When Tremors was released, back in January of 1990, it was a flop. No one ran out to see this goofy horror flick with the guy from Footloose and the dad from Family Ties. Kevin Bacon himself considered it the nadir of his career, telling The Telegraph, “I broke down and fell to the sidewalk, screaming to my pregnant wife, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing a movie about underground worms!’” Then a funny thing happened. The box office bomb gained new life on VHS and cable, eventually becoming a cult classic. Now with four sequels, a SyFy channel series, and talk of a new show in the works, even Kevin Bacon can’t deny the film’s place in pop culture history. Before you catch the Tremors movies on IFC this month, whet your appetite with a few worm-y facts you may not know.
10. Slither has a Tremors Easter egg
James Gunn, the director behind the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, is a horror fanatic. He grew up obsessing over anything with a little guts and gore, from Night of the Living Dead to Shivers. But when it came time to make a big budget horror flick of his own, he wanted to emulate the tongue-in-cheek fun of one of his favorites, Tremors. Not only did his 2006 horror hit Slither feature some worm-based horror, but he even named the school where Elizabeth Banks’ character taught the “Earl Bassett Community School” after Fred Ward’s long-running franchise hero.
9. You can thank test audiences for that final smooch
Tremors original ending featured Val and Earl riding off into the sunset, before deciding they could never leave their spot of dirt in the desert and turning around. When test audiences got a load of the ending, they were not pleased. What happened to Rhonda, the pants-doffing, monster-fleeing love interest at the heart of the movie? They wanted some smooching, so that’s what the filmmakers gave them, quickly reshooting the ending to feature a big ol’ kiss that consummated the sexual tension that had been built up throughout the movie.
8. To get a PG-13 rating, the F-bomb didn’t fly
While thrilling, Tremors isn’t as racy as your average horror flick. But that almost wasn’t the case. The MPAA originally gave the movie an R rating due to some salty language. To get the more family friendly PG-13 mark, and presumably a larger audience, all but one F-bomb was dropped from the film. But what an F-bomb it is.
7. The original opening was creepier
The sight of Mr. Footloose relieving himself into a giant canyon perfectly kicks off the movie. But originally the film started with the town drunk’s mule becoming a tasty Graboid lunch. The darker opening was shot but ultimately scrapped by the filmmakers.
6. Michael Gross’ transition from sitcom dad to worm killing warrior took one day
Michael Gross, known to ’80s kids as the kindly dad from Family Ties, was ready for a new challenge as his long-running sitcom was coming to an end. When Family Ties wrapped its final season in April of 1989, he shaved his beard, caught a plane, and found himself killing worms in the middle of the desert the next day. He’s since gone on to star in every iteration of the franchise and regularly Tweets fun photos and stories from the Tremors set.
5. Shooting the movie gave Kevin Bacon sleepwalking nightmares
Kevin Bacon has admitted to suffering from anxiety. Battling killer worms in the middle of desert would no doubt exacerbate the issue. That may be why Bacon suffered from sleepwalking nightmares while shooting the horror classic. He says he would sometimes pick up his then pregnant wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, “and sleep-walk and carry her out onto the street..She’d be like ‘Honey, honey, honey, you’re asleep!’ and I’d say ‘No! I’ve gotta get you out of here!'” It makes you wonder how fun his nightmares must have been when he was shooting She’s Having a Baby.
4. Finn Carter refused to rehearse the pantsing scene
As much as Tremors is remembered today for its killer worms and humor, there’s no doubt the most impressionable moment for boys of a certain age was when seismology student Rhonda LeBeck’s pants got caught in some barbed wire, and needed to be shed in a hurry lest she become a Gradboid snack. Actress Finn Carter refused to rehearse the scene, saying she wanted her response to be authentic on the day of shooting. Because there’s nothing worse than an inauthentic pantsing.
3. The original title changed because of an SNL sketch
Tremors is a catchy title, but the movie almost had a far more on-the-nose moniker. For most of pre-production, the film was known as “Land Sharks,” only changing the name when the screenwriter realized it bore a similarity to a certain famous SNL sketch.
2. The car scene was supposed to be more epic
Originally the film was supposed to feature a scene where a car is swallowed into the earth, pulling its terrified passengers to their deaths. Unfortunately, the special dirt employed to swallow the car kept hardening, leaving the car sitting there above the surface. Director Ron Underwood had to cut much of the scene, and simply imply the car’s destruction by showing headlights slowly tilting up towards the sky. The scene may not have been as graphic, but it certainly was no less terrifying thanks to some quick thinking.
1. The Graboid design was originally far more phallic
It took some doing to land on a design for the Graboid that everyone could agree on. Designers Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis originally planned for the monster to have a turtle-like neck, until everyone agreed it resembled a giant foreskin. Apparently producer Gale Ann Hurd said that when the designs were faxed over, “all the women in [her] office would pass ’em around and giggle.” Although, for our money, a giant penis that craves human flesh sounds like one heck of a horror movie.