While describing the 70’s output of nature going crazy movies as a heyday may strain your personal definition of what a heyday should be, there’s no denying that the genre was in full flourish during the decade. The crazy thing is, I’m not even including Jaws in this proclamation as movies such as Frogs, Kingdom Of The Spiders, Empire Of The Ants and The Food Of The Gods all hurled all manner of creepy critters in mankinds direction due to nature wanting to punch our ticket due to our callous polluting of the Earth.
Needless to say, all of these movies comfortably sat on the weirder end of the movie spectrum as they flickered their eccentric messages of eco-harmony on the screens of drive-ins and flea pits up and down America, but even though it’s a close race, one of the most bonkers has to be Jonathan Lieberman’s Squirm.
After a particularly nasty storm causes ruptured powerline to electrify the ground, the continuing current succeeds in not only inflicting a power cut on the nearby, podunk, town of Fly Creek, but it also righteously fucks off all the worms in the area, turning them into crazed flesh eaters.
However, before any of this actually affects anyone (and strap yourself in, because it’s going to take a while), we have to endure the city slicking ways of Mick, who is visiting this rat hole from New York in order to meet up with his girlfriend, Geri. While we scratch our heads while we try and work out how these two are dating when one lives in New York and the other in Georgia without the aid of the internet, we get to visit Geri’s family who, if I’m being honest, are just awful. Mother Naomi seems to be alarmingly divorced from reality while sister Alma puffs her way through more weed than Jay and Silent Bob, however, the real alarm bells should be being set off by walking red flag and local worm farmer Roger Grimes who obviously has a thing for Gerri.
As his shitty vacation comes along, Mick starts to notice strange occurrences of the invertebrate variety. First he finds one floating in his egg cream (don’t ask) and later he and Geri stumble across a skeleton that’s been picked totally clean, but any attempt to report these happenings are thwarted by the outsider hating, walking pompadour that calls himself the town sheriff.
As a whole bunch of guff involving the skeleton being moved, rediscovered and then identified takes up the bulk of the runtime, creepy Roger shoots his shot with Geri and ends up with a bunch of carnivorous worms burrowing into his face for his troubles.
As night falls and the worms come out in force to George themselves on any human beings they can find, Mark and Geri not only have to survive against this wriggling, wall of death, but a deranged Roger, who’s agonising, wormy facial has driven him completely insane.
A truly odd slice of American gothic that wears its raggedy production values on its tatty sleeve, you could hardly describe Squirm as a “good” film, and yet, there’s something about its imperfect little form that’s perfect for the midnight movie crowd. Loaded with bizarre characters with accents so southern they make Scarlet O’Hara seem like she’s from the Bronx, even if it wasn’t a movie about killer earthworms, Squirm would still have been marked out for cult notoriety for its weirdo levels alone. Not one of the characters is even remotely appealing with lead character Mark having all the hero capabilities of a cold lobster thermidor and Geri looking like she literally woke up in a ditch every morning. Still, they’re Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh compared to the rest of the cast who takes the Lynchian townsfolk seen in the script and uses their acting “skills” to take them to another, laughable, level. I honestly have not clue as to what is supposed to be up with Jean Sullivan’s portrayal of Geri’s mother, but whether she’s supposed to be suffering mental issues or flying off he tits on some sort of gnarly narcotic, but her choice of line readings are utterly awful in the best way. The same could be said of Fran Higgins’ Alma, a teenage burnout whose sense of humour is as off colour as her teeth and who looks every bit as ratty as you’d expect of someone who voluntarily lives in a place called Fly Creek.
As these slack jawed, non-entities wander round the first half of the movie with all the drive of a sleepwalker while spouting lines like “I’m not a tourist, I’m a Libra!”, your patience is sorely tested as the only thing that seems to be getting mangled is the local dialect – however, the second Roger gets his attempt at sexual assault repaid by getting his face ate by bait, the movie finally takes full advantage of its latent “icky factor” thanks to finally shoving its slimy stars into the spotlight.
Be it the unintentionally funny close ups of the worms as they shriek like squealing pigs in a brave attempt to make earthworms scary, or the or the sight of a corpse with his ribcage packed full of the little critters. There’s even a couple of legitimate jump scares in there thanks to either the worm-ridden Roger (sterling early work from makeup effects legend Rick Baker) leaping out at people or a moment when someone opens a door to reveal a wormy wall of death lurking behind it. In fact the moments where worms ooze out of a shower head while an oblivious would-be victim fiddles with the taps, or the final scenes, where a house gets completely overrun by a literal sea of killer worms, will no doubt trigger an unhealthy amount whatever phobia the slimy shits fall under and it’s here that Squirm undeniably nails the bullseye. Complain about the cruddy acting, grotty production values and nonsense concept all you want, but what exactly did you think a killer earthworm movie made in 1976 would look like, anyway? This is an unabashed cult movie that puts all of its ropey efforts into being as odd and off-beat as it possibly can with a plot that’s a laughable as it is (yes) squirm inducing.
Fans of “normal” cinema need not waste their time, but devotees of cheeseball drivel that’s best enjoyed high on whatever the fuck Geri’s mum is tripping balls on, will no doubt be entranced by this threadbare example of nature run amok.
We then the worms turn, Squirm turns stomachs.