If you don’t know what Tremors is, you’re insulting Kevin Bacon

What has lots of humor, giant man-eating worms, blatant sexual tension AND stars Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross, Fred Ward, and Reba McEntire? I know, right? You’re thinking, too good to be true. But in case you weren’t big on films in the early 90s, you missed out on one of the greatest, now-cult-classic films of all time: Tremors.

As I said to my roommate the last time I watched it, it’s kind of like Jaws but it’s about bigass, wormlike creatures under the ground. Just when you thought it was safe to walk around outside…. Even the movie poster looks reminiscent of Jaws, see? For the record, they don’t have giant, nasty teeth like that. But it sure is scary looking.

Some of you might be thinking, are you kidding? But I’m not. I have probably seen this film anywhere from 40-100  times. Somewhere in there. It’s a lot. I can recite dialogue easily. That’s why writing this post will be so facile and enjoyable. It’s straight from the heart and my memory.

If it weren’t for the sarcastic jokes among the characters about what a fucked up situation they have found themselves in, this movie would take itself too seriously and it would have failed miserably. However, the constant banter between Valentine McKee (Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Ward) drives the movie forward with more force than the actual plotline of giant graboids trying to stubbornly get at and swallow each and every one of them.

The other character that simply cannot be missed is that of Michael Gross’s Burt Gummer, an anti-government, warloving, gun toting survivalist (and probably conspiracy theorist). Gross throws himself into his character with a gusto that almost overshadows Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward – almost. But the duo manages to keep the spotlight on them as the main protagonists and thus the audience in stitches.

Then, if you go ahead and watch Tremors II (I cannot in good conscience put my endorsement behind III or IV), you will discover that they expounded on the fact that these creatures are “smart” and they evolve quickly. So it would make sense if the Graboids (dubbed so by Walter Chang, right before he’s eaten alive in his own store) would go where there was slightly more population, even if it was just invading a giant cattle ranch. We can’t really understand why they’d prefer the laborious chase of going after people over less intelligent animals. Perhaps it’s the ultimate thrill for them and they feel deserving of their meal after they’ve managed to suck down a human. We can’t really be sure.

And it begs to be asked after you’ve seen the movie as many times as I have, but: why don’t the graboids move on to another town instead of just waiting out the deaths of 14 people? The town of Perfection, Nevada shows its population to be 14 at the beginning but it easily loses a handful up front before we get to the main crew desperately trying to stay alive.

We just know that the graboids are dumb enough to get killed (spoiler alert!) by running full speed into a concrete aqueduct and taking the bait of a lit homemade bomb. The other one gets shot up by Burt and his wife (McEntire), since their entire rec room is one big wall of guns and ammo. It’s not to be missed. And the last, most “intelligent” graboid, who manages to avoid getting shot or blown up? They trick it into careening through a cliff wall and falling to its death where the filmmakers give us the glorious money shot of its guts and blood exploding out of its gigantic, carnivorous body. The movie is not for those who can’t stand a little gore, I’ll be honest. It’s all in good fun. This movie just had to be as fun to make as it is to watch and take it all in.

There is an entire plot synopsis on Wikipedia if you click here. If you really want the blow by blow without having to watch the movie, then knock yourselves out. But I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy the film on some level, even if it’s just to shake his or her head and say, “This is retarded.”

My favorite character aspects are the incessant cigarette smoking (this was before the film industry started cracking down on how much influence this has on today’s youth), Kevin Bacon’s southern/hick twang, the constant swearing (“Son of a goddamn bitch…”), the long looks between Val and Rhonda (the Plain Jane love interest who catches Val’s eye eventually) and Val and Earl playing Rock/Paper/Scissors every so often to see who has to take on an unwanted task.

While the entire script is genius, here are some of the best, hand-picked lines from the entire film:

Here comes the starvation. I know what I’m doin’. I’m gonna take one of these, walk right out there with the fuse lit and let ’em take me down. Boom.

We’re sure as hell not gonna pole-vault outta here.

I never thought I’d have to shoot through dirt.

I wish they’d stampede up your ass.

Val: What the hell’s in those things?
Burt: A few household chemicals in the proper proportion.

Oh sure, Earl. Everyone knows about ’em, we just didn’t tell you.

Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room didn’t you, you bastard?

You didn’t get penetration even with the elephant gun.

…and then we run like goddamn bastards.

Earl: Must be long gone.
Val: Yeah, must be. Why don’t you take a little walk and find out?

Val: We could get in People Magazine.
Earl: People? Hell. National Geographic.

Even my father loves this film and now owns it on DVD and he’s a very old-fashioned, classic guy. If it gets a Zoe’s Dad seal of approval, then it must have innate value. Seeeeeeeeeeee it.

Edit as of 2020: I found this movie on Netflix and promptly watched it, as if I hadn’t already seen it dozens of times. Particularly when it’s an instant gratification, it just hits the spot sometimes.

Sebastian Maniscalco: stand-up comedian, Italian, funny, metrosexual

On the occasions when I need a break from work but have to remain at my desk, I go on to YouTube to browse any new comedy videos that a fellow comedian fanatic might have put up. Lately I’ve had a real affinity for watching two comedians from the Axis of Evil comedy tour,  those being Ahmed Ahmed and Dean Obeidallah. Seriously funny stuff. (Check ’em out!)

About a month ago, I was at home watching a standup comedy marathon on Comedy Central and I happened to catch a half hour special by Sebastian Maniscalco. I laughed loudly and heartily and had a feeling he was a strong up-and-comer. I didn’t know at that time that he was one of the comedians chosen by Vince Vaughn to participate in Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour. That’s going on the Must Rent list. And so, on one of the days that I needed a laugh break, I looked up some new clips of Sebastian on YouTube. The video clips posted were so funny that I went onto his website and dropped twenty fat ones to get his DVD.

It arrived via snail mail a week or so later, a handwritten return address on the top left corner (my post office is a convenient 15 blocks down the street from me – a real treat), and I watched it immediately. It’s only an hour long but it’s very well done, and much to my delight and surprise, his performance takes place in St. Louis! He’s originally from Chicago, so it sort of makes sense, but still. What’s up homies from the Lou?

The Arch in all its shining glory

The Arch in all its shining glory

But anyway. Sebastian’s persona is that of a macho, Chicago-accented Italian pretty boy. He comes off very close to New Yorkish but you can’t mistake his Midwestern accent. He’s very clean-cut and presents himself well; which he jokes about later when he talks about people who are slobbish when going to places like the grocery store (people like me who “roll out of bed and then [they’re] in the fruit section”). He prefers to scrub himself down thoroughly and put on six sprays of cologne, style his hair and then he’s ready to hit the food store.*

One of Sebastian’s strengths is that while he has the occasional dirty joke, he doesn’t saturate his material with them. I personally find that if a stand-up comedian can be hilarious without always resorting to talking about men and women and sex, s/he can consider him or herself successful. (Let me just insert that I am biased and think men make better stand-up comedians than women. I know, I know. It’s completely going against my own sex but I really do think men are funnier when it comes to this profession. However, people like Ellen Degeneres and Bonnie Mc Farlane give the guys a run.) Sebastian inserts the occasional nuts joke but nothing cringeworthy. Big kudos to you, Sebastian!

Speaking of Kudos, there’s a joke about Kudos snack bars in his act at the grocery store. Can’t miss it.

I watched the DVD on my own and then went over to my girlfriend’s apartment to watch it all over again while we munched on Mexican takeout. The second viewing solidified my decision to write a raving post about the guy. I don’t know if it’s because he’s Midwestern or not but I like that he’s not quite up to speed on all things technological. He refers to “new features” of cell phones like texting and accidentally activating the Web browser for his cell phone material. He then proceeds to compare the people at the gym who have all their music on their “Pods” (on the bicep, no less) to himself, who still wears a portable CD player on his waist. I mean seriously, how old school can you get? But the self-deprecating jokes are fantastic, even if there only a few.

One of Sebastians classic facial expressions.

One of Sebastian's classic facial expressions.

By far one of his best jokes is his “downtown Beirut” joke, referring to a cheap store relative to whatever city he’s in, this one being TJ Maxx. In this instance he is dead-on-balls accurate, since in St. Louis, TJ Maxx is absolutely a nightmare. It’s right up there with Marshall’s. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be, everything’s a mess and chances are, you’re saving money because whatever you’re buying is damaged, or as he refers to it, “irregular.”

Sebastian’s delivery is full of fantastic facial expressions, some physical humor (including the Beirut joke) and lots of sarcasm.

I won’t ruin all of the jokes for everyone but the material flows nicely from one joke to another, and he ends with one of his strongest, that being about Today’s Man. Hints: apple martinis, frappuccinos, flip flop sandals. See the YouTube clip at the end!

I rated his DVD “Going Up” (no idea where that comes from, unless he’s referring to his climbing the stardom ladder) four stars out of five, which is pretty high up there in my lowly opinion. I’m not a stand-up expert but I do consider myself an amateur connoisseur since paradise for me would  be a stand-up comedy marathon sprawled on comfy furniture with good friends and good drinks. I frequently seek out stand-up on my movie channels and Comedy Central, I love the show Last Comic Standing to see new faces and new material and I have even written my own jokes on the side, never to see the light of day.** I love going to comedy clubs but since it can be a pricey adventure, I don’t go very often. I’m content to stay home and laugh my boisterous laugh in the privacy of my home.

As to the “wrap the gift” joke that I refer to in the headline, I will leave that to you to find out on your own. It’s great advice and hilariously delivered.

See him. Decide for yourself. Support one of the next famous faces of comedy. Embrace the mirth. Since my YouTube clips keep getting pulled, go look for a current one to tantalize your funny bone.

*The phrase “food store” is something I had never heard of in my life before I moved to New York and dated a New Yorker. I even Googled search terms looking for it and if Google can’t come up with any relevant information for this phrase, pretty sure hardly anyone uses it except for said ex-boyfriend and his family. Oh and my friend Jim once used it. Maybe now it will catch on. I just say grocery store like most people.

**Note about me: I have incredible stage fright and while I can crack myself up at my own jokes, I would never be ballsy enough to actually perform them.