Need More Dune In Your Life? A Ridiculous ‘90s Sci-Fi Movie is Perfect For You
Beware the sandworms. No, the other sandworms.
How many degrees of separation exist between Kevin Bacon and Dune? One, because Bacon co-stars with several sandworms in the 1990 film Tremors. They may go by Graboids, but let’s call it like it is. These are out-of-work sandworms who, between Dunes in 1984 and 2000, got some work as movie monsters for hire. Tremors should have been a franchise vehicle that catapulted the sandworms of Arrakis into super-stardom. Instead, the poor wigglers had to play second fiddle to Bacon.
All kidding aside, Tremors is nothing like Dune, except that everything that happens in this B-movie is because of giant sandworms who look and behave a lot like those in Dune. The Graboids are even attracted to vibrations, just like their space-bound cousins. Sure, the sandworms in Tremors are a bit smaller than Dune’s fully grown counterparts, but Tremors’ budget was a bit smaller too. Creature effects designer Alec Gillis even had to clarify, “What we did not want to do was repeat what had been done in Dune.”
Released in 1990, Tremors is a horror-comedy focused on two handymen, Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), who stumble across sandworms eating people in the Nevada desert. Originally conceived as Land Sharks, the movie was the brainchild of S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, who’d previously written the hit sci-fi comedy Short Circuit. So if Tremors reminds you of slightly raunchy ’80s high-concept sci-fi, it should.
Maybe Tremors isn’t as good as Short Circuit, but it’s certainly unique. It’s also worth your time, if only because campy horror sci-fi movies were ruined for a while after its release. The tongue-in-cheek quality of Tremors, in which there’s a balance between genuine thrills and the utter unreality of it all, is hard to pull off. Tremors is a rare bad-on-purpose movie that actually sticks to its campy guns the whole way through. It’s not making any top 10 lists, but it’s a damn fun 96 minutes.
Part of what makes Tremors work is that if you imagined the whole thing as a short story, it would feel plausible as something Stephen King cranked out in the ’80s. The Graboids aren’t realistic, but the moment you say “sandworms” your brain just kind of buys that they could exist. In fact, Tremors uses Dune’s best trick: it doesn’t push its iconic monsters too far. From start to finish, the monsters feel like animals, not impossible aliens.
Kevin Bacon himself has pointed out that what made Tremors so fun to film, and so fun to watch to this day, is its grounded special effects. As Bacon told EW in 2022, it was all practical: “It was all guys in puppets or people with things on their hands, and wires being pulled. It was ingenious. Acting with a puppet requires some acting, but we’re professional pretenders.”
The legacy of Tremors is mixed. None of the direct-to-video sequels are even close to as good as the original movie, the short-lived TV series lacked the essential Bacon ingredient, and a rebooted TV show has been lost in developmental limbo for quite some time. But if you go back to the 1990s, and you’re in the mood for some true camp sci-fi brilliance and some wonderful not-state-of-the-art monster effects, Tremors still delivers. When it comes to riding sandworms, Kyle MacLachlan and Timothée Chalamet are where it’s at. But if you need to kill a sandworm, you better call Kevin Bacon.
Tremors is streaming on Tubi for free until June 30.