October Horrorshow: Squirm

Squirm is an appropriate title for the 1976 horror flick from writer/director Jeff Lieberman. This is the type of horror flick intended to make a viewer’s skin crawl. In that, Lieberman and company succeeded beyond any expectations. After all, this isn’t some mid-budget horror meant for mass theatrical release. This is a low-budget horror flick made for drive-ins and grindhouses. What I mean is, how in the world could the production afford to purchase millions of worms?

That’s right. Worms. The ugliest, slimiest, biggest, fanged (yes, FANGED), worms from the soil of these great United States. All shipped to Port Wentworth, Georgia, for use in a disgusting movie shoot. I fucking love horror flicks.

In the fictional town of Fly Creek, Georgia, a powerful storm moves through, knocking down an electrical tower and severing the lines serving the town. The live side of the lines, which the power company doesn’t seem in any hurry to turn off, sputter and writhe over the ground. Californians would tell one that is a recipe for a devastating fire. In this flick, all that electricity flows into and through the sodden ground, riling up every worm in the area. At this early stage of the film, the worms are more annoyed than anything else. First, there’s some character development to get through.

Viewers are introduced to Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy), who lives in a big yellow house with her psychologically deteriorating mother, Naomi (Jean Sullivan), and cheeky sister Alma (Fran Higgins). Next door to their homestead is a worm farm and bait shop run by curmudgeonly Willie Grimes (Carl Dagenhart) and his adult son, Roger (R A Dow). Besides working at his old man’s worm farm, Roger helps out around the Sanders household. He has a thing for Geri, and she does nothing to dissuade Roger as long as he does things for her. She’s a bit of a shithead. Even more so when we learn that Geri is expecting an overnight guest and would-be boyfriend, Mick (Don Scardino).

Mick isn’t from Fly Creek, or Georgia, or anywhere near the south. He is, to the shock of the locals, from New York City (gasp!). After arriving, Mick doesn’t endear himself to the locals, getting on Sheriff Reston’s (Peter MacLean) bad side within a minute or so of meeting him.

The plot takes a little time to get moving, but the good news is, there isn’t a dud amongst any of the characters in the film, despite a couple of the performers having no acting credits other than this film. Fran Higgins was the standout from the inexperienced bunch. She was the main source of levity in the film, and Lieberman used her to effect. This was also Dow’s only credit, but, according to the internet, so it must be true, he was a professional who spent some time in the area prior to filming in order to prepare. He also played a character who was Squirm movie postereither very stupid, or had a form of mental retardation. That’s a higher degree of difficulty, and Dow did well in keeping his character from slipping into cliché, or, worse, stereotype.

After a decent first act, the film drags a little in the second, as Lieberman moves his pieces around the board. But the final act is what makes this film live up to the title. Night descends on the town once more, and the worms, still basking in all that sweet, sweet electricity, slither up from the muck and invade the entire town. And I’m not talking a couple of overflowing five-gallon buckets. Oh, no. Lieberman and company filled entire rooms with worms. I am not exaggerating. They bought millions of worms and made sure just about every one of them got screen time.

Worms fill bathtubs, cover the entire floor of a local pub, pour through the window of post-coitus lovers and bury them. The worms have the force of a flood, and a healthy appetite. It makes for one of the more impressive finales one will see in a creature feature.

This is an effective horror flick. So much so that there was much debate in the Missile Test screening room about whether this should be included in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index. The tie vote was broken by the fact that MST3K once featured this film. So, Missile Test is going to defer to the experts, and declare Squirm to be shitty. But, it’s a pretty decent watch, too, landing in the top half of the Index, displacing I Am Legend at #99.

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