Back where I grew up we had a thing called “Saturday night Shockers”. This show force fed fiends with horror movies that they might otherwise not choose for themselves. Among others, this local show brought me Phantasm (1979), Burnt Offerings (1976) and repulsive little horror movie from 1976 called Squirm. I can watch gore all day, bring worms to party and I’ll run screaming for the door. What was I going to do, it was the Saturday Night Shocker? Certainly I would watch it. This review should be fun because to date I have actively avoided watching it ever again.
Jeff Lieberman directed Squirm and Rick Baker performed the practical effects for Squirm (1976).
It Starts With and Opening Scroll?
Late in the evening of September, 1975, a sudden electrical storm struck a rural sea coast region of Georgia. Power lines, felled by high winds, dent hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground, cutting off all electricity to the small secluded town of Fly Creek. During the period that followed the storm, the citizens of Fly Creek experienced what scientists believe to be one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded.
This is the story…
A Throwback to 1974
It would be a dereliction of duty not to call out the clear influence of the John Larroquette’s monologue to kick off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Squirm’s opening scroll matches both the tone and atmosphere that Kim Henkle and Tobe Hooper debuted just two years before. Conversely, for Squirm there is no narration, just thunder quietly threatening in the background.
I’d call it a tribute and move on, but this film leans on another technique from TCM. While Geraldine, played by Patricia Pearcy, and her mother discuss life in the kitchen, the radio can be heard in the background iterating over the events of the electrical storm. Texas Chainsaw Massacre did something similar with descriptions
Between the title Squirm and the ominous opening scroll, the plot is right there for the taking. During a severe electrical storm, falling power lines dump hundreds of thousands of volts into the muddy earth below. Inhabiting this earth is a massive population of worms. When electrified, these nasty little beasts emerge from the ground with an aggressive taste for human flesh. Three minutes into this film and I am petrified. As the lighting crashes, you can hear the putrid creatures screaming as they hungrily manipulate their horrid mouths. Eject, eject!!!
The build up is slow, and what the hell is an egg cream?
The events following the electrical storm move very slow. The slithering bad-guys make cameo appearances here and there. Foreboding clues like a stripped human skeleton offer hints of the horror to come. The most notable worm incident comes in the form of Mick, played by Don Scardino, finding a worm in his Egg Cream. Oh the horror. Just thinking about it makes the stomach constrict around its content.
Throughout this lull, Squirm tortures the audience with Geraldine’s fake southern belle accent. However, Mick manages to be quirky enough to keep it light and interesting. That dude love himself an egg cream, hold the worms.
Roger, Lord of the Squirm
The action begins to turn when Geraldine and Mick go on a fishing excursion with a local man named Roger. Roger is a simple man that does handiwork when he is not working on this father’s bait farm. He hates the worms so much that he is unable to put them on the hook. Roger and I align on this sentiment. One of the little horrors bites Mick, which is uncharacteristic of this species of worm. Little known fact, the depicted worms are called blood worms. Never trust something called a blood worm. Let’s use our common sense, people.
Later, Roger relays a story about how he saw this once as a boy when his father used a transformer from his electric train to draw worms from the ground. These angered little monsters viciously attacked Rogers thumb, and it had to be amputated. All of the pieces are in place for this horror roller coaster to take off.
Great early work by Rick Baker
In one of the most iconic and repulsing scenes, the worms burrow into Roger’s face. Baker’s approach is incredibly effective and horrifying to watch. Rumor has it that this scene marks the first time that Baker worked with facial prosthetics. Overall, the practical effects are outstanding. I helps that the monsters themselves are already revolting little beasts spawned by Satan himself. The production team does a fantastic job transitioning from real worms to practical effects.
Let’s be completely honest, the real star of the show are the real worms themselves. Anytime the camera cuts to a close-up of these slimy denizens of a place less holy than the 9th circle of hell, I am horrified. And, then there are the screams. The horrible little bastards scream and the gnash their dreadful little teeth. To take this nightmare to the big leagues, the production augmented the worm supply with rubber worms. The special effects squad does a great job keeping the illusion alive by transitioning from real to fake. When Roger falls neck deep into writing pool of plastic worms, the audience still wretches in disgust.
I Have Never Hated a Movie More for Being Good
Squirm so easily could fall into the pit of obscurity inhabited by so many electrified/nuclear bugs and animals. Quite literally, this film repulses me. I never hoped to see it again, but I also never forgot about it. Eventually, its turn came up as I attempt to review my entire archive. When it popped up on the review list, I stared at the screen for a moment, shaking my head and taking a deep breath. Ugh, I have to watch that one again.
Being objective, this film is very slow for the first 60 minutes of play. However, if the audience can just hang on, it succeeds completely in horrifying the audience.
From a cinematography perspective, the film fails to dazzle, but it clearly has higher production qualities than the overage low-budget shocker. The film does a great job of building tension. Every time Mick takes a step in the woods it feels like his next will be into a waist high puddle of worms.
In a tension builder, Geraldine turns on the shower and worms slither through the holes in the shower-head. Just as she looks up, they retreat. If I ever turned on the shower and worms came out, I would have to be hospitalized, rubber room style.
In the most terrifying suspense builders in the film, Geraldine’s sister goes to open a door that everyone but her knows is holding back an 8 foot tall sea of murderous filth.
Squirm, All Too Effective Horror
All said and done, Lieberman and Baker created a film so disturbing that it permanently stained my mind. I never forgot the horror of Roger’s worm-face. I never forgot the sea of writhing death in the living room. What’s more, this film actually is more than just its wormy villains. It has a bit of 70’s period charm if you can manage to get over the fake accents. The producers put in the hard work to make sure they made a great movie about killer worms rather than settle for just a movie about killer worms. I recommend Squirm for anyone looking for horror movies that they will never want to watch again.
Squirm (1976) - Dear God... Horrific Worms!!! - Malevolent Dark
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Date Created: 1976-01-01 00:00