Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Starring Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R. A. Dow
Review by Jordan
Nature strikes back in a particularly wriggly way in Squirm, a cult classic of sorts that wears its shoddy production values proudly and marked the directorial debut of enigmatic director Jeff Lieberman.
When Mick (Don Scardino) ventures to the secluded town of Fly Creek, Georgia to meet his new girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy), he is greeted by fallen trees, dense swamps, unhospitable locals and a plague of particularly aggressive, man-eating earth worms shocked into action by an intense electrical storm the night before. Some power lines fell, shooting electricity directly into the damp ground. Clearly the Fly Creek electrical commission’s monstrous worm strategy was in need of alteration.
Mick’s induction becomes all the more complicated when he encounters slightly unhinged worm farmer Roger Grimes, a token hillbilly with a deep infatuation with Geri who clearly doesn’t like visitors, as well as Geri’s deeply troubled mother who looks increasingly on the verge of a breakdown with each scene she appears. When people begin turning up dead, it’s the natural course in a plot set-up such as this that the suspicion turns the outsider who would also be a bad influence on the usually timid farm girl, though they don’t do themselves any favours by playing detective and constantly being at the scene of the crime.
The plot is charming and familiar, with a surprising amount of attention afforded to creating characters that are not simply different in hope that they’ll be remembered, but because they’re products of an uncomfortable and nigh uninhabitable environment. The houses are more leaning than upright and the stores appear to have had their last restocking some years ago; it’s these details and some fantastic makeup effects in an otherwise shoddy affair that lend it relevance as a fun B-movie today. The final moments depicting what appears to be truckloads worth of the slimy critters filling rooms and climbing stairs is particularly impressive.
Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine, released in 1978, is his most renowned title in a limited filmography and bridges the gap nicely between the art-house and grindhouse. Squirm is pure silliness, and wears it as a badge of honour. The “nature strikes back” sub-genre may never get a meaningful renaissance, but with so many gems like this waiting to be unearthed already that’s not such a terrible thing.