Friday, June 18, 2010

There’s a Lightning Bug in the Doll’s House and It’s Making Me SQUIRM!

Actually, it’s making me happy as a ladybug on uppers that I got to watch Jeff Lieberman’s notorious 1976 classic, Squirm. I’m just guilty of a good headline. Hopefully, that’s just about all I share with the NY Post.
And thusly do I present a new, hopefully monthly segment here wherein everybody’s favorite South Carolinian blogging superstar T.L. Bugg (of The Lightning Bug's Lair fame) orders me to watch a film of his choosing. My only defense is to retaliate with a pick of my own. For our flagship movie club, I chose the 1989 Belgian John Waters (and Emily Intravia) favorite Baxter, a film I reviewed here ages ago and have strived to recommend to the rest of the world. Mr. Bugg’s review should be up today, so head over to catch his thoughts.  
Oh yeah. And he chose Squirm.
Quick Plot: Some TCMish text tells us that something mysterious happened one night in the small Georgia hamlet of Fly Creek. Following an angry thunderstorm, a few downed power lines are, unbeknownst to the incredibly folksy townspeople, sending thousands of volts underground to piss off an overwhelming population of pink Glycera worms who conveniently enough for a horror movie, have the voices of rabid elephants.

But let’s save that for the second hour of the film as the first is primarily devoted to pretty redhead Geri and her visiting big city nerd beau Mick. The would-be lovebirds have an exciting day planned filled with antiquing and fishing with a third wheel village idiot Roger, but a series of unfortunate events cause a few kinks. First, Mick earns the small town ire of the womanizing Sheriff when he discovers a worm in his aik reem (egg cream to us city folk). Rather than accept some added protein with his Brooklyn delight, Mick insults the big-haired waitress/prospective target of police sexual harassment and later reangers the man of the law by reporting a skeleton buried half-heartedly in Geri’s friend’s yard.

Clearly, something is amiss in Fly Creek but this being a ‘70s creature feature, nobody can be expected to act rationally in saving the doomed town. Perhaps it’s due to his helmet hairstyle, but Mick takes it upon himself to harness his inner Scooby Doo and crack the case, enlisting Geri to ‘distract’ suspect Roger, while he compares dental records pre-CSI style to identify the skeletal corpse (it helps that actor Don Scardino bares a slight resemblance to what I imagine Michael C. Hall’s awkward little brother must look like). 

Eventually--and it all does take a surprisingly long amount of time, proving that even in horror, Southerners are just dang slow--the super-race of angry earthworms emerge en masse to ooze through small openings and cause supporting characters to feel very icky.
Squirm is a pretty infamous film that holds the special title of being the penultimate feature presentation for MST3K. On one hand, the goofiness of Lieberman’s low budget yarn makes for ample riffing yet at the same time, it seems a little more aware of itself than truly misguided messes like City Limits or Manos: The Hands of Fate. You’d expect as much from the director smart quirky fare like Blue Sunshine. 

Unless you have a phobia of worms, Squirm is never really scary to adult sensibilities (though were the hairless pinkies replaced by fuzzy caterpillars, I’d still be trembling). Closeups of worm mouths are just kind of cute, while the mass globs of pink squiggles feel more like another brick on the wall in Pink Floyd’s “We Don’t Need No Education” than anything that can actually hurt you. But despite the general limitations of his premise, Lieberman manages to construct an energetically enjoyable and truly memorable little genre film that holds up for a solidly fun 90 minutes of watching.
HIgh Points
Most of the more obvious comic aspects play out quite well, especially the trying-too-hard-in-wedge-heels physicality of Fran Higgins as annoyingly lovable lil sis Alma

Though it never really fits with the lighter tone of the actual film, Squirm’s opening theme song has a weirdly haunting effect
Low Points
On the other hand, the closing credits take their bow to an odd mush of love ballad cheese. At what point was I watching Ice Castles?
Much like The Descent 2, Squirm proves that there’s plenty of ambient lighting to be found without the help of candles, flashlights, lamps, or moon

Lessons Learned
Southerners look down on overpackers
Resist the urge to mock the hot-headed town sheriff until after he walks far enough out of earshot

Italian restaurants are not the best setting to bring up the topic of killer worms tormenting your town
Winning Line
“I’m not a tourist. I’m a Libra.”
Damn I wish I was alive to be hit on in the ‘70s

I’ve said this about everything from Bugsy Malone to Spider Baby , but Squirm is another one of those films I wish I had on VHS as an enthusiastic 8 year old. There’s a joyful sense of innocence mixed with the tenants of ‘80s trash--actually, no. My instinctive followup to ‘70s’ is ‘trash’ but like the self-proclaimed antique dealers that populate Fly Creek, Squirm is better described as junk, probably fitting in mood to what sits between Oscar the Grouch and his can. 

For those readers still attempting to translate my analogies, I’ll explain in more universal terms: Squirm is good clean (if you don’t mind worm guts) fun. The DVD includes what I’ve been told is a highly enjoyable director commentary that may warrant a discount bin price tag. 

Thanks to the one and only Lightning Bugg (not worm), for the recommend, and remember to hit up his lair   for some nihilistic canine action later today!


  1. Squirm freaked me the fuck out when I was a kid. I can't believe that MST3K would go after this film. Like you said, I don't think this was cheesy by accident, especially not with Lieberman behind the camera.

  2. Definitely a smarter film than its subject matter wants to suggest. I'm kicking myself for returning the DVD to Netflix before I got to hear the commentary now. I'm extremely curious to hear Lieberman's thoughts.

  3. Man, I loved this movie as a kid. One late Saturday night I sat up and caught this and Ssssss on a double bill. Sheer 70s brilliance (Blue Sunshine weren't too bad, neither!). The sounds of the worms screaming were electronically altered sounds of pigs in slaughterhouses *shiver*.

    Thanks for a wonderful trip back down poor parenting alley/memory lane.

  4. I must disagree about the best line. It is clearly, 'you're going to be the spoil. You're gonna be the wormface.' Where else in human history will you ever hear that line uttered EVAR! So good!

  5. Damocles: I haven't seen Ssssss yet. I had been a tad soured on snake films after Rattlers, but the ggtmc did bring up Sssss this week which often bumps a film up the queue. And Squirm ultimately seems to preach family values, so maybe your parents were more responsible than you give them credit for.

    Jenn: You do make a good point. I mean, An ex-boyfriend did once say "You're going to be the spoil. You're gonna be the earwigcheek," but that was totally a term of endearment and shouldn't really count.

  6. Emily, I'm so glad you liked Squirm. Finding a Southern fried creature feature that entertains is quite a rare thing indeed. And as a Southern boy I can say that we do indeed hate overpackers.I really enjoyed trading films wit you this month, and I can't wait to see what you have in store for me next go around!

  7. It was a pleasure Sir Bugg! Glad you dug Baxter as well and I'm excited for next month's installment!

  8. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 20, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    Emily, you are such a gorgeous little darlin`, i think i`m in love with you. By the way, "SLITHER" (2005) is a much better film than "SQUIRM".

  9. "Better," or just equally charming in a folksy way? I actually adore Slither, and have to agree that both films have a true sweet, wormy nature. Great double bill, preferably while eating lo mein.