Retro Review: ‘Squirm’
In the world of horror movies, anything can be a terrifying threat if the filmmaker is dedicated enough to it. Willard had rats, Night of the Lepus had giant rabbits, the Happening had stationary plants. But in 1976, first time writer/director Jeff Lieberman took things to a whole different level. The monsters in his film would be something to make audiences roll their eyes: worms. That is right Squirm features a small Southern town terrorized by vicious worms.
A powerful storm in Fly Creek, Georgia wreck power lines knock them into the ground. At the same time countless bloodworms escape their captivity and head into the electrified soil. It is during these circumstances, when Geri gets a visit from her boyfriend from the city, Mick. They uncover the new threat posed by the very worms beneath their feet. They try their best to evade this strange threat, but making matters worse is a local worm farmer with a crush on Geri. After being attacked and getting a face full of worms, he is driven to madness making things even more dangerous.
Jeff Lieberman originally intended for this film to be set in New England. He figured that the only way a film about killer worms would work would be in a Lovecraftian inspired setting. Unfortunately, budget and weather would force production down south. Squirm set up shop in the swamplands of Georgia, and in a strange way the movie benefitted from it. Lieberman was gifted an entire community of real life colorful Southerners who were excellent additions to his movie. The director saw this as a resource and used them to perfection. One only wishes the film’s principal cast had given this much effort. Aside from the lead Don Scardino, they tend to be bad at laughable levels. While the swampy wilderness of South Georgia, was not his intended set location, Squirm feels right at home in the humid and wild region.
The first time director also benefits from the veteran talent helping him behind the camera. Legendary make-up artist Rick Baker crafted the prosthetics for “Wormface” the jealous lover possessed by the worms. Naturally he knocks it out of the park, as this character has become a fan favorite for cult-movie aficionados. Having experience of film editor Brian Smedley-Aston and cinematographer Joseph Mangine help craft and develop the look of this film.
It should go without saying that a movie about killer worms should have been discarded and forgotten forever. But the fact that the cast and crew went all in on Squirm and played it absolutely serious. If the actors onscreen were genuinely terrifying of these creepy crawlies, then damn it you should be too. Granted for mainstream critics that was not going to fly, but this is not a movie for people like them. This is a film for people who are sophisticated enough to enjoy a fun B-movie.