Part 4: The Big Bad(s)
“The point, to me, was that they shouldn’t be just battling graboids for ten hours,” Miller said.
“The larger idea was that they’d have to be battling monsters both above and below the ground, with the monsters above the ground revealing themselves in the same shocking ways that the monsters beneath the ground were revealing themselves.”
To that end, Miller came up with two larger groups that play a pivotal role in proceedings - the Deliberates and Datalux. The Deliberates, seemingly a group of recreational drug loving hippies who’ve set up their own compound near Perfection, is actually - for lack of a better term - a graboid cult; worshipping the subterranean monsters that terrorised Perfection some 25 years earlier.
“It made sense to me that someone - particularly a group of younger, spiritually-inclined activists - would look at the graboid situation as a mistake,” he said.
“They see that mankind has been destroying the planet, nature has these tools at its disposal to combat that threat and nature created the graboids to do just that. And if you were charismatic enough in your description of that, and the way you proselytised that idea, you could attract other people. It also seemed like an interesting conflict for Val, because who would ever look at what happened and view him as anything other than heroic? My hope was to make them a bit silly in the pilot, dismissable even, but that, over time the audience would start to say ‘maybe these guys are right, maybe there’s something to this’.”
As a counterpoint to the Deliberates, Miller developed Datalux. At first, Datalux appears to be an innocuous data storage company, setting up shop in Perfection as one of Melvin’s desperate attempts to lure businesses to the ailing town.
“Datalux was Melvin’s last big attempt to revitalise the town, to save it,” Miller said.
“But what he doesn’t realise is that Datalux is bigger and worse than he knows, and they have their own plan for Perfection. They would’ve been the ultimate bad guys for the season. They’d have this incredibly complex underground lab and office system, they’d have a piece of the graboid that they’d been experimenting with, trying to reproduce nature’s greatest weapon.”
And then there’s the main attraction, the graboids which have evolved since they first terrorised the citizens of Perfection.
“The new graboids were designed by this company called Legacy Effects, and they’re these brilliant puppeteers and physical effect designers who’d done dinosaurs for ‘Jurassic Park’ and had just done the creature for Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Shape of Water’,” Miller said.
“They’re geniuses, and they built the most beautiful graboid puppet for us, with these five brilliant puppeteers moving its every piece of skin, lung and fang. What’s so remarkable about the original film is that the graboids hold up in a way that many other movies of that time don’t and we wanted to stay true to that. So we went about making something that felt grounded and realistic because if it didn’t meet that standard, nothing else would matter.”
Miller said the team looked to real-life examples to help design the new, evolved creatures.
“We wanted them to feel a bit more indigenous to the earth than the original,” he said.
“The idea being that over 25 years - and with Datalux’s help - its evolution had adjusted. There’s something called the Devil Worm that exists two miles underground. It doesn’t require air or light the scientific joke is that it doesn’t have a reason to live because it doesn’t need anything. So we thought we’d put a bit of that DNA in there, so they could travel deeper than they had before. And then there’s the Bobbit Worm that uses narcotising poison - like a snake - to freeze its victims before eating it, so we used a bit of that. And there were others that had some traits we liked, including one that used echo-location - it didn’t need to depend on sound and vibration to see; so you could be as quiet as you wanted, and it could still see you. So we used their physical properties to make them feel more worm-like.
Miller said he wanted the updated graboids to be “something of nightmares”.
“We wanted something that could move through rock, move through granite,” he said.
“The guys at Legacy came back to us saying ‘We’ve studied this animal, and this is how they move and how they squeeze through tight spaces’. So we took those practical, physical elements to create our new graboid.”
Miller was confident the actors and the script would carry the humour, but he wanted to ensure there was someone at the helm who had the skills to bring the horror - and for that, he turned to an old, childhood friend.
Part 5: The Right Direction
“Before we had a director involved, I knew I wanted it to feel like a western,” Miller said.
“It just felt like the model of an old western - at its core, you’ve got an isolated western town that’s attacked by an outside force, and the inhabitants have to band together to defeat it. I wanted someone who had a cinematic touch, who could capture that epic, western feel while creating the tension we needed - someone who could turn the ground into a source of danger in the same way that Steven Spielberg turned the ocean into a source of danger in ‘Jaws’.”
And to get that feel, he turned to childhood friend Vincenzo Natali. Initially, scheduling conflicts prevented Natali from getting involved but a brief delay in production meant he could take the reins.
“I’ve known Vincenzo since we were 17... we’ve made movies together our whole lives,” he said.
“Kevin didn’t know him. He knew of ‘Cube’, but not much more. I told Kevin about ‘Splice’, saying I loved it but that some people really didn’t and I asked him to watch the first 20 minutes and tell me what he thought. He called me back two hours later and said ‘This is really fucked up. I love this guy!’ Because ‘Splice’ is a science gone wrong movie that’s emotionally complex, it’s as interesting as any horror movie I’ve ever seen, it has beautiful effects and is incredibly cinematic. ‘Splice’ wasn’t funny, but - to me - we already had the funny. We were going to hire actors who could do the comedy really well, and Vincenzo was able to approach those other aspects - the tension, the threat, the humanity and the weirdness. The combination of Vincenzo and Darran (Tiernan, a cinematographer who’d previously worked with Natali on ‘American Gods’) really took us to the next level, they really embraced the landscape and made it look truly cinematic.”
Unlike the original film, which was shot on many locations, the ‘Tremors’ pilot was all shot in the one location.
“We found this spectacular location in Albuquerque, and we built the entire town in the middle of this gorgeous valley that looked exactly like the movie,” Miller said.
“Wherever you looked - no matter where you were standing in the streets of Perfection - you’d see impenetrable mountains in every direction. By some miracle, our designer and her team built the entire town in three weeks. We were able to rehearse in it, Aaron was able to bring his team in to figure out how to shoot in it. It was as smooth a shoot as I’ve ever been involved in.”
The design of Chang’s gave the team a chance to run wild, Miller said, with new ideas cropping up for little items that could populate Perfection’s General Store.
“They made Chang’s this work of art,” he said.
“Especially the merchandise... that was a runaway train. I’d written all these things - all these magazines, headlines, signs and other things - but the crew just couldn’t stop bringing more stuff to us. The props guy asked if we wanted graboid stress balls and, sure enough, a week later he came back with these stress balls. You pressed down on it, and three tongues would come out. Then he said ‘how about a graboid ride, outside of Chang’s, one of those 25 cent rides?’ And a week later, we’ve got the ride outside of Chang’s. The set decorator came up to me one day and said ‘I hope you don’t mind, but my mom crochets and she made you a graboid sock monkey.’ So we put that in Emily’s room, and in one of the scenes where she’s arguing with Val, she grabs this sock monkey as a comfort toy, without realising it. It was astonishing what these guys brought us. Every department was so excited to bring us ideas, and we used all of it - even Japanese packages of freeze-dried graboid meat! You can’t see all of it in the pilot, but Chang’s would’ve been there until it was destroyed in the final episode, so we were planning to use it all eventually.”
For the pilot, the graboids remain an unseen force for most of the episode - only emerging near the very end.
“The plan was that the whole season would take place over three days - and that once the graboids emerged at the end of the pilot, they’d be a constant and steady threat that never ceased,” Miller said.
“I wanted the subsequent episodes to feel like the movie, in that it would never let up - it would move from chapter to chapter, but there wouldn’t be any ebb and flow. Especially with streaming, I wanted people to be able to experience the story in the same way I did when I saw the movie - and that they’d get a thrilling, funny, emotional experience.”
To try and rope audiences in for a second episode, Miller ends the pilot on an unbearable cliffhanger. And, with the series yet to be picked up, he already had his eye firmly on how the rest of the season would play out.
Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.