Director Ron Underwood Thinks He Knows Why Tremors Has Had Such Staying Power

At its core, "Tremors" is a simple movie: a tiny town in the middle of the desert is terrorized by some prehistoric, man-eating worms that attack from under the ground. It's a bit of a throwback to the classic 1950s monster movies like "Them!" and "Tarantula!" Our plucky townsfolk endure with surprisingly few casualties, and in the end, the hero gets the girl. All things considered, it's a pretty run of the mill premise on paper. And yet somehow, it not only worked, but it drew critical acclaim and, amazingly, spawned six sequels and a short-lived TV series.

So how did a modern day B-movie from 1990 not just endure, but become a bona fide cult classic with enough staying power to keep churning out installments in the franchise as recently as 2020? The first answer is that, obviously, it has one heck of a likable cast. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as Val and Earl, two handymen desperate to finally put the small town of Perfection, Nevada behind them and shoot for something bigger. Their chemistry pops off the screen, and the screenplay provides them with plenty of banter that lets you know just about everything you need to about their friendship right from the jump. Michael Gross, best known as the dad from "Family Ties," and Reba McEntire, best known as being Reba freakin' McEntire, help to round out the colorful cast of characters as a married pair of gun (and bomb, and cannon) toting survivalists.

But there's obviously more to the film's staying power than just its likable cast and fun — and often silly — action. Just ask director Ron Underwood.

A monster movie with lots of humanity

Underwood was interviewed for the documentary "Tremors: Making Perfection," and discussed why he thinks the film has reached cult classic status, and enjoys such a great monster movie legacy. In Underwood's words: 

"I think the film goes to some very basic fears we have of being surprised by something out of our control, and it is about a community coming together and fighting that off. Fighting off the evils that surround us. So I think it goes to something pretty primal, and you can relate to it whether you're young or old."

To his point, much of that is owed to it being a basic premise done right. It could very easily have gone horribly wrong. "Tremors" also taps into larger themes like people banding together and becoming their best when the chips are down. It's a film that's got something for just about everyone. As Underwood put it:

"It has its scares, but it's a little more human. Part of the reason I think it didn't do as well when it came out was the horror films at that time were very dark, very scary, and this film was lighter because it had people that you cared about who had a lightness to them and a sense of humor despite the awful situation they were in."

Tremors was always a long shot to become a hit, let alone spawn a decades-spanning franchise. Not even the people involved were convinced it was going to amount to anything. Kevin Bacon, in particular, was hesitant about even signing on. Times have certainly changed, and Bacon has become keen on trying to revive the franchise with a TV series. As for us, we'll be crossing our fingers that we haven't seen the last of Valentine McKee.