Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide To Tremors by Jonathan Melville (book review).

Like author and critic Jonathan Melville, I discovered ‘Tremors’ when it screened on a Saturday night on the BBC at some point in the 90s. I was at that weird hinterland of an age. Old enough to stay up when I liked but not quite ready for going out on a Saturday night to drink myself into some sort of teenage oblivion. So the order of the day was whatever weird and wonderful stuff on the four channels (yes, only four in those days) had to offer and ‘Match Of The Day’. ‘Tremors’ didn’t exactly hold much promise as a silly sounding monster movie with Kevin Bacon. Well, it would do to entertain me in the background as I read ‘2000AD’ or something equally as geeky but it turned out to be brilliant. A B-Movie with a modern sensibility, the story focused on two layabouts, Earl and Valentine (Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon) who eked out a living in the small desert town of Perfection. They discover that creatures that they name ‘Graboids’ are living beneath the earth and have started to take an unhealthy interest in the population up above. So Earl and Valentine soon find themselves with the rest of the town, including the likes of crazed survivalist Burt (Michael Gross, who also provides the foreword for the book) trying to stop themselves being destroyed by the danger that lies underneath.

Seeking Perfection

It was funny, full of action and had a self-reflexivity that was rare for the time. Of course, I thought I was the only person in the world who liked this enormously fun movie, so was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a sequel, ‘Tremors 2: Aftershocks’ (without Bacon this time) that was equally as fun. But surely I was one of a handful of people who’d really ever heard of the film.

Well, it seems Jonathan Melville was another and he’s undoubtedly found a whole load of other fans in writing ‘Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide To Tremors’. Unsurprisingly, the book itself does very much what it says on the tin. It’s an exhaustive account of the genesis of the original movie starting from the early days of ‘Tremorsdirector Roy Underwood going all the way to the little regarded ‘Tremors’ TV series to the latest effort ‘Tremors V: Bloodlines’, though the film was not released when the book was completed. No stone is left unturned as Melville interviews almost everyone involved in the franchise and yes, Bacon actually takes part in the book as well and gets their take on being involved with the films. Perhaps the most notable omission is Fred Ward but, while his absence is missed, it doesn’t take too much away from proceedings.

The first half of the book is arguably the most fascinating. With Melville talking to Underwood and scriptwriter SS Wilson, who co-wrote the film with Brent Maddock, he uncovers some fascinating stories about Hollywood in the mid-80s. Maddock and Wilson worked on the script for ‘Short Circuit’ and stories of script changes, alongside working with the likes of Spielberg, provide a small glimpse into the studio culture of the time. As we head into the making of ‘Tremors’ (originally titled ‘Beyond Perfection’), the book becomes a look at the challenges and strains of making a movie with the time and the modest budget allotted. Do you want to know how you make giant worms look realistic while trying to find exactly the right desert location you’re looking for? Then this book will be exactly what you need.

The book is sometimes a little dry, with the constant flow of narrative from all the participants perhaps needing a bit of pepping up with the personal reminiscences that Melville has in his introduction and the latter stages of the book can be a bit of a slog for all but the most ardent of ‘Tremors’ fans. But this is a fine and comprehensive examination of a franchise which recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary that is a must for any fans of the film and also anyone with more than a passing interest in US Hollywood cinema in the 80s and 90s.

Laurence Boyce

January 2016

(pub: Fountainbridge Press, 2015. 304 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-99332-150-4)

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