BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow, Jean Sullivan
There was a period in the mid-1970s when it seemed that every animal under the sun was getting its own movie, and not in a cute and funny way. It’s all the fault of Jaws of course, but then again, sharks are supposed to be predatory and aggressive, and they look pretty mean to boot. Worms, on the other hand, are small, slow and have no discernable features whatsoever, which makes the idea of producing a film about killer invertebrates something of a challenge and, if truth be told, the list of films about such a thing is fairly short. However, Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm is probably the one that springs to mind for most people (or John Eyres’ Octopus, if you really want to show off) and, thanks to Arrow Video, we can now experience the film in a glorious HD transfer.
During a thunderstorm in Fly Creek, Georgia, most of the town’s power lines are blown down, causing the electrical current to enter the soil and bring thousands of worms to the surface. However, these worms have a taste for human flesh and it isn’t long before bodies stat appearing and the town’s inhabitants – including Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy) and her boyfriend Mick (Don Scardino) – start finding the creepy crawlies in every dark corner of their houses, including coming from the water supply.
What sets Squirm apart from the myriad of other ‘when-nature-goes-bad’ films is that, despite it being a fun – even slightly cheesy – film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t come across as wholly ridiculous. The characters range from the likeable to the totally bonkers, which is better than having everybody being bland carbon copies of each other or just being complete stereotypes like many films made today seem to make a habit of doing. Particular mention must go to Peter MacLean as Sheriff Reston, who does a great sleazy Southern cop with a total disregard for non-locals, and veteran actress Jean Sullivan as Geri’s mother Naomi, who doesn’t seem to be in the same film as everybody else but somehow it works.
But what doesn’t go in the film’s favour is the pacing. Yes, films from the 1970s took their time to get to ‘the good stuff’ and if the film were made today it would no doubt do the opposite and throw everything in at the beginning and run out of steam too early, but it takes about half-an-hour before anybody gets an inkling that something may be wrong and about another 15-20 minutes before anything really gruesome happens, which is about half of the film gone already.
When it does get going, though, it really does get horrific. Make-up master Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) really goes to town with most of the effects, making thousands of killer worms bursting out of cupboard doors look a lot better than a low-budget ’70′s creature feature really ought to look. The central setpiece as far as the effects goes is when the Sanders’ handyman Roger (R.A. Dow) gets several worms burrowing into his face and is done as well – if not better – than any similar effects done in the following couple of decades (before the advent of CGI) and is really what holds the final act of the film together.
Overall, Squirm is an enjoyable low-budget horror movie from an era that seemed to throw out a new monster movie every week, and probably because it’s worms rather than sharks, wolves, bears, killer whales or spiders it does stick out a little more than the rest. The direction is solid throughout, the special effects hold up superbly and, one or two dodgy Southern accents aside, the performances are all pretty good but it does take its time to get going and just as it gets you fully engaged it ends quite underwhelmingly. It’s worth watching if you’re a fan of horror films from that time but unless you’re prepared to take on board its shortcomings you may not get as much out of it as you would from some of the more notable genre films of the era.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director Jeff Lieberman, filmed live Q&A session with Lieberman and star Don Scardino from New York’s Anthology Film Archives (2011), The Esoteric Auteur – Kim Newman on Jeff Lieberman and Squirm, original trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Lee Gambin and an interview with Jeff Lieberman by Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
UK Release Date: 23rd September 2013