Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Basset (Fred Ward) live in Perfection, Nevada, (Population 14) but don’t think it’s so perfect. They do odd jobs for a living and are tired of their humdrum existence in the isolated town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They decide to leave for the exciting big city—Bixby, Nevada. On the way out of town, they discover the dead body of Edgar Deems, clutching at the top of an electrical tower. Doctor Tim Wallace (Conrad Backman) says that Edgar died of dehydration rather than climb down off the tower.

A shepherd called Old Fred (Michael Dan Wagner) dies along with all of his sheep. They find his severed head and fear a serial killer is on the loose. They try to warn everybody, but two construction workers are killed during a landslide that blocks the only road out of town and cuts off the phone lines to boot. A snake-like creature grabs their truck’s rear axle, immobilizing the vehicle, but Val stomps on the gas and it is torn apart. They find part of it later.

They borrow horses to ride to Bixby, but find Doctor Wallace’s car buried near his trailer, but he and his wife are missing. An enormous burrowing worm rises out of the ground and turns out to be only a tentacle of a bigger creature. They are thrown from their terrified horses and run like the devil with the monster in pursuit, burrowing through the ground with tremendous speed until it crashes into the concrete wall of an aqueduct and dies. Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), a grad student in geology reading seismographs in town, runs into the boys and deduces that there are three more worms in the area. Rhonda, Val, and Earl are trapped on top of a pile of boulders because the creature can’t reach them there. After staying all night, they find some poles and pole-vault their way to Rhonda’s truck.

In the town’s General Store, where everyone has gathered, the store-owner Walter Chang (Victor Wong) calls the creatures Graboids. He is killed when the worms demolish the store and everyone hides on the rooftop. The eccentric town survivalists Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) find one of them burrowing into their huge basement armory and they blow it away. The two remaining Graboids attack the store’s foundations, knock over a trailer owned by Nestor (Richard Marcus) and kill him.

Realizing they have to get out of town, Earl, Rhonda, and Miguel (Tony Genaro) distract the Graboids while Val grabs a track loader and chains a semi-trailer to it. They all climb in and head for the mountains, tossing out Burt’s homemade pipe bombs. They kill one worm but the last one spits a bomb back, blowing up the remaining bombs and forcing them to abandon the safety of the rocks. Val lures the last worm to the edge of the cliff and throws the last bomb just behind it, frightening it forward through the cliff-face to fall to the rocks below. They call the authorities and Val kisses Rhonda.

The film was directed by Ron Underwood, produced by Brent Maddock and S. S. Wilson, and written by all of them. It is charming, exciting, scary, and genuinely funny, particularly the weird and wonderful survivalists with their enormous basement armory. It spawned five direct-to-video sequels and a prequel of wildly varying quality, and a one-year TV series. Wilson, Maddock, and Underwood, who had written the major hit Short Circuit, came up with the idea of land-sharks, a takeoff on a Saturday Night Live skit. Filming took 50 days in Lone Pine and Darwin, California. The creatures were designed by Amalgamated Dynamics and redesigned several times to make them less phallic. Language was cleaned up a bit to make it a family film. A goofy soundtrack was abandoned for a serious one.

It was loved by critics and has grown to cult status among fans. Bad marketing made it less profitable at first than hoped, but it tripled its gross on video. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have a soft spot for this charming and scary movie. It’s very simple: spend as much thought and time and money on the characters as on the monsters. If we love them, we will be afraid for them. Too many scary films are full of people we can’t stand and their slaughter has no impact. A murder mystery needs red herrings and something seriously wrong with most of the characters, but not ordinary people fighting for their lives against scary monsters.

Kevin Bacon resented Tremors in the beginning but warmed to it later, finally remembering it as the most fun he had making a movie. Finn Carter was not told she had to take off her pants to escape the Graboid who had grabbed them. Her response to the situation was quite authentic. The official name for the Graboid is Cadeucus Mexicana. When the Doctor’s wife is dragged underground in her car, the radio goes on and plays “Close to Crazy” by Reba McEntire. It was Reba McEntire’s first movie role and everyone was amazed how perfect she was. Burt and Heather use the following on the Graboid that breaks into their underground rec room: A Stey-Mannlicher SSG-P11, a Winchester Model 70, a Winchester Model 1200 Defender, an HK-91A2, a Colt AR-15 Sporter II, A Remington 870, a Sig Saver P226, a Ruger Redhawk, an M8 Flare gun, and the coup-de-grace with a Belgian William and Company 8-gauge shotgun.