Tremors Planned For One VFX Scene The Crew Just Couldn't Pull Off

If you stick around in this industry long enough, you'll learn that no movie, no matter how big or how small, is immune to disaster. And bodies of water are often involved (or at least nearby).

The mechanical shark in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" barely worked. The craft services on "Titanic" got spiked with PCP. The $5 million floating set of "Waterworld" sank into the ocean.

You would think that filming in the desert would protect filmmakers from these aquatic inconveniences (well, not necessarily the PCP), but you would be very, very wrong. While shooting the 1990 cult horror-comedy classic "Tremors," one of the film's biggest set pieces went completely unfilmed.

Because it turns out that water, sometimes, makes things rock solid instead of soggy.

Perfection is the enemy of Graboids

The original "Tremors" stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as handymen in the tiny desert town of Perfection, Nevada. Nothing ever seems to happen in Perfection, until one day gigantic man-eating subterranean worms begin eating the populace, and then a whole lot happens all at once.

The horror-comedy came out in 1990, and was a box office disappointment right out of the gate, grossing a paltry $16 million off of a $10 million budget. In most cases that would be the end of that. It certainly seemed unlikely that "Tremors" would get a whole new lease on life and spawn a seven-film franchise across four decades, as well as a short-lived TV show on the SyFy Channel.

And yet that's exactly what happened. Like most cult films, eventually "Tremors" found its audience on home video. Fred Ward and Michael Gross, who played the hilarious doomsday prepper Burt Gummer, returned for the straight-to-video sequel "Tremors 2: Aftershocks" in 1996. Gross soon took over as the star of the franchise, headlining four sequels and one wild west prequel, all of them very entertaining. He also starred in the one-season television series, alongside a pre-"Breaking Bad" Dean Norris.

But before all that success, the makers of the original "Tremors" had to deal with one fateful, frustrating night when everything went wrong.

Do Graboids dream of vermiculite Jeeps?

It was the last night of filming on "Tremors" and director Ron Underwood was in trouble.

"We were shooting a scene with Megan and Jim's car sinking in the night as the Graboids dug out from under the car," Underwood told the Tremors YouTube Channel, describing a scene where two characters met a gruesome end.

"We had planned this way of making the car sink into a pool of water, covered with vermiculite, that is a sand-like looking material. But it became evident through the night that the vermiculite had absorbed the water so much that it was a solid surface. So it wouldn't allow the car to sink," Underwood explained.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the filmmakers — at the end of the production, unable to return for reshoots — got inventive.

"We put the camera down low, really low to the ground so that we wouldn't see much. Then we built up a berm in front of the camera to try to hide what was not working," Underwood said. And since a lot wasn't working, the scene wound up very different than what was written in the script.

"In the script we had the car sinks, and as it's sinking, Megan crashes through the windshield and climbs up on the hood of the car, almost like a hood ornament going down with the ship. That was a beautiful image that we just couldn't do because the whole effect wasn't working quite right. So we never got to that part of the scene," Underwood revealed.

It worked out. The scene in the finished film ends with the eerie image of car headlights shooting upwards into the night sky in the desert, a lonesome tombstone of light and an image that is uniquely "Tremors."