The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - Squirm (1976) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Squirm (1976)

Jeff Lieberman's creature feature gets a high-def release from Arrow.

Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearchy, R.A Dow, Jean Sullivan, Peter MacLean, R.A Dow

With a title like 'Squirm', you know that you are going to be watching something slightly icky with a B-movie plot. The shock is that, in amongst the monster mayhem, there is a surprising amount of character and subtext to recommend it. When an electricity pylon hits the ground during a storm it unleashes a torrent of electrified worms who are angry (these worms scream) and hungry. We are definitely in the seventies revenge of nature cycle, films such as 'Bugs', 'Frogs', 'Giant Spider Invasion' et al. This has more in common with high watermark of this type 'Long Weekend', than lower rung killer giant bunny rabbit movie 'Night of the Lepus'. 
The great shock with going back to these movies is just how slow the pacing is. For the first half of the movie there is barely any horror of note. It feels more like a Tennessee Williams play (admittedly a Williams play where he got bored with sexuality and repression and thought “this needs killer worms”) with ripe Southern belles and a swooning grieving widow spouting portentous dialogue like “there was something evil about that storm” in a heavy as she goes “I do declare” accent. When elder sister Geri (Pearchy) goes to meet her new lover Mick (Scardino), fresh in from New York, we go from Southern Gothic into 'Deliverance' meets 'Straw Dogs', as in quick succession Mick manages to piss off both the local Sheriff (MacLean) and simpleton local handyman Roger Grimes (Dow). I say Sheriff, but other than the outfit, he seems more interested in hitting on anything with a skirt, more a big toothed Jim Jarmusch in a swingers club than an officer of the law.
It’s the mixture of 'Scooby Doo' detective work when Geri and Mick discover a skeleton, which promptly goes missing when they contact Sheriff Heff, as well as the repressed sexuality that is almost boiling over that makes this such a flawed but interesting work. Are the worms spawned by electricity? Or from the id? Brought about by the blooming sexuality of the two sisters and hysteria of the matriarch of the house? It’s only in the final third, when the onslaught of the worms begins in earnest, that we are firmly back in eco-horror territory.
As a horror film, now it doesn’t cut the mustard, relying too much on worms eye views, close ups of worms and lots of rubbery spaghetti. People scream and die off camera; a result of a small budget. Rick Baker's effects are used sparingly and are effective, but if it’s grizzly grind-house gore you are looking for then you may want to look elsewhere.
It may all seem terribly familiar, with its worms coming out of the shower head, queasy shots of locals eating spaghetti and good old boy rednecks, but that’s part of its charm. Some of the acting may be a little on the nose but it’s all played with conviction and, although hokey, not played with a wink to the audience. What is interesting is that apart from Scardino (who went on to direct last years 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone') most of the cast have never been seen again. Lieberman's career has also stalled since his excellent in-the-woods-killer film 'Just Before Dawn'. As he mentions in the commentary, he decided against casting Martin Sheen, Kim Basinger and Sylvester Stallone for this film. You feel with that cast it may not have been out of circulation for as long. A minor movie then, but also a lot of fun.
Arrow's transfer is up to their usual high standard. For a film of this vintage and budget, it’s as good as it has ever looked. There is a nice layer of grain to the image, the picture is sharp and rich and the audio is good.
The extras include a short overview of the film and its director from the always exuberant and interesting film critic Kim Newman. The highlight is a Q + A with director and lead which is full of interesting tidbits regarding the murder of 100,000’s of worms and an interesting use of a scout troop. The Commentary is also sprightly and engaging even if it does repeat many of the anecdotes from the Q + A session.

Jason Abbey