VICTORY OVER VHS OBLIVION! After a staggering 110 WEEKS high among CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted, nearly TWICE as long as any other title, the unyielding vigilance of longsuffering CineSchlockers has been rewarded with the capture of SQUIRM!
Please forgive the forthcoming episode of brazen self-indulgence, dear readers, because there's just no bridling my nostalgic exuberance today. You see, as a youngster growing up in the Piney Woods of East Texas, I spent most Saturday afternoons, when I should've been out doing something useful, glued to the tube watching THIS MOVIE and such kissin' cousins as Piranha, Food of the Gods, Empire of the Ants and Mako: Jaws of Death. Not much has changed since, as y'all well know, and most certainly this very column wouldn't be the biological imperative it's become had a certain strange little flick never burrowed into yours truly's impressionable adolescent brainpan. So it's appropriately synchronistic that the good folks at MGM would opt to roll out this remastered special edition just in time for its biggest fan's 31st birthday. Thanks for fostering my arrested development, fellas. Now if only Catherine "Daisy Duke" Bach would waive that pesky restraining order.
Jumpin' Jehosaphat! Now THERE'S an intro!!! What the heck could it possibly be? Rats the size of Datsuns?! Giant barn-stomping lizards!? A chainsaw-wielding maniac?! Well, no, um ... worms. BIZARRE FREAK OF NATURE, MAN-EATING, SUPERDUPER PO'D WORMS!!! Guess shouting doesn't make them any scarier, now does it? In fact, something tells me a childhood hook baiting incident might be the root of all this. But God bless first-time writer/director Jeff Lieberman for riding his premise out to the wriggling end. Being a yankee, Jeff naturally has his New Yorker hero, Mick, played with sly, glasses-cleaning pluck by Don Scardino, face certain death whilst foolishly wandering south of the Mason-Dixon Line to make time with a redheaded belle (Patricia Pearcy). Tragically for our wouldbe lovebirds, those "hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground" have driven forth a ferocious horde of slimy worms filled with an electric lust for human flesh. The savage attacks begin as isolated occurrences such as Mick's horrifically worm-spoiled eggcream soda or another slightly more unfortunate fella who's unwittingly first in line to have his flesh and sinew stripped to the bare bones with the fury of 250 thousand tiny piranha-like choppers. When Mick and Geri discover said corpse, it sidetracks their backwoods courtship into a "Scooby-Doo" mystery that tensely winds its way toward the flick's memorably monstrous payoff featuring a two-story farm house oozing floor-to-ceiling with a FLOOD of positively DISGUSTING nightcrawlers. Before that, the little beasties are understandably camera shy, but there's terrifically titter worthy scenes throughout such as when Ms. Pearcy strips nekkid for a quick shower, turns the faucet, and unbeknownst to her, worms gurgle slowly from the showerhead, only to return through the miracle of reverse photography when she turns off the water. CineSchlockers should also note that this is also among the early films of famed FX Oscar hog Rick Baker who created the subdermal face-munching of R.A. Dow's reluctant worm farmer and spurned beau Roger "Grimes" (Get it!?!) This one-shot-or-bust turned classic moment of critter cinema was accomplished with multiple face and neck appliances rigged with worms on wires pulled by off-camera FX wranglers. So Rick's is truly a career built, ahem, from the ground up.
One breast. 12 corpses. Hiney pinching. Reefer madness. Killer worm cam. Gratuitous shower scene. Ol' drop the glasses at the exact worst possible moment gag. Copious invertebrate closeups. Migratory skeleton. Gratuitous urination. One-woman staging of The Glass Menagerie. Southern inhospitality. Woods wandering. Amazing stay-lit torch. Creepy choir kiddos. Jeff explores foreshadowing as a 25-year-old screenwriter: "I like a good thunder storm. Makes you feel -- helpless." Mick's a cut-rate Groucho: "I'm not a tourist. I'm a Libra!" and "Talk about New York?! Two corpses in one day! Next time you visit me!!!" Lovelorn redneck Roger howls at his yankee interloper: "YOU GONNA BE SPOILED!!! YOU GONNA BE THE WORM FACE!!!"
What'll be astonishing to fans straight away is the remarkable clarity of this brand new anamorphic transfer that not only restores its original theatrical aspect ratio, but is color corrected scene-by-scene to resurrect lifelike fleshtones and amazing shadow detail long lost in overly contrasty VHS and broadcast prints. (Most notably, in the final reel of the 1983 Vestron release where Roger's candlelit window peering is next to invisible.) MGM's also restored a fleeting shot of Ms. Pearcy's left breast to the aforementioned shower scene that was excised to earn a PG rating in '76. However, running the VHS and DVD versions side-by-side, yours truly noted no extra gore and reckons the total reintegrated footage would be hard pressed to garner a PG-13 today. My only quibble? Would've been great to see the original worms-go-in-worms-go-out poster art among the extras.
Mr. Lieberman's also mighty happy with the treatment of his writhing spawn. As a result, his commentary is an info packed, if occasionally cornball, recollection of all manner of production trivia and "how'd they do that" anecdotes. Like how different of a movie would this have been if Sylvester Stallone and Kim Basinger had landed the leads as they very nearly did!?! Or how kindly would today's animal rights watchdogs take to worms being fried on electric hotplates to get just the right (menacing) closeups? In fact, this "mass wormal genocide" completely depleted the toothy Glycera population much to the consternation of fisherman for two seasons. There were also a MILLION rubber worms in three varieties used for the climatic scenes. Beneath those twisting masses? Boy Scouts! Jeff's just full of priceless nuggets such as those and he's a major reason this is a must-own disc for any self-respecting CineSchlocker! Especially those whose only experience with this cheeky film has been through the robotic prism of, as Lieberman calls it, "Mystery Space Science Fiction 2000." (1976, 93 mins Unrated, 1.85:1 anam, DD mono, Commentary, Trailer and TV spot, No printed insert.)
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.