Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Obsessive Cinematic Disorder: Big Things in Small Towns

There’s something to be said about films involving small towns that encounter big disruptions. Maybe it’s the inherent action or drama as a result of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Maybe it's the fact that I myself grew up in a very small town and always hoped an alien invasion or natural disaster of cinematic proportions would spice things up. Here are ten films that feature small towns facing big problems.

Slither (2006)

Small Town: Wheelsy, South Carolina

Big Thing: Hive-Mind Alien Slugs

It all starts with a simple meteorite but before you know it, the whole town is overrun by alien slugs that can turn people into zombies. Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is the first to get infected and he ends up mutating into an alien monster capable of controlling the rest of the slugs and slug zombies. A lot of stuff gets destroyed, including Grant Grant’s marriage.


Footloose (1984)

Small Town: Bomont

Big Thing: Dancing

Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) rides into the small town of Bomont in his VW Beetle and brings trouble with him. Ren butts heads with Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) when he learns that dancing is outlawed and tries to change the town's ways. NOBODY stops Kevin Bacon from dancing.

Red Dawn (1984)

Small Town: Calumet, Colorado

Big Thing: The Soviet Union

Calumet is under attack as the Soviets Invade America! And it’s up to Patrick Swayze and the WOLVERINES!!! to stop ‘em. Families are destroyed and a once peaceful town is ravaged by the Reds in the process.

The Reds were not Crazy for Swayze.

Dante’s Peak (1997)

Small Town: Dante’s Peak, Washington

Big Thing: Mountain Turned Volcano

This is what happens when you build your town next to a volcano! Even if it’s just a mountain. Who knows when those things could blow?

So yeah, the whole town is pretty much destroyed from within. Roads flood, lakes turn to acid, ash and lava run rampant. The entire town basically explodes towards the end of the film thanks to a pyroclastic cloud belched out by the volcano. Good thing Agent 007 turned volcanologist Pierce Brosnan is there to help.

First Blood (1982)

Small Town: Hope, Washington

Big Thing: John Rambo

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), fresh out of Vietnam and just trying to mind his own business, ends up getting arrested by asshole-cop-in-residence Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and chased into the forest surrounding Hope. He ends up returning to town and pretty much destroys it. He also makes the sheriff cry at one point. Suck it, Teasle.

The Blob (1988)

Small Town: Arborville, California

Big Thing: Gelatinous Alien Organism

Arborville is a peaceful California town (except for Kevin Dillon and a transient or two) until The Blob comes a blobbin’ in. A ton of people and a good chunk of the town meet unsavory fates before the alien is literally put on ice.

Super 8 (2011)

Small Town: Lillian, Ohio

Big Thing: Alien Beastie

Young Joe Lamb is reeling over the loss of his mother when an alien creature escapes from the military in his hometown.  A train is derailed, a lot of people are eaten (or are they?), and the town’s water tower gets destroyed. Bummer!

The Monster Squad (1987)

Small Town: ?*

Big Thing: A Butt Ton of Monsters

A small group of friends known as The Monster Squad don’t have many monsters to fight in their small town. That is, until Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Gill-man and The Mummy stop by. Dracula and his cohorts have big plans for the squad’s small town and it’s up to the gang to take ‘em out. The Count and his crew of monsters do a ton of damage before getting sucked into a space/time portal.


The Iron Giant (1999)

Small Town: Rockwell, Maine

Big Thing: Giant Alien Robot

Rockwell is your average 1950s American town. But then The Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) drops in, befriends a young boy named Hogarth (Eli Marienthal) and beenemys (?) a government agent named Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald). Power stations are destroyed, trains are derailed, and lakes (and tearducts) are drained.

Jaws (1975)

Small Town: Amity Island

Big Thing: Great White Shark

This might be the quintessential “big thing/small town” movie. Amity Island is a sleepy little town so dependant on summer tourism dollars that the Mayor tries to pretend that a Great White Shark isn’t cruising the waters just off shore. Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) moves to town just in time to see everything go to shit. Jaws (or Bruce if you’d prefer) ends up eating a ton of Amity Island citizens and a few boats in the process.


So there's the list! If you live in a small town, keep an eye out for any of these. If for no other reason than to let me join in on the action!

*I have no idea where The Monster Squad takes place. IMDb lists "Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - 900 Exposition Boulevard, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, California, USA" as the only filming location (and that doesn't necessarily mean it took place in Los Angeles County). CT from Nerd Lunch mentioned an internet source claiming the film takes place in Portland, Oregon. While Portland is indeed an awesome city, CT and I agree that TMS seems to take place in a smaller town. There's a good chance the location is revealed in the film at some point - maybe even prominently so - but my quick re-watch of bits of the movie didn't help. If anyone could shed some light on this I'd be forever grateful.


  1. Love this! NO ONE stops the Ren from dancing. No. One.

    The Monster Squad was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I still love the hell out of it today.

    And you're right about Jaws, it's the tell all end all of small town/big problem movies.

    Great work!

    1. Alex - Thanks for reading! I forgot that you were a Monster Squad fan. GREAT classic '80s movie. Jaws is really where this post came from. It's such a great story.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Great list! Growing up in the suburbs outside Baltimore City I always sort of romanticized small town life from books & some movies (like Now & Then or Stand by Me). Once I hit high school I realized that my thinking was a bit off base and became very glad to be in a metropolitan area. This list of shit that goes down in small towns makes me extra glad. I would prefer to avoid the Lillian, Ohio's and Dante's Peak, Washington's of America.

    1. Jess - Thanks for reading! Growing up I envied kids that lived in the suburbs like the kids from E.T. The grass is always greener. Nothing like Stand By Me happened in good ole' Bell, FL. Fellow EH Team member Nick can attest to that. Thanks for commenting!