ever Be Considered Subtle

Tremors is a silly silly film. No one is going to argue that the premise is silly, the dialogue is silly, and the acting is even sillier. You can practically see the tongue in Kevin Bacon’s cheek throughout the course of the movie. In fact, Tremors is knowingly terrible. So why is this one of my favorite movies of all time if it’s so bad? Simple. It’s a benchmark in one of the most difficult film genres to pull off in existence, the horror comedy.

This oft underappreciated and under-grossing style is pretty rare given the number of both horror and comedy films that are released into theatres into every year. The ones that do get released often underperform and either find a cult following on video, like Tremors, or get lost to the ages, like Eight Legged Freaks. There is something inherently difficult about making death, gore, and mutilation funny and even harder to connect with an audience wanting to see it. The keys are to up the fantastical elements of the story, downplay the abject terror of the situation in itself, and to be careful of who to kill off. In all of these aspects, Tremors succeeds.

In a nutshell, the plot concerns a small town in the South in which giant underground snake/slug-like monsters invade the town and begin eating random citizens. The survivors who don’t get eaten take to the roofs to escape them and 90 minutes of slug shooting and perilious journeys to the ground ensue.

Tremors is basically Snakes on a Plane years prior to the blogosphere and when distilled down, both movies have a similar premise – giant slithery things trapping a motley group of colorful characters in a centralized location. The narrative order on these two films are practically! I rewatched Tremors recently and could practically hear Kevin Bacon yelling about he was getting pretty fucking tired about of all these motherfucking slugs in motherfucking small Southern town (note: If I continued my list farther, Snakes on a Plane would undoubtedly make an appearance).

Both films play on broad stereotypes. In Tremors, it was in the form of Michael Gross (the dad on Family Ties) and Reba McIntire (Reba on Reba) who play a couple of gun loving Southern people who just want to shoot the damned things. Between their trigger happy antics and Kevin Bacon pole vaulting from one house to another, the premise settles in nicely between sillier than silly dialogue, generally likeable characters that are fun to watch, and often humourous / horrific deaths of people getting eaten by giant Earthworms.

We can ignore the countless sequels that can be viewed on SyFy on any random weekend—when the “writers” of the movies kept trying to top the efforts of the previous film. Tremors on its own is a masterpiece of comic horror glory; a completely ridiculous effort that is a continual joy to behold. It also contains a lot of useful information to survive when the giant worms take back the Earth.

Here is the google docs link to the first ten films: #791-800