Monday, October 29, 2018

31 Days of Dread--Day 29

Squirm; 1976; written and directed by Jeff Lieberman

There are so many ways this low-budget horror flick justifies its title. 

First there's the run-down location and settings of Port Wentworth, Georgia, a place so backwoods it makes Petticoat Junction look cosmopolitan. Then there are the slightly awkward performances and southern accents (real or put-on) that are thicker than blackstrap molasses. And let's not forget the sight of all those worms, real worms most of the time, with writhing legs, shot in excruciating close-ups and threatening to overrun it all.

One of several "natural horror" films released by American Internal Pictures during the 1970s (along with Frogs, Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants) Squirm takes place after an especially strong thunderstorm has downed several power lines, sending hordes of flesh-eating worms to the surface. 

It takes a guy from the big city, played by Don Scardino, to realize something's wrong. From the start, his round geek glasses--along with that famous order of an egg cream--mark him as an outsider, and he's subjected to small-town hostility from almost everyone he meets. You have to wonder which is the bigger threat: the worms or a gang of locals organizing a posse to kick his ass all the way back to New York City. 

Compared to contemporary pacing, Squirm takes some time getting up to speed. But once it reaches take-off velocity it's pretty much relentless, presenting one grisly scene after another. Worms pop up everywhere, spilling out of windows and air vents, and even filling up entire rooms. Past the halfway point, once they've already made a couple appearances, you half expect them to show up just about everywhere, which only adds to the skin-crawling effect.

All the film's low-budget markers--grainy cinematography, a cheesy synth score and an even cheesier "love theme" that plays over the end credits, the clunky script with its casual view of sexism and physical abuse--make the end result seem uncomfortably real, more raw than something we should be watching. Combine that with some early but effective makeup work from Rick Baker (who would go on to win an Oscar for An American Werewolf in London just five years later) and you've got something that should trigger anyone's vermiphobia. 

Squirm is available on Amazon Prime and streaming rental.

No comments: