Squirm is a 1976 American natural horror film written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, starring Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow, Jean Sullivan, Peter MacLean, Fran Higgins, and William Newman. The film takes place in the fictional town of Fly Creek, Georgia, which becomes infested with carnivorous worms after a storm knocks fallen power lines into wet soil and electrifies the worms. Lieberman developed the script based on a childhood incident in which his brother fed electricity into a patch of earth to cause earthworms to emerge at the surface.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jeff Lieberman|
|Produced by||George Manasse|
|Written by||Jeff Lieberman|
|Music by||Robert Prince|
|Edited by||Brian Smedley-Aston|
The Squirm Company
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
Most of the financing came from Broadway producers Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh. The film was shot in Port Wentworth, Georgia, over five weeks, during which millions of worms from Georgia and Maine were used. Makeup artist Rick Baker provided special effects for the film using prosthetics for the first time in his career. Squirm was picked up for distribution by American International Pictures and was edited in an attempt to change it from an "R" rating to a "PG" rating. The film received lukewarm reviews from critics but was financially successful. It garnered positive reception in retrospective evaluations, reflecting a cult classic status. Squirm was featured in a tenth-season episode of the comedy television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1999.
In the rural town of Fly Creek, Georgia,[a] a powerful storm blows down an overhead power line, leaving the town without electricity. The power line lands in wet mud and starts to electrify the worms underneath. The next morning, Geri Sanders borrows a truck from her neighbor, worm farmer Roger Grimes, to pick up her boyfriend Mick, who is arriving from New York City for a vacation. While Geri and Mick go to town, Roger's shipment of 100,000 bloodworms and sandworms escape from the back of the truck. Mick enters a diner, where a customer says over 300,000 volts are being released into the ground from severed power lines. Mick orders an egg cream and finds a worm in it, though the owner and Sheriff Jim Reston believe he is joking.
Geri introduces Mick to her mother Naomi and sister Alma, before they both leave to browse at antique dealer Aaron Beardsley's house. Outside, Roger's father Willie finds the shipment of worms is missing. Roger sees Mick with Geri and becomes envious of their relationship. Geri and Mick arrive at Beardsley's house; they do not find him but Geri sees a human skeleton outside the property. They bring over Sheriff Reston but the skeleton disappears. Thinking it is another prank, Reston threatens to arrest Mick if he returns to the town. When they ask locals about Beardsley's whereabouts, they find out he was last seen before the storm. Mick believes he himself unintentionally released the worms; he apologizes to Roger and invites him to go fishing with him and Geri. They find the skeleton in Roger's truck.
While on the boat, Mick is bitten by a worm. Roger tells him worms attack when electrified. Mick leaves Geri with Roger so he can tend to his wound; he and Alma take the skeleton's skull to an abandoned dental office, where they compare its teeth with X-rays and confirm the skeleton is Beardsley's. Roger makes advances towards Geri but the worms they brought as bait attack him and crawl into his face. He runs off into the woods and Geri tells Mick. Mick and Geri visit the worm farm to find Roger but Mick finds Willie's body being eaten by worms. They try telling Sheriff Reston but he ignores them. Mick deduces the worms killed Beardsley but cannot figure out why they attacked him.
While Mick and Geri are eating dinner with Naomi and Alma, the worms eat through the roots of a tree, causing it to crash into the house. Mick realizes electricity is still being released from the power lines and that the wet soil is acting as a conductor; he remembers the worms only come out at night. Mick tells Geri to keep everyone inside equipped with candles and leaves to get plywood to board up the house. Roger, whose face has been deformed by worms, attacks Mick and knocks him unconscious. Roger enters the house and kidnaps Geri. The worms infest the house and attack other places in town. Sheriff Reston and a woman are eaten alive in a jail cell, and people at a bar are attacked and eaten.
Mick regains consciousness and finds Naomi's remains, covered in worms, at the house. When he goes upstairs, Roger attacks and chases him downstairs. Mick pushes Roger into a pile of worms, which engulf him. Mick frees Geri and tells her Naomi, and presumably Alma, are dead. The two try to escape but Roger bites Mick in the leg while they climb out of a window. Mick beats Roger to death before climbing into a tree, where he and Geri stay until morning. The worms disappear and they both wake up to find a repairman telling them the power has been restored. Alma, who survived by hiding in a chest comes out of the chest and looks out the window. Geri and Mick rush into the house to meet her.
- Don Scardino as Mick
- Patricia Pearcy as Geraldine "Geri" Sanders
- R.A. Dow as Roger Grimes
- Jean Sullivan as Naomi Sanders
- Peter MacLean as Sheriff Jim Reston
- Fran Higgins as Alma Sanders
- William Newman as Quigley
- Barbara Quinn as Sheriff's Girl
- Carl Dagenhart as Willie Grimes
- Angel Sande as Millie
- Carol Jean Owens as Lizzie
- Kim Leon Iocovozzi as Hank
- Walter Dimmick as Danny
- Leslie Thorsen as Bonnie
- Julia Klopp as Mrs. Klopp
Squirm was written by Jeff Lieberman, who at the time was working for Janus Films on a series called The Art of Film; he developed Squirm after his workdays to deal with his "frustrations over having to put on a tie". The script was based on an incident in which Lieberman's brother connected a transformer to the ground to force worms to emerge so he could use them for a fishing trip. Lieberman was also inspired by a news story of a millipede migration in Floyds Knobs, Indiana where the arthropods invaded homes by the hundreds, and by the 1963 film The Birds. He completed a rough draft in six weeks and gave it to producer George Manasse, who saw potential in it. Manasse showed Lieberman's script to then-independent Broadway producers Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh. They read the script in the summer of 1975, after which the project moved very fast, with the producers buying Squirm and investing $470,000[b] of their own money into the project. The original filming location and setting was New England but this was changed to Port Wentworth, Georgia, due to unsuitable fall weather conditions in New England.
Kim Basinger auditioned for the role of Geri but Lieberman passed on her, believing that the audience would not believe that she would live in a "hick town". Lieberman later regretted the decision, calling himself an "idiot". Martin Sheen was originally cast to play the role of Mick but was replaced with Don Scardino. Sheen had suggested that Mick should be an actor, and had wanted him to recite the Yorick scene from Hamlet when he discovers Aaron Beardsley's skull. Sylvester Stallone also auditioned for a part in the film. Jean Sullivan, who played Geri's mother Naomi, based her Southern accent on Tennessee Williams. To prepare for his part as Roger, R.A. Dow spent weeks in Port Wentworth to do method acting training.
Production began in November 1975. This was the only film produced by The Squirm Company. Half of the worms used in the film were made of rubber; the others included large sandworms from Maine, refrigerated and transported to Port Wentworth, and an estimated three million bloodworms, provided by the University of Georgia Oceanographic Institute at Skidaway Island, Georgia. To get the worms to move, they were electrified with a wire connected to a rheostat. One scene in which a living room is filled with worms was accomplished by building a scaffolding four feet (1.2 m) above the ground; a canvas was placed on top and covered with thousands of worms that were six inches deep. The local Boy Scouts troop was hired to assist in handling the worms and moving the scaffolding to make the worms undulate; they received merit badges for their work. After production wrapped, newspapers in Maine reported the local fishing industry had been impacted by a shortage of worms caused by the film production.
Brian Smedley-Aston edited Squirm. Robert Prince composed the score and also conducted a full orchestra in England for the film. Bernard Hermann, composer for The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Psycho (1960), was originally slated to write the score but died before beginning work. Joe Mangine was the director of photography and Henry Shrady was the art director. Special make-up effects artist Rick Baker created the make-up in New York for R.A. Dow's character Roger, who turns into "Wormface", and made a facial mold using prosthetics, which were new to him. Baker attached fake worms on monofilament fishing line covered in lubricant onto Dow, with a puppeteer pulling the worms on the line to have them appear they were going into his skin.
Principal photography wrapped after five weeks, seven days of which were dedicated to working with the worms. Lieberman was heavily involved with the post-production work, which included making the sound effects for the worms using balloons and shears, and looping the two sounds using multitrack recording. The shears snapping open and closed were used to make the sound of their teeth. The worms' screams were taken from a scene in which pigs are slaughtered in Brian De Palma's 1976 film Carrie.
Squirm was shown during the May 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It was acquired by American International Pictures (AIP), who released it theatrically in the United States on July 14, 1976, and worldwide on August 9 that year. AIP had given a $250,000[c] advance to the film's producers for domestic distribution and $500,000[c] in guarantees from sixteen territories. When the film was first submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), AIP hoped for a "PG" rating. The MPAA instead gave the film an "R" rating, citing some scenes that were deemed "objectionable to PG-rated sensibilities". AIP edited the film to get a "PG" rating, cutting the running time to 92 minutes. A shower scene with Patricia Pearcy was removed in the edits. Despite the edits, it was released with an "R" rating. The re-edited film was also used for the television version. The film was financially successful; Lansbury and Beruh made their investment back from the foreign theatrical market.
The film was released on VHS by Vestron Video in 1983 and on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment in 2003. The DVD version, with a 93-minute run time, restored the shower scene and included an audio commentary with Lieberman as part of the special features. MGM released it as part of a set with Swamp Thing and The Return of the Living Dead in 2011. The unedited R-rated version was released in the United Kingdom on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video on September 23, 2013. This version was also released in the United States on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory under its label Scream Factory on October 28, 2014.
Reviews were lukewarm upon the film's release. Opinions on the special effects were mixed; a reviewer for Variety magazine described them as genuinely creepy, but the effects were offset by "clumsy and amateurish" production. Vincent Canby of The New York Times thought that the scenes with the worms were "effectively revolting", but unfavorably compared the shot of Roger sinking into a pile of worms to spaghetti with meat sauce. Canby also opined that Scardino and Pearcy presented decent performances. Critics were divided on Lieberman's direction. Cinefantastique contributor Kyle B. Counts criticized the way the film cut away from violent moments to scenes of comic relief, opining that it undermined the film's "threadbare" tension. Counts found the director's handling of the creepy moments in the film to be "oppressively clumsy". The reviewer took exception to a shot of the worms burrowing into Roger's face, mentioning the gruesomeness of the worms "wiggling convulsively". Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times was more positive, as he thought the film had a good balance of its use of humor and terror, and that Lieberman showed "plenty of panache", "deftly playing a disarming folksy atmosphere against rapidly escalating peril". John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin thought on the use of humor and narrative in the film, believing Squirm to be commendable and a scary addition to the genre.
Squirm received generally positive evaluations in retrospective reviews, earning a cult classic status. Praise was given to its cinematography, special effects, and its horror elements. Donald Guarisco for AllMovie called Squirm an "excellent example of the 'revenge of nature' horror" genre, praising its third act for getting viewers invested in the outcome of the characters. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide had a similar sentiment, describing it as an "above-average horror outing [that] builds to good shock sequences". In his book American International Pictures: A Comprehensive Filmography, Rob Craig considered it to be "an entertaining – and fairly insightful − film which is certainly not uncritical to its main characters and their community". Craig was impressed that the film managed to convey a "sense of dread" with the use of a traditionally non-threatening creature like the earthworm, by "amassing [them] into a gigantic horde which becomes a mass-minded killing force". He believed the movie’s horror was made effective by Baker’s gory make-up. A TV Guide contributor thought it was an underrated effort like Lieberman's other works, giving positive marks on its handling of the tongue-in-cheek humor and scares, including a shower scene that paid tribute to Psycho. Robert Prince's use of synthesizers in the music score was described by Guarisco as producing an "unnerving effect". In 2010, Kate Abbott for Time listed Squirm as one of the best "Killer-Animal Movies", also noting similarities between the two shower scenes.
Other retrospective reviews were less positive. John Kenneth Muir commended the cinematography and imagery, but found the film's inconsistent tone and lack of believable characters undermined the whole experience, calling it "a letdown". Jim Craddock, author of VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever, summarized it as an "okay" giant worm movie.
Squirm can be seen as part of a tradition of 1970s "revenge of nature" films, the most important of which is Jaws. This genre began in the early 1970s with films like Frogs, Night of the Lepus, and Sssssss, leading on to Jaws, Squirm, Empire of the Ants, and Kingdom of the Spiders. It can also be seen, along with other "nature-running-amok thrillers" of the latter half of the 1970s including The Food of the Gods, The Pack, The Swarm, Long Weekend, and Day of the Animals, as a "Jawsploitation" film that exploits the success of Jaws. The film studies scholar I.Q. Hunter disputes this, arguing Jaws merely served to perpetuate the early-1970s genre Quentin Tarantino called the "Mother Nature goes ape-shit kind of movie". Muir calls Squirm one of the "eco-horrors" of the 1970s, part of what Muir considers to be "man's continued pillaging and pollution of the Earth".
Robin Wood used Squirm as an example of nature films linking "natural" forces to sexual and familiar tensions. Wood was disappointed with the film's ending because he felt the survival of Mick, Geri, and Alma contradicts the film's logic. He interpreted the film's world as "totally overwhelmed by eruptions of devouring worms that develop, initially, out of familiar constraints and sexual possessiveness". Rob Craig said the worms in the film can be seen as a metaphor for "a country bumpkin's slimy, limp penis: a laughably vulnerable object by itself, but fearsomely dangerous in aggregate". This is coupled with Lieberman making use of rural character stereotypes and warping them to make it abundant with their "bigger-than-life and almost mythic" character flaws. Craig added that the film has an "anti-breeding" angle in its subtext, framing rural males as nothing more than a "worm farm", which would be dangerous as a societal force. Kyle B. Counts notes similarities between the themes of "masculine ideals" in Squirm and Straw Dogs, in which the male leads are heroes. The reviewer also said the film does not give the impression Don Scardino's character grew into a "man" after his experience.
Lieberman wrote the foreword for Jon Towlson's 2014 book, Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present. In this, he addressed the critical and scholarly analysis of Squirm:
In my first movie, Squirm (1976), I really didn't try to make any sort of social or political comment. At least not consciously. However, soon after the movie's release, critics found some very profound subtexts which I myself wasn't aware of. Nature getting revenge on man for his disrespect of ecology. The symbolism of man's mortality and his inevitable fate of becoming worm food. Even themes of suppressed sexuality in the main characters. This could all very well be true, but if it is, it was not done purposely on my part.
Director Brian De Palma included a poster of Squirm in several scenes of his 1981 film Blow Out. A fan of De Palma, Lieberman told Fangoria that he asked him about the poster years later. De Palma reportedly answered "Only use the best!" Musician "Weird Paul" Petroskey created an album titled Worm in My Egg Cream that was dedicated to the scene where Mick finds a worm in his cold beverage. Released on his label Rocks & Rolling Records, all 16 tracks on the album are titled the same as the album.
Squirm was featured on a tenth-season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), a comedy television series in which the character Mike Nelson and his two robot friends Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo are forced to watch bad films as part of an ongoing scientific experiment. The episode was broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel on August 1, 1999, and was the penultimate episode to the series. It was shown along with the short film A Case of Spring Fever. In 2014, Shout! Factory released the MST3K episode as part of the "Turkey Day Collection", along with episodes focused on Jungle Goddess, The Painted Hills, and The Screaming Skull.
- Fly Creek, Georgia is a fictional town invented for the movie.
- 1975 USD
- 1976 USD
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