"Squirm" is an AIP International picture, directed by Jeff Lieberman ("Just Before Dawn", "Blue Sunshine"), where New York city boy Mick (Don Scardino) journeys by bus to the tiny hamlet of Fly Creek, Georgia, to visit a girl named Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy). Geri lives with her wannabe-hippie sister Alma (Fran Higgins) and their freaked out mother Naomi (Jean Sullivan). His arrival is preceded by a violent electrical storm--a solemn text crawl opens the film by telling us that 'scientists' recorded a bizarre freak of nature in Fly Creek--and the collapse of an electrical tower renders the town dark and sends the voltage "surging into the muddy ground".
Mick immediately draws attention to himself in Fly Creek by mouthing off to a local diner waitress when he orders an egg cream (some fancy hipster drink she's never heard of) and then finds a large sandworm in it. Instead of apologizing, the waitress acts all offended, and the sheriff (Peter MacLean) gets in Mick's face and practically tells him to leave town. You know, just like any small town sheriff wants to do, right?
Geri's an aspiring antique dealer (we're to believe she met Mick at some kind of flea market or swap meet), and she drags Mick to meet another local salesman, but instead they find his place abandoned and a human skeleton lying near his shed. What they don't know is that he was eaten by worms. I mean, the audience already knows, because they bought a ticket to a movie called "Squirm" that has been advertised as a movie about worms eating people, so naturally you understand the man was killed by worms, but Fly Creek is a place where the worms look like this:
|A little of what Mick's having makes this movie even more enjoyable.|
|"Oh great, now the worm bill is really going to be out of control this month..."|
|Never let a man like this near your worm, never.|
Lieberman shows us a number of upsetting things in the film, and that wormface gag isn't the only one. The sheer volume of worms used in the movie had to be astronomical, and seeing the sets inundated with worms is disturbing. One moment has the sheriff and his girlfriend screwing in an empty jail cell and being attacked by worms, which pour in through the windows. Another standout moment has the local dive bar, Quigley's, swamped with worms, which people immediately leap off of their bar stools into. One far out Fly Creek chick plays it smart and climbs up onto the bar, where she does a sort of scream-dance. It's wild!
There is more to it than just the shock sequences, though, including a very strong Southern gothic feel to the film. Jean Sullivan channels Jessica Tandy's performance in "The Birds" as a mother figure on the verge of losing her grip, and she adds her own twist to the characterization. She's a little spacier than Tandy was, a little more disconnected, and by the time she's a pile of worms, she seems to have completely lost touch with reality, continuing to work on her knitting while worms drop from the ceiling into her living room. The character actors all do a great job in communicating the atmosphere of a small Southern town, and in fact many of the secondary characters were locals in the town where the movie was actually shot (Port Wentworth, Georgia). The scene where Mick goes into a local drug store and is eyed suspiciously by the locals is one of the film's highlights, especially the lunch counter waitress who loses her patience with him when he spills a drink on her counter.
But the best thing about "Squirm"--other than the fact that it's about A FREAKIN OCEAN OF MAN EATING WORMS--is how ultra 70s it is. Not only are there wacky bell-bottoms galore, but there's a doomy love ballad in the film, a strange custom that I can't relate to but I love just the same. It also has the cartoonish sense of humor of a 1950s monster movie, something that seems to have been overlooked when it was featured on Mystery Science Theater--no really, we think these goofy things in the movie are intentional, guys.
Watching the full length film is surreal for me, because the scenes that were contained into that original Super-8 edited version are forever burned into my brain. That edited version illustrates the only thing "Squirm" is really guilty of, which is a runtime just a little too long for its subject matter; its first and second acts are slowly paced, and we watch the main characters unravel a mystery about a secret we already know. However, that worm attack in the boat is more than enough to make up for that, not to mention the various worm agonies inflicted on R.A. Dow's character throughout the rest of the movie. I doubt I could ever forget those images of him being sucked underneath a sea of writhing worms and the effect they first had on me. Also, somewhere there's a dispersed group of former girl scouts who all grew up to be pathologically afraid of worms.
|"...anyway, there we were watching cartoons, and all of a sudden this thing with WORMS comes on..."|