Review: Squirm / Cert: 15 / Director: Jeff Lieberman / Screenplay: Jeff Lieberman / Starring: Don Scardino, Patricia Piercey, R.A. Dow, Jean Sullivan / Release Date: September 23rd
Apart from very small boys, no one really likes worms. Notwithstanding the sterling work they do irrigating soil and decomposing organic material, they’re still wriggly, slimy little buggers which can grow a new ‘tail’ if you cut off the original (although they don’t, contrary to popular belief, grow into two worms if you cut them in half… thank God). They’re clearly fair game for horror movie treatment and Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm is a fairly typical example of what’s become known as the ‘revenge-of-nature’ horror films of the mid-1970s. Squirm appeared in 1976 in the wake of the Jaws phenomenon but where Spielberg’s aquatic epic was a pulsating thrill-ride which still resonates nearly forty years on, Squirm is a much more… um… sluggish affair.
The basic plot is the stuff of virtually every 'revenge of the killer vermin' movie (as Kim Newman describes them in one of this new release’s bonus features). Fallen power cables disrupt the electricity supply to the hicksville fishing town of Fly Creek in Georgia and the electricity surging into the soil has an agitating effect on the countryside’s indigenous worm population. Before long the town’s inhabitants are finding worms in their drinks, worms in the water supply, worms squeezing out of their shower heads – erk – and even worms burrowing into the skin of their unfortunate victims. Our heroes the Sanders family and visiting city kid Mick (Scardino) are soon besieged in the family home as a virtual tidal wave of squirming, wriggling, blood-crazed terror threatens to overwhelm the town.
Squirm really is a very arch and silly film but thanks to this slick new Blu-ray it now looks quite astonishing with its high-def image happily picking out every glistening segment on every worm. But it’s hampered by a stodgy script and an uneven pace – it takes an age for anything much to actually happen – and, bumpkin Roger’s graphic face-invasion aside, it’s really not especially horrifying. It’s revolting, of course – have we mentioned how icky worms are? – and much of its worm-based imagery will send a shiver up and down the spine and make your stomach heave a bit. But we don’t really see enough graphic carnage; victims are often just depicted as covered in worms or swamped by a writhing tide. Lieberman battles valiantly against his tiny budget and struggles to ramp up the tension and excitement but the film eventually just fizzles out with our heroes stuck up a tree and normality being returned after the night of the worms with no explanation as to where they’ve all gone and why they’ve stopped their attack.
Flawed but fun, Squirm is not for hardened scoleciphobics but fans of Nature vs. Man 1970s horror will find much to pass the slime… sorry, time on this lavish and definitive new Blu-ray.
Extras: Director commentary / 2012 New York Film Archives Q&A / Kim Newman on Lieberman and Squirm / Trailer / Collector’s booklet