AUSTIN, Texas—Two types of fans exist in the world: those who’ve seen and those who only acknowledge the franchise’s original film starring Kevin Bacon. In that 1990 horror-comedy, a small Southwestern town called Perfection suffers from an infestation of people-eating sandworms (called Graboids) that local not-so-brainy beefcake Val McKee (Bacon) eventually beats back.
Ars’ Culture Writer Jennifer Ouellette casually refers to this movie as “perfection,” not an uncommon sentiment. If B-movie horror with flashes of comedic brilliance and a few edge-of-your-seat scares interests you, viewers likely can’t do much better than
So when news of a modern reboot for television first trickled out in 2015, this development triggered both cautious optimism and premature regret. Various sequels already existed in the straight-to-DVD world, as well as a short-lived 2003 cable series. But they resembled the over-the-top camp of more than .
Yet, Bacon agreed to both reprising his role and executive producing. Writer Andrew Miller put together the script. And horror powerhouse Blumhouse Productions—then pre- but still post-gems like the original —partnered with Bacon on the whole thing. Even the most diehard fans couldn’t wish for much more 25 years after the original cult classic. After all, Bacon seemingly opted to revisit old roles before that point.
“[Val] was pretty much the only character I played in a movie where I thought it’d be fun to check out 25 years later—it’s because he was such a mess,” the actor said on a stage in Austin, Tex., this week. “Finding out what happened to him post-worms would be an interesting journey. So I took the idea to Jason Blum, and we explored a film version. But there were complications—Universal is a complicated company with a lot of moving parts. It became clear it wouldn’t be done as a film, but Jason asked what I thought about a TV series… On the first few takes [at plotting out a script], I thought this was a terrible idea to do as a series. But then I spoke to Andrew, and suddenly it was an awesome idea to do it as a series.”
Miller’s take likely won over Bacon for a few reasons. To start, it ignores everything that came after the original 1990 film (sorry to fans of the Arctic adventures in 2018’s now on Netflix!). Second, Miller threaded the needle between staying loyal to that first film and making a more 2018-appropriate TV series. Tonally, the show kept the blend of horror and comedy that helped the original eventually find an audience, but story-wise it really embraced what would later become a modern trend. As characters in these beloved classic worlds age, how do they deal with the events of the past as a new generation grows up knowing little-to-nothing of lost glory? (See 2018’s as another delightful example.)
In TV pilot, Val has clung to his hero days while the town of Perfection struggled to determine its next move. The show’s theme park more closely resembles an aging regional destination than Disney World, and even the local cafe probably regrets changing its name to an inevitable Instagram thirst trap, -A-Coffee.
“[Early on] we were looking at nostalgia as a good thing,” said Jessica Rhoades, the show’s executive producer (then with Blumhouse TV). “But [Andrew] was the first person to say to Kevin and I, ‘Nostalgia is just looking at the past without looking at the future or being focused on the problems of the present.’ was an exciting way to talk about something with .”
“So I started with, ‘What if Perfection was the hottest town in the world for a minute, but eventually the Graboids didn’t come back—then what?'” Miller added. “We wanted to explore that in Val’s relationship with his daughter, who now resents him for not focusing on the present, becoming a drunk, etc.”
The idea had enough meat to it that Bacon and co. eventually found a buyer in SyFy, and they set out to make a pilot. Shot in a 70-plus acre ranch about an hour outside of Albuquerque, director Vincenzo Natali () brought a cinematic polish to everything that perhaps the original film lacked. Actors like Toks Olagundoye () and PJ Byrne () signed on for some new Hollywood muscle. And present day VFX meant even the beloved Graboids—and any victim sequences to come—could grow a little more sinister, a little “realer” this time around.
SyFy ultimately had three pilots made for the spring of 2018: and Only made it to order, with news of the cancellation coming that April (around the same time SyFy broke hearts with the then-end of ).
SyFy never went on the record with its reasoning, leaving those who worked on the pilot a bit baffled. The trailer eventually leaked out because #Internet, and its competence only complicated that network silence. Whatever the situation, the single episode never aired…
…until this week, of course.