Squirm: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (11th October 2014).
The Film

Remember that scene from “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997), when Austin is making his escape on a steamroller from Dr. Evil’s headquarters and one of his villain’s henchman looks like he’s about to be crushed, only for the camera to pull back and reveal he’s actually really far away? Like, he could absolutely escape a horrific death simply by making a lateral move and avoiding the Grim Reaper’s slow-moving hand with ease. Yet, as most of us know, he remains in position and accepts his fate. It’s ridiculous because it’s supposed to be ridiculous because it’s a comedy lampooning similar situations in more serious pictures.

That’s more or less how most people who have yet to see “Squirm” (1976) probably envision it playing out. The killer worm (yes, worms) creature feature has long been a staple of the drive-in and late-night cable circuit. Personally, I have to confess that I was never interested in giving it much of a shot. That DVD cover was ubiquitous in Best Buy stores, you know, when they still sold catalog titles; and seeing a guy who vaguely resembles Josh Hartnett’s mentally handicapped brother, neck deep in mud, face full of worms, looked like a big, boring joke. There are a hundred absurd film premises I can get behind, but worms?

Now you, too, can witness all the horrors killer, flesh-eating worms have to offer thanks to – who else? – Scream Factory. Micro-budget filmmaker Jeff Lieberman’s tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek night of invertebrate terror opens with a text crawl, informing viewers of a major storm that felled power lines and pumped hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity into the ground. The surge of power through the muddy depths brought up with it hordes of bloodthirsty worms. Worms that scream like pigs. Anyway, city boy Mick (Don Scardino) arrives in the very Southern town of Fly Creek, GA to meet his hot redheaded girlfriend, Geri (Patricia Pearcy). He encounters all manner of country townsfolk, most of whom aren’t actually actors but locals who certainly look the part. Mick stops into a little convenience shop to get himself an egg cream, but he drops it in disgust when a massive worm is found wriggling inside his glass. Everyone thinks he’s playing a big city joke on them, however, and he draw the ire of local law enforcement when Sheriff Jim Reston (Peter MacLean) steps in to confront him.

Adding to the worm peculiarities, Roger (R.A. Dow), a local dullard, gets scolded by his pa when a truckload of 100,000 worms is found emptied with no cause for their release. Mick & Geri had borrowed the truck earlier, and they feel partially responsible, so the two offer to take Roger out fishing. Well, that trip goes poorly when some of the killer worms wind up on their boat and manage to wriggle their way right into Roger’s face. Watch this moment with rapt attention for it is the only time in the film you see any real special effects. As a bonus, these effects were done by a young Rick Baker and look quite convincing. As night draws closer the worm activity increases until, finally, our leading cast members are confronted by masses of worms in the form of, say, a worm quicksand pool, or a worm tidal wave. And then there’s Roger, who despite having his face invaded by carnivorous worms not only isn’t dead, but he’s now some kind of weird possessed zombie worm guy.

“Squirm” is unquestionably out there. Lieberman’s film gets credit for employing a very unexpected, atypical premise and running wild with it. Still, he could have gone a little further. I kept hoping some massive worm, like a Boss Worm or something, would show up at the end, maybe eat a few people and then get killed off by a mob of townsfolk. This does not occur. Honestly, if you’re watching this film it’s for the kitsch/camp factor and probably not much else. It just isn’t a good movie. It’s an entertaining one, and it probably plays great to a packed revival theater crowd full of all sorts of drugs, but sitting at home watching it alone? Not so fun. The film just sort of meanders about, doing a better job showing off the natural beauty of Georgia than anything else. Baker’s effects are a dim glimmer among a sea of rubber worms, which is pretty much all you see in the final third. The close-ups of worms as they look menacing and howl at the moon are hilarious, as Lieberman likely intended. As a pastiche of nature-gone-amok films, it’s mildly successful. Taken as a more serious nature havoc film, it doesn’t work at all. This one is strictly for the drive-in crowd who like their films hilariously bad. Those hoping for a true gem may be disappointed.

Note: this Blu-ray contains the full "Uncut" version of the film.

Video

Like the film itself, the picture presented by “Squirm” is a 70's vintage 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that is totally endemic of the period during which it was shot. The funny thing is, whether big budget or no budget nearly every horror film from this period looks the same – a slight fade to the colors, inherent softness in anything but a close-up, and film grain that is heavy but never noisy. The print is mostly clean; what flecks do appear on the screen only add to the aging aesthetic that gives a film like this some extra charm. Black levels look a bit crushed at night in a few scenes, though for the most part they’re relatively consistent. Colors are bold & vibrant, especially during daytime shots where detail is most apparent.

Audio

“Squirm” opens with a creepy little ditty, as sung by a child. It’s a bizarre start to a bizarre film. Once things get underway, an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track (48Khz/24-bit) ably handles the audio. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, mainly due to the film’s low-budget roots. Dialogue is presented cleanly & clear, with no discernible problems; voices do sound slightly canned at times. The score vacillates between supportive and overbearing, especially during the climax. The finale is such a frenzy of activity – and worm screams – that all discreet effects and music sometimes blend together into one big, loud mess. The worm screams, in particular, are jarring because they’re so piercing. Probably intentional, but that doesn’t make it any less abrasive. There are no hisses, cracks or pops, allowing fidelity to remain strong here. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

You never know what titles will get the Collector’s Edition treatment from Scream Factory, and this one surprised even me. It’s not jam-packed, but the disc does feature some strong supplemental material, including an audio commentary, interview featurettes, promotional materials and more.

Writer/director Jeff Lieberman delivers a wonderful audio commentary for his debut film. Never at a loss for words, the director speaks at a moderate pace and almost never stops. His enthusiasm for the project almost makes it seem like a better film, and his anecdotes alone make this track worth listening to. He says early on that at one point the project garnered interest from Kim Basinger, Sylvester Stallone, and Martin Sheen, though none of those now-acclaimed actors were cast. He also says Pearcy’s red hair was a nightmare for the D.P. to light, but considering how gorgeous she is I’d say it was worth it.

“Digging In: The Making of Squirm” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 33 minutes and 11 seconds. Featuring interviews with both Lieberman and lead actor Don Scardino, this piece covers most of the big bases regarding the production. One cool tidbit: Lieberman wanted to set this in the Northeast and make it more of an homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

“Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 7 minutes and 4 seconds. Rather than take viewers to the filming locations for the movie, Lieberman takes us on a tour of the locations where he thought up the ideas for the movie. Think of it as a brief history of his twenty-something haunts.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds.

A TV spot runs (1080p) runs for 55 seconds.

An awesome radio spot runs for 1 minute and 1 second.

There’s also the requisite still gallery (1080p), containing 25 images.

Finally, “More from Scream Factory” contains the following bonus trailers (1080p) for:

- “Pumpkinhead” runs for 1 minute and 32 seconds.
- “Motel Hell” runs for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
- “The Beast Within” runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. Cover art is reversible, allowing for display of either the newly-produced artwork or the original key art, which is pretty damn awesome. A slip-cover (featuring the new art) is included on initial pressings.

Overall

I wanted to love this movie; I really did. There’s still some fun to be had with just how outlandish all of it is, but ultimately it’s still very hard to buy people being eaten whole by worms. Jeff Lieberman’s film is a definite product of the 70's creature feature movement, and even as one of the lesser efforts fans of that sub-genre should – at least – have a hilariously good time watching it. Just remember not to take anything here seriously.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B- Extras: B- Overall: C+

 


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