Today is another one of those weird coincidences. Both of my movies were set out in the west - Bone Tomahawk attempting to blend Westerns and Horror, while Tremors is wonderfully cheesy Horror simply set out in the lesser-populated parts of Nevada. These are two movies that definitely wouldn't talk to each other at a party.
Tremors (streaming on Amazon Prime)
From the distant past of 1990 comes Tremors! A favorite of mine that I hadn’t watched in over a decade, and it ages very well.
Tremors is a classic 90’s B-Movie, cheesy and earnest, with an absolutely wild monster design. The “Graboid” is a prehistoric monster that tunnels under the ground, with an elephantine body, a mouth guarded by carapace mandibles, and inside lurk multiple obedient snakes that serve as biting tongues to drag prey down inside the beast.
The great monster stories always pace out revelations of rules. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula slowly reveals that he can’t be seen in a mirror, can turn into animals, and is attracted to as little blood as spills from a shaving wound. The film Predator dolls out that the killer is nearly invisible, can’t see people covered in mud, and so-on. Tremors does a great job of sacrificing a few people to establish early rules, but really excels mid-movie, when the town comes together to try to survive as a group, and figure out how the beast senses them, and how far it can reach, without letting any of their own die. It gives them a group warmth that’s sorely lacking in most contemporary Horror cinema.
The movie ticks another bold box of mine: it’s shot in real places. Whether it’s actually Nevada or not, we see our blue collar laborers sweating in front of gorgeous mountains and rocky deserts that CGI just does not top. Nature produces far more interesting settings than any special effects studio, and it seriously helps the feel of the small town to be in the middle of an actual nowhere. It lets the cameras roam around the few buildings, which sets up some excellent tension when the monsters start trying to drag those buildings underground an hour later.Also, hell yeah to blue collar characters. From the dirty-covered handymen protagonists, to the seismologist covered in sun lotion in a field, to the road workers, to the old guy running the grocery store, everyone comes from the working class. This is almost as vanishingly rare in modern cinema as shooting on a location.
Take a risk with me: if you’re going to watch Bone Tomahawk, start at 41:02.
The movie is 2:12:03, but watched my way, is merely an hour and a half. Watching it my way will skip half an hour of characters bumping into each other in an Old West town, spouting dialogue that goes nowhere, and the murder of the movie’s only black character.
You’ll go straight to a sweet old man at the grave of his wife, expressing how much he misses her, but how he must help the locals save their lives. Then they’ll all go off on a journey into the wilderness to confront monsters in the wilderness who have kidnapped some of their own.
You will have missed nothing important, and as the characters promptly sit around a camp chatting about literature and baths, you won’t be so annoyed that nothing’s happened yet. It’ll feel like this dialogue is introducing men in a dire conflict. My way starts the movie closer to the characters actually doing things.
Instead of witnessing the damseling of the movie’s only woman, you’ll gradually realize that the man with the crutches is on this journey to rescue someone. It’ll add mystery to a movie that, to you just being an hour and a half, still feels freaking long.
Not knowing who they’re hunting will also help, as early-movie glimpses of the monsters makes them look like Native American caricatures covered in soot. It’ll also skip the movie insisting they are “not Indians.” Instead you’ll spend the movie wondering what formidable creatures the brave horsemen are tracking down. Their tension and paranoia the further they journey into mystery will intrigue you, rather than making them seem like overreacting yokels played by actors who are too good for this.
Watched this way, it’s just a gruesome and crypto-racist Horror Western about four brave white men out to fight a bunch of evil “Not Indians.” If that’s a movie you want to watch.
That wraps up the movies for this week. I hope to be back this weekend with a special feature on Shin Godzilla, the new Godzilla film from Japan. It's gotten buzz for being an allegory for the government's failure to handle the Fukushima Reactor disaster, taking the giant monster back to its roots as a form of political commentary. It's in the U.S. for just one week, and I've got my ticket for Saturday.
Otherwise, I'm away at a writing workshop this week with my tribe from Viable Paradise. It's wonderful to see these brilliant folks again. I hope to drag a few of them into another Horror movie with me. What are you up to this week?