Welcome to Retro Time. In this blog, I’ll be covering topics related to film and television from past decades. These won’t be reviews, but rather a selection of memories, thoughts, and ideas designed to spark a little nostalgia and maybe inspire a conversation or two. Spoilers will likely come up, so please keep that in mind. Thanks for stopping by, and if you have any thoughts or ideas, feel free to chime in. I’d love to get your feedback. Now, let’s get ready to take a look back…
When Saturday Night Live first landed in 1975, one of their earliest sketches was a playoff of the popularity of Jaws that involved a zany reoccurring character called Land Shark. Voiced by Chevy Chase, it would knock on its unassuming victim’s door and give some false identity to get them to open up. Once they did, a foam rubber shark’s head would pop out from behind the door and bite down on the screaming victim to a reworked version of John William’s Jaws theme and the collective laughter of the audience.
I caught this sketch on a rerun recently and it got me thinking. What big screen creature deserves the distinction of being the true Land Shark on film?
Steven Spielberg once gave an interview where he joked that the T-Rex in Jurassic Park was basically his version of the Land Shark. That’s a pretty good contender, especially since it’s coming from the same legendary director who brought us the cinema’s most famous version of a traditional water-bound shark in the first place.
But there is a film that came out three years before Jurassic Park that I believe has given us the true embodiment of the Land Shark on film.
I’m speaking, of course, about the 1990 classic, Tremors.
Let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of this film. I was fourteen when it premiered in January of that year and I remember going to see it with my folks. It had everything that my teenaged monster-loving heart desired. The characters were fun and memorable. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward play the whole bumbling buddies thing to perfection (no pun intended, seeing as the name of the desert town the story is set in is actually named Perfection) and Michael Gross’ gun-toting survivalist, Burt Gummer, would later prove that he could carry an entire series of these flicks on his own.
But the true stars of the show are the monsters themselves.
Dubbed Graboids by the ill-fated store owner, Walter Chang, these giant underground worm creatures – clearly borrowing something from Herbert’s Dune – are fast, massive, and always on the lookout for a hot lunch.
In addition, there are several other characteristics that make these creatures feel like they are the Great Whites of terra firma. For one, they stay hidden underground and are largely unseen until they burst forth from the crust to grab you. Part of the terror of Jaws is the unseen factor, the fact that there’s a huge man-eater right under your feet that you can’t escape. The Graboids share this terrifying trait. Where Jaws moves swiftly under the water, the Graboids move swiftly under the dirt.
Also, they can sense the vibrations in the ground from every footstep you take. This pretty much makes running for it impossible. Similar to how the flapping and paddling of a swimmer attracts a shark, just walking around on the ground attracts a Graboid. What this essentially does is turn the ground into another form of ocean. Just like being surrounded by water up to your neck, your ability to flee is severely impaired and every movement you make only serves to ring the dinner bell that much louder.
Lastly, let’s look at the way in which they take you down. In Jaws, Quint had a memorable line. “A shark like that will swallow you whole.” Substitute shark for Graboid and anyone of the residents of Perfection Valley – from Val to Earl to Burt to even that bratty little twerp Melvin – could have said the same thing. Aided by a set of large snake-like tongues, the Graboid lives up to its name by grabbing you up and gulping you down.
So let’s recap. Comes from beneath you? Check. Attracted by your movements? Check. Traps you in an environment that makes it difficult for you to flee? Check. Swallows you whole? That’s a check.
Jaws may be the shark-du-jour of film, but Graboids are the true personification of cinema’s take on the Land Shark.
In closing, let me say that I’m a person who likes to see things come full circle. So here’s an idea. Rumor has it that Kevin Bacon is going to be returning to once again play the cocky, cowboy hat-wearing Val in a television revival of Tremors. If that’s true, and it manages to once again bring the Graboid back into the public eye, then Saturday Night Live should dust off their Land Shark sketch of yesteryear and bring it back for one more go around.
I can picture it now. An unsuspecting victim hears a knock on their door. They ask who’s there and are given some innocuous answer to get them to open up – Girl Scouts selling cookies, Publishers Clearing House – whatever. The victim opens the door with a smiling face only to scream out a moment later when a large foam rubber Graboid head with sock puppet snake tongues reaches out and clamps down on them. Another reworked version of William’s Jaws score plays and a whole new generation laughs.
Now that would be perfection.