• Ben Erickson


Review originally published in January 2021 issue of Film Score Monthly

Directed by Ron Underwood, Tremors is a 1990 creature feature harkening back to the monster movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s, colloquially known as Jaws: Shoreward Bound. The film stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as Val McKee and Earl Bassett, a couple of ranch hands who are about as brave as the fence posts they hammer, along with seismologist Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) who together must outsmart the strange, subterranean creatures that have entered Perfection Valley. Three-parts horror, comedy, and action, Tremors found a second life after its theatrical release as a repeat television affair, celebrated by audiences equally for its flaws as for its charms.

The score for Tremors was composed by Ernest Troost (Dead Heat, One Man’s Hero, and Doctor DeSoto), with additional music by Robert Folk (Police Academy, Toy Soldiers, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls). According to Folk, as shared in an interview dating back to the film’s release by Randall D. Larson from Soundtrack Magazine, Troost’s score was at risk of being rejected entirely. Folk was brought on to rewrite as much of the score as possible in about a week's time. Folk also conducted in the recording sessions, with Barb Luby credited as orchestrator, recording artists Phil Magnotti and Johnny Montagnese behind the glass, and Michael Aarvold mixing the score.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what movie has warranted an archival soundtrack release more than Tremors? I mean, in the history of cinema and the hundreds if not thousands of scores deserving of expanded releases, can you honestly tell yourself that Tremors was not at the top of that list? Well, maybe... Okay, fine! It wasn’t. But think of it in these terms. The only official soundtrack that had been available until now was the 2000 Intrada release (Tremors / Bloodrush), which came with a measly thirteen tracks, only nine of which were actually from Tremors. Now, as part of a 30th-year anniversary release, La-La Land Records has produced an archival edition in two discs totalling fifty tracks altogether. Produced and remastered by Mike Matessino, 3000 copies of a limited edition have been made available for collectors and Tremors enthusiasts alike. Far be it from me to say what does and does not deserve an expanded release, the sheer amount of new music that had been hidden away until now suddenly seems as if it was overdue.

The discs are divided between the two composers, with Folk’s music on the second. Thus, just about all of the tracks on Disc 2 are what made it into the film while most of those with identical titles on Disc 1 were rejected. Troost headed toward an old-timey, Western vibe with harmonica (arguably the signature instrument which often lollygags about), barstool piano, a drum kit, a mean electric bass, and blues guitar strumming, bending, sliding, licking, twanging, and doing all of those things guitars do. Folk on the other hand pushed the electronic elements of the score, diving further in the direction of horror-esque synthesizer techniques. One such example is the wicked, thrumming effect as if laser beams are being fired in rapid succession (“Val Drives Dozer”), which is generally much more present in the additional music on Disc 2.

A rolling, seven-note bass clarinet motif is the first of a few identifiable gestures used throughout the score, in this case signalling the presence of the giant worm-like creatures known as Graboids (“Finding Fred”). One can easily visualize the hillock outlined in the sheet music upon hearing it, or even the wavy disturbances they make in the ground. Jaws-like recreations of Stravinskian rhythms also appear at odd intervals (“Horses Stop” and “Rec Room”) with a third gesture introduced late in the film (“Goin’ Fishin’ / Graboid Guts”); two notes a minor second apart sustaining a leaned-into semitone, associated with the survivor’s attempts to outsmart the creatures. (Ironically, this is the inverse stress as that of the semitone emphasized in Jaws).

The remainder of the score is composed of harp glissandi, oboe, clarinet, deep, electronic bass, stingers, tense, sustained dissonance in the strings, muted trumpets moaning and grunting, flatulent, snarling brass, sudden orchestral swells, cymbal hits and crashes, a hint of snare drum, and tambourine alongside salt & pepper shakers. What is impressive about all of this is the degree of rhythmic incongruence delivered with purposeful disagreement, akin in its exactitude to the likes of John Williams’ thriller-oriented compositions. The strings can be quite intrepid as vessels of countryside allure just as the French horns swiftly imbue gallantry into otherwise transparent acting, traits which are only escalated further into the score. “Tractor” is where the action picks up, with daring shots and runs from the orchestra rebounding in every direction under palpitating, pumping strings. Would it be a stretch of the imagination to say they are deliberately mimicking the subterranean movements of the Graboids? I’m afraid so, yes.

Highlights include “Pole Vaulting”, which introduces a feel good groove with dueling harmonicas; “The Dozer Rescue” & “Dozer Crashes”, where we go full on Western with some Americana-style encouragement as the survivors attempt to escape the valley; and “Away From Rock / Final Confrontation”, providing a magnificent send-off with a commendable buildup toward the moment when the final Graboid ejects itself from the cliff face. This resolution is greeted by a synthesized trumpet jubilee, like a poor man’s Death Star trench run finale, though it was notably replaced by the sparkling percussion and celebratory strings of Folks’s alternative track in film.

Just as you might expect of a genre crossover film, this score has a bit of everything. There are even hints of romance here and there, with one track generously titled “Love Theme” and another at the end (“Val and Rhonda”), sealing the deal for the two characters. Honourable mention goes out to Reba McEntire, who is featured in the film as the wife of trigger happy Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and who graces us with a song during the end credits (“Why Not Tonight?”). The score for Tremors has more to offer than you might expect, but less to grab onto than you might hope for. It is unlikely that it will ever be ranked among the best (doubtless many would disagree), but for what it is, it’s great. All the country you could ask for without a bleeding singer to ruin the moment. If you are looking for something powerful, go listen to Wonder Woman 1984. If you are looking for good fun and a job well done, pick up La-La Land’s new limited edition of Tremors.