Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#291. Squirm (1976)

Directed By: Jeff Lieberman

Starring: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A Dow

Tag line: "The Night is Crawling with Killers"

Trivia: Kim Basinger was at one point considered for the female lead in this film

Before watching Squirm, a '70's horror flick in which man-eating worms attack a small town, I hadn't really thought all that much about earthworms, but did harbor a few preconceptions about them. First off, I always thought they were a little gross. Second, I didn't see any reason in the world to be afraid of them. After seeing this film, I have to admit I've changed my mind: earthworms are extremely gross.

But frightening? Nah...not in the least.

A severe storm has battered the Georgia coastline, and particularly hard hit was the small community of Fly Creek. Every road into and out of town remains impassable, and all electrical power has been knocked out. But that's the least of Fly Creek's worries. A few miles away, a downed power line is pumping thousands of volts of electricity into the wet soil, causing the underground worm population to go ballistic. Mick (Don Scardino), a native New Yorker, has just arrived in town to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, Geri (Patricia Pearcy). As the two are investigating the mysterious disappearance of a local antiques dealer, they uncover, instead, a shocking bit of information: the entire community is about to be overrun by carnivorous worms.

Considering it's a film about monster worms, Squirm gets off to a great start. For one, I was completely caught up in the mystery of what happened to poor old Mr. Beardsley, the antiques dealer who seemingly vanished into thin air. Sure, Mick and Geri find a skeleton lying on his property, but who's to say it's his? The way the two go about trying to determine the skeleton's identity is intriguing, to say the least. Along with the mystery, there's also a particularly solid special effects sequence, courtesy of award-winning make-up artist Rick Baker. As Geri is out on a boat, fishing with her dim-witted neighbor, Roger (R.A. Dow), Roger makes an aggressive pass at her. In trying to get away, Geri pushes Roger, causing him to fall face-first into the pile of worms they were using as bait. Suddenly, Roger lets out a scream, and when he stands up, we see why: the worms are burrowing into his face! It's truly an awesome sight, and also manages to crank the tension up a few notches when Roger, worms and all, runs off into the woods and disappears (for the time-being, anyway). Needless to say, at this point in the film, I was totally into Squirm, and couldn't wait to see what happened once the worms launched their attack on Fly Creek. If it's half as cool as that scene on the boat, I reasoned, then I was in for a treat.

Unfortunately, it isn't “half as cool”. It isn't even a tenth as awesome. In fact, the whole Worm Armageddon is downright lame, and all the build-up to it, handled so well for an hour and 15 minutes, falls apart in the closing scenes. Most disappointing of all were the attacking hordes of earthworms, which looked more like large piles of rubber bands being pushed along the floor. At the outset, Squirm left a lot to the audience's imagination. For example, we never actually see the worms attach themselves to Roger's face; we're only privy to the aftermath. By going for broke in the closing moments and attempting to show tens of thousands of worms taking their frustrations out on the innocent Fly Creekians (Fly Creekites?), Squirm opts for the visible over the vague, resulting in a series of scenes that fall flat on their face. Considering how absorbing the movie had been up to that point, this finale is a real let-down.

Poor ending aside, Squirm is an effective film for most of its running time; well executed, well paced, and truly entertaining. It's definitely worth a watch, and even if Squirm won't keep you up at night looking for worms underneath your bed, it will, at the very least, put you off your spaghetti dinner.