Set out in the desert, Kevin Bacon (whose career thankfully moved upward a couple of years later) and Fred Ward play a couple of rather aimless handymen who run into a visiting geologist (Finn Carter) getting weird seismic readings in the area. Rumblings underground soon reveal themselves to be giant man-eating worms that run riot on the small Nevada town of Perfection. Our three protagonists and a band of locals (general store owner Victor Wong, gun-toting couple Michael Gross and Reba McEntire among them) try to stay alive and preferably away from the ground.
The cult popularity of this 1990 giant earthworm movie from debut director Ron Underwood (“City Slickers”, “Heart and Souls”, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash”) mystified me at age 10 and continues to mystify me at age 37-38. It’s drab, unfunny, uninteresting, not scary, and lethargically directed by a miscast Underwood. I feel like I’m missing out here, I want to like this…it seems like the kind of thing I would ordinarily love. I just don’t think the execution is even close to good. Like “Arachnophobia” this one doesn’t know if it wants to be scary or funny and ends up being tedious and flat instead. It’s to creature features what “Twister” was to disaster movies: Meh, bordering on suck.
The music score by Ernest Troost (“Dead Heat”, and a large amount of short film assignments) and an uncredited Robert Folk (“Police Academy”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Maximum Risk”) is pretty good, but the screenplay by the team of S.S. Wilson & Brent Maddock (the lovely “Heart & Souls”, the gigantic flops “Ghost Dad” and “Wild Wild West”) fails to provide any character depth. None of the characters really stand out and don’t give the cast much to work with. Veteran character actor Fred Ward is solid, but everyone else here either feels like they’re slumming (Kevin Bacon, in that awkward phase between “Footloose” and his riveting turn in “JFK”), underused (“Big Trouble in Little China” co-star Victor Wong has a colourless part) or not very well-cast. For the latter we have TV dad Michael Gross and annoying country singer Reba McEntire as gun-loving yokels making you think this should’ve been made in the 70s with Slim Pickens and Shelley Winters. It’d likely be a bit more fun than this dreary, dry affair. Gross and McEntire, cast in what should’ve been fun, colourful parts end up sucking out all the fun. Also, while Ms. McEntire seems like a really nice lady in real life, I find it even harder than usual here to understand a damn word she says. I’m not kidding. As for leading lady Finn Carter, she’s completely forgettable and it’s no surprise most of her subsequent work has been on TV.
On the upside, the first worm attack is fun and a little intense, with a priceless final shot. Unfortunately, the rest of the film just isn’t energetic enough and the characters don’t grab you. I did like how the characters’ safety zone kept getting smaller and smaller, but it’s all for nothing when there’s not enough sustained tension throughout. The worms are a lot more fun than I remembered from my first viewing, so there is that. They don’t look great even by 1990’s standards, but for a B-movie that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if this were made four or five years later it’d probably be done with CGI and that could’ve been a disaster, especially if you weren’t working with Steven Spielberg or Paul Verhoeven money. That said, I actually think Toho Studios in Japan or somebody like Roger Corman ought to have made this thing. They’d know how to make this thing fun. Underwood injects the occasional lively bit of camera movement, but not nearly often enough to make up for the boring-arse people and their boring-arse dialogue.
Meh. The comedy isn’t funny, the horror is too mild thanks largely to the film being so dreary and lethargically directed. This is one cult favourite I truly don’t ‘get’. Fred Ward is good, the film isn’t.