FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 25, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 8

Whoever would have thought that the second word to come to mind after watching Jeff "Just Before Dawn" Lieberman's 1976 killer-worm epic Squirm would be "charming"? What a surprise. The first word that came to mind, of course, was "fucking ewww!"- and yes, I realize that's two words, but I'm a girl and therefore I can't do math. Back to the point, however- yeah. Squirm is sort of charming, as it blends a Hardy Boys-style teen mystery/romance with some gross-out horror. It's not always successful and Squirm is far more 'fun' than it is 'good', but I dug it nonetheless.

The film begins with a silent text crawl informing us that everything we are about to see really happened- no, really:
Late in the evening of September 29, 1975, a sudden electrical storm struck a rural sea coast area of Georgia. Power lines, felled by high winds, sent 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...
Of course, this didn't really happen, but you know, even though claims of "true story!" in horror are almost always fake (I'm looking at you, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blair Witch Project), I adore it as a cinematic conceit. Given the notion that maybe this did happen, or that it even could happen makes the proceedings just a wee bit more exciting. I kind of like the idea of living in a world where, as Ben Franklin predicted it could hundreds of years ago, electricity might turn worms into ravenous man-eating monsters who wreak havoc on a small-town. I like the idea of living in a world where Leatherface might be real much less so, but I think you get my drift nonetheless.

Mick (Don Scardino) is a New York City boy who takes a bus all the way to Fly Creek, Georgia to visit his new girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy, sporting a southern accent so fake it's hilarious) and to hit some antique shops. He arrives the morning after the big thunderstorm as the citizens of Fly Creek are busy repairing broken windows and dealing with the power outages. What no one knows, however, is that the downed electrical wires are zapping the ground and pissing off the worms- and trust me, honey, you DO NOT want to piss off the worms...especially the blood worms, who bare their fangs and scream in righteous fury! Yes, the worms scream, and director Lieberman doesn't skimp on giving the worms their dramatic close-ups. Fucking ewww!

Geri borrows a truck- a truck full of worms!- from local simpleton worm farmer Roger (R.A. Dow) so she can take Mick into town. As Geri heads off in search of ice, Mick heads into a diner and asks for an egg cream. Oh, City Mouse, acting all stuck-up and asking for a weird beverage is not the way to endear yourself to the locals. Mick gets his drink, however, and upon commencing the sippage, he realizes his drink is Chunky Garden Style. Dropping the glass and exclaiming "Hey! There's a worm in my egg cream!", Mick stirs up all kinds of indignation in the diner owner, who claims innocence, and the local douchebag sheriff, who immediately wants Mick run out of town.

The teens return the truck to Roger, who promptly gets a scolding from his mean old dad Willie (Carl Dagenhart)- it seems that while Mick and Geri were off having Adventures in Ice and Egg Creams, some 100,000 worms escaped from the back of the truck. Mick and Geri apologize and head off to Mr Beardsley's in pursuit of Adventures in Antiquing. Mr Beardsley is nowhere to be found...or is he? No one knows for sure, but there is a skeleton on his property- who could it be?

Mick gets his Murder, She Wrote on and eventually figures out everything: the skeleton is, in fact, the remains of Mr Beardsley...the worms have gone totally cuckoo nutso because of the electricity in the ground and are killing the denizens of Fly Creek...the only thing that seems to fend them off is the light- but nighttime is coming on quick! Whatever shall they do?

After the sun sets, the worms do some major damage, most notably to poor Worm Farmer Willie and his son Roger...payback, maybe? In one of the grosser sequences, Mick discovers why he hears a squish squish sound in Willie's chest instead of a heartbeat:

Roger, meanwhile, gets attacked by worms and somehow lives. The worms burrow into his face- yeah, fucking ewww!- and Roger becomes...I don't know, Super Worm Man Roger or something. He keeps coming back to chase after Geri, the girl of his dreams who had the nerve to fall for a smart city boy instead of a simple worm farmer.

During the night, the worms take over Geri's house, crawling in from everywhere- including the shower head, in a scene that made me think "Aww, I remember my Play-Doh Fun Factory. That sure Wow, truth in advertising!"

And when I say "the worms take over Geri's house", I mean "No really, they really fucking take over the house!"- there are thousands and thousands of worms everywhere, filling rooms, moving in undulating waves, and generally being really gross.

Obviously there's a B-Movie horror side to Squirm, as I've showed you, but where does the "charming" come in? It's all in the characters. While the inferior acting prevents Squirm from becoming a movie on par with Tremors (1990), I still found the characters all terribly likable. I was pleased when Geri's "big city boyfriend" shows up and instead of the good-looking hunk you'd expect, Mick is a total nerd. I liked the blossoming romance between the Mick and Geri, and I found Geri's gawky kid sister Alma (Fran Higgins) sadly believable as she tries to impress Mick by sharing her pot with him and wearing inappropriate shoes she can't really handle.

It's the acting that holds Squirm back from being a great blend of horror, mystery, and black comedy. All the elements are there, sort of, but it never quite meshes together in a cohesive package. It's still a sweet movie with screaming worms, though, so how can you beat that?


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen 'Squirm', well...I've never seen 'Squirm' truth be told. But hot damn, if it has screaming, electrified worms...mildly 'tarded worm farmers and chicks with messed up shoes with pot in hand...I must hunt me down a copy.


Louis Fowler said...

I'm not sure if you know this or not, but RA Dow is actually Tony Dow, who had starred as big bro Wally on Leave It to Beaver.

Anonymous said...

Alma is such a trip and I always get a laugh out of that egg cream scene, not to mention just about everything else that happens in this bitchin' movie!

Stacie Ponder said...

Louis, are you trying to pull my leg? :D I haven't read about that anywhere, and according to IMDB they're two different people with different birthdates...

That would be awesome, though. I loved Roger.

"You gonna be da worm-face!"

Anonymous said...

Say! I always thought that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was "based on real events" being Ed Gein. Or is that Psycho?

Stacie Ponder said...

You're right, Benz, BOTH films are loosely based on the story of Ed Gein.

At the beginning of TCM, though, there's that text and voiceover that purport that the story of Sally and Franklin Hardesty and their friends - the events that take place in the film- is true, which is a big fat lie.

Anonymous said...

With the voiceover being done by TV's Dan Fielding...


Joseph Emmerth said...

Squirm was one of those movies that scared the shit out of me when I was I was a kid. I think I had bad dreams about the Worm Dude and wound up sleeping in bed with the dog for protection:)

Amanda By Night said...

Gawd Stacie, I LOVE Roger too. I forgot about that scene when the worms disappear from the truck. His daddy was mean.

My friend and I actually did Roger impressions for YEARS. I mean, how could you not.

And Don Scardino... well, he's just totally awesome all the time.

This is a movie I probably watch about once a year. It's good stuff.

And thanks for likening the word charming to this movie. That's the best description ever.

Bob The Wordless said...

When the door is opened and all those worms fall out, then goes dark.Fantastic, bladder emptying scene.Love the movie.Love your blog.

Phantom of Pulp said...

It was the boat scene that grabbed my attention when I was a young teen. I loved the way those worms burrowed up through the guy's face. That scene can ONLY be loved.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

"SQUIRM" what a great word that is.