Tremors Limited Edition 4K UHD Review
Blu-ray Release: December 15, 2020
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 4.0, and 2.0 stereo
Run Time: 96:00
Director: Ron Underwood
Good ol’ boy handymen Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) are sick of their dead-end jobs in one-horse desert town Perfection, Nevada (population: 14). Just as they're about to escape Perfection forever, however, things start to get really weird: half-eaten corpses litter the road out of town; the phone lines stop working; and a plucky young scientist shows evidence of unusually strong seismic activity in the area. Something is coming for the citizens of Perfection and it's under the goddamn ground! (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
While comedic horror movies have existed for decades, the 1980s pioneered a specific brand of effects-driven horror comedies that reimagine traditional movie monsters, from the lycanthropes of John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981), to the manic demons of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987), and zombies of Dan O'Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985). The tradition carried over into the first great horror comedy of the ‘90s: Ron Underwood’s Tremors (1990). While Tremors forwent the previous decade’s affinity for R-rated violence in favor of a slightly more family-friendly PG-13, this was less an issue of appealing to a wider audience (though the ‘90s were the decade that the PG-13 rating began to outshine PG and R), and more to do with one target of the film’s satire – Steven Spielberg-like adventure movies, Jaws (1975) being the obvious comparison, considering the structure of Brent Maddock & S. S. Wilson’s screenplay (story by Underwood) and the shark-like qualities of the graboid creatures, who essentially swim through earth (the original title was Land Sharks).
Like the best horror comedies of the ‘80s, Tremors balances its scares and laughs seriously and accordingly. The script takes great interest in the characters as people and the comedy tends to focus on their reactions to being trapped in a monster movie, while taking the monster movie itself seriously. Underwood taps that primal sense of fear and tightly wound suspense best exemplified in eco-horror thrillers, like, well, Jaws, while the ensemble cast stands apart from typical bodycount fodder by being (with one exception) sweet and lovable. When Tremors was released in January of the new decade and just barely turned a profit, despite a major rollout, a modest budget and lead performance from Kevin Bacon, whose star had been rising steadily since 1984’s Footloose and who had a bigger hit later in the year in the form of Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners (1990). Fortunately, while the unusual tonal combination may have proven too difficult for Universal’s marketing team to sell, the film itself proved to be that most rare of movie commodity – an nearly-instant cult favorite. Home video and cable television kept Tremors firmly in the public consciousness, leading to one of the longest running straight-to-video/TV franchises in history, currently encompassing seven movies (including 2020’s Shrieker Island) and 13 episodes of a made for Sci-Fi Channel series.
Universal’s original Blu-ray release of Tremors is widely reviled alongside Fox’s Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition BD, Lionsgate’s Near Dark BD, and the studio’s own Spartacus: 50th Anniversary BD as one of the format’s worst. Due to bad DNR and extreme over-sharpening, this transfer, which was recycled throughout re-releases, international releases, and (I believe?) the HD DVD, was measurably worse than the anamorphic DVD. Needless to say, there was almost infinite room for improvement and fans had been clamoring for literally anything else for quite some time. The wait took us all the way from the HD format wars and well into the 4K UltraHD era, but here it is: a good home video release of Tremors.
For this UHD disc (and its same day release 1080p Blu-ray counterpart), Arrow Films has gone back to the original film negative and scanned it in 4K. Their restoration efforts were then approved by director Ron Underwood and director of photography Alexander Gruszynski. The upgrade from 1080p to 2160p (plus HDR) is a big deal, naturally, but I don’t think I can overstate how awful the old transfer was. The remaster corrects the harsh haloes, the DNR blobs, and the grotesque high contrast shimmers. It also fixes some issues of the Universal disc’s overlooked shortcomings, replacing the muddy neutral tones and harsh shading with a richer color palette and smoothing out some of the blocky edges. All said, the upgrade is easily worth the price tag (especially if you aren’t interested in the limited edition stuff and can wait for the inevitable standard edition release); however, there are still some problems worth noting. The entire transfer is quite soft, which sometimes appears to accurately recreate the film’s somewhat cartoonish and idealized look, but other times seems a bit feathered and even foggy during swift camera moves. Perhaps Gruszynski designed the photography to look this way, though inconsistencies in grain quality makes me think the 4K scan ran into some problems. Still, it’s very hard to complain about these results.
I apologize that I was not able to include any comparison screen caps on this page – I avoided owning the crappy Universal disc and I don’t have the hardware to strip caps from a UHD. I highly recommend visiting Caps-a-Holic for their fullscreen comparisons.
Arrow has included DTS-HD Master Audio versions of the original theatrical release 2.0 stereo and 4.0 options, as well as the 5.1 remix made for the original DVD. I opted to watch the majority of the film in 4.0 for the novelty of a pre-Dolby Digital discrete multi-channel experience. Basically, you can’t go wrong, no matter how you choose to listen to the film, because all three tracks have similar directional cues and dynamic ranges, thanks to the lack of compression and care taken during the original mixing/remixing. The 5.1 track has a slight advantage in its LFE channel, which really helps rumble the room whenever the graboids are churning through the earth in search of prey.
Disc one (4K UHD)
Commentary with director Ron Underwood and writers/producers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson – A litany of new extras begin with the writers and director’s first ever commentary track. There’s an occasional lack of focus and some quiet spaces, but plenty of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and charming memories fill the time.
Commentary with Jonathan Melville – The author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors (2015, Fountainbridge Press) takes a firmer hand while guiding us through the entire production, sometimes in a screen-specific capacity, sometimes not.
Making Perfection (31:07, 4K) – A slick new featurette, surprisingly produced by Universal and made up of cast & crew interviews. A little fluffy, but a solid primer on the making of the movie and its subsequent cult following that incorporates some current location tours, EPK clips, and raw behind-the-scenes footage amongst the talking heads.
The Truth About Tremors (22:02, HD) – Co-producer Nancy Roberts recalls her career as a talent agent/producer, working with Underwood, Maddock, and Wilson since Short Circuit (1986), and the difficult process of bringing the unusual horror/comedy hybrid to the screen.
Bad Vibrations (10:47, HD) – Director of photography Alexander Gruszynski walks us through his introduction to Hollywood westerns, Tremors’ ties to those classics, and the challenges of making a daylight horror film.
Aftershocks and Other Rumblings (12:38, HD) – Associate producer/second unit producer Ellen Collett talks about her career, working under Roger Corman, Gale Anne Hurd, and James Cameron, and how all of these experiences helped prepare her for Tremors.
Digging In the Dirt: The Visual Effects of Tremors (20:59, HD) – Various former Fantasy II Film VFX and 4-Ward Productions staff expands on the technical discussions already recorded for Making Perfection and The Making of Tremors (see below).
Music for Graboids (13:35, HD) – Audio interviews (set to stills and movie footage) with composers Ernest Troost and Rober Folk, who chat about their movie careers and scoring Tremors, which included Folk replacing some of Troost’s tracks.
The Making of Tremors (44:15, HD) – The original 1996 behind the scenes documentary, which I believe was made for the Universal Signature Collection Laserdisc. It is up to the standards of similar making-of docs from the studio and era, such as The Thing Takes Shape.
Creature Featurette (10:26, HD) – Another piece of the 1996 documentary that was originally included in the play-all options.
Four deleted scenes (5:02, HD)
Pardon My French! (16:18, HD) – A compilation of overdubs from the edited-for-television version
Original 1990 electronic press kit featurette and cast profiles
Two trailers, radio spots, TV spots, and VHS promos
Tremors Franchise trailers
Image galleries – Behind-the-scenes, Laserdisc image gallery, screenplay (draft 6, 1988), screenplay (draft 8b, 1989), storyboards, posters & video art
Disc Two (Blu-ray)
Extended Making Perfection interviews – Though not as fancily produced as the pieces used for the final doc, these rougher and broader discussions make up for Making Perfections occasional lack of nitty-gritty content. Obviously, there is some overlap between these, the commentaries, and the Arrow exclusive interviews.
Ron Underwood (47:44, HD)
S.S. Wilson (81:44, HD)
Brent Maddock (63:06, HD)
Nancy Roberts (50:37, HD)
Alec Gillis (59:31, HD)
ArcLight Hollywood 2015 Q&A (71:11, HD) – Pre-film Q&A with cast members, followed by post-film Q&A with crew members.
Gag reel with optional introduction and commentary from S.S. Wilson (10:48 w/ intro, 9:54 w/o, HD version of VHS )
Early short films collections – All of these have been remastered in HD and include uncompressed English LPCM 1.0 audio:
Recorded Live (8:12, HD) – Writer S.S. Wilson’s 1975 USC School of Cinematic Arts short film about a man who goes in for an interview and is assaulted by sentient audio tape.
Dictionary: The Adventure of Words (16:26, HD) – Writer Brent Maddock’s 1968 educational short, which teaches children how to use the dictionary to help them with school reports. It includes stop-motion animation from Wilson.
Library Report (24:32, HD) – Another educational how-to for kids struggling with report writing that includes more of Wilson’s stop-motion animation. This one was directed by Ron Underwood and released in 1983.
Limited Edition box contents:
Fully-illustrated 60-page soft-cover book featuring new writing by Kim Newman & Jonathan Melville and selected archive materials
Large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
Small fold-out double-sided poster featuring new Graboid X-ray art by Matt Frank on one side and a bullet-riddled Perfection town sign on the other
Six art cards
Novelty Walter Chang's coupon
Again, the images on this page are not representative of the 4K UHD image quality. Please visit Caps-a-Holic for their fullscreen comparisons.