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Director: Jeff Lieberman
Cast: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow, Fran Higgins, Jean Sullivan, and Peter MacLean
Length: 92 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- Digging In – 2014 Interviews with writer/director Jeff Lieberman and lead actor Don Scardino
- Eureka – An exclusive look at where the idea for Squirm came from with Jeff Lieberman
- Original Audio Commentary by writer/director Jeff Lieberman
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Vintage TV spot
- Still gallery
Evoking the campy spirit of a ’50s horror film, 1976’s nature-run-amok horror film Squirm isn’t exactly a horrifying experience. That’s not to say it isn’t amusing and frequently nasty fun, though, and a product of its time. Intially rated R by the MPAA and released into theaters, the film had then undergone a few cuts to receive a PG rating. Aside from very brief nudity in a shower scene, a post-coital scene in a prison cell, and many icky shots of worm infestation, this is more of a PG-13 film. While the film is certainly cheesy viewing in 2014, it is not terribly ripe for the hilarious skewering it received in 1999 on TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000. Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray release gives this minor pic the transfer it deserves in all its creepy-crawly glory.
As if the film purports to be a documentary, a title scroll sets the story up as “one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded.” In September of 1975, an electrical storm strikes a rural sea coast area of Georgia. Power lines send hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground, cutting off all electricity to the micro town of Fly Creek. Everyone talks about this “dilly” of a storm, but no one anticipates the icky horror that awaits them. Living with her widowed mother (Jean Sullivan) and reefer-smoking sister Alma (Fran Higgins), Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy) takes a neighbor’s truck to pick up her city boyfriend, Mick (Don Scardino). It’s by his arrival that the new couple first finds a skeleton and then a hundred thousand of worms that eat the flesh clean off the bones of humans. Geri and Mick realize something strange is afoot from the storm, but of course, the disbelieving Sheriff Reston (Peter MacLean) thinks they’re out of their mind.
Gross and only occasionally creepy rather than truly scary, Squirm is essentially The Birds with worms. Writer-director Jeff Lieberman scores effective gross-outs of the worms themselves, courtesy of Rick Baker’s make-up and practical effects, and milks shots of them swarming every chance he gets. In close-up, the spaghetti noodle-looking worms themselves can be heard screaming from the used sounds of screaming pigs in a slaughterhouse (and even sound a bit like the vicious lake biters in Joe Dante’s 1978 cult hit Piranha). One initially turns up in Mick’s chocolate egg cream at a diner that doesn’t take too kindly to strangers (the placement of the worm is deemed the city boy’s fault, natch). Most memorable is the sight of the worms coming out of a shower head, like ground beef coming out of a meat grinder, and then an entire bathroom teeming with them is particularly icky and appropriately skin-crawling. Of the on-screen talent, Don Scardino fares the best with a modest, likable presence as city-dweller Mick, and while Patricia Pearcy’s Southern accent is often snicker-worthy, she has a sweet, appealing quality. Then there’s R.A. Dow, who might be the iconic face of Squirm, as worm farmboy Roger after his accident with the worms and turns him into a lovesick zombie.
The 1.85:1 AVC 1080p transfer looks clean and crisp. The picture still remains its low-budget grain, but its restoration gives each frame a more varnished sheen than it most likely did in 1976 or on your dusted-off VHS copy. Colors are naturalistic, and there is a fine amount of contrast to the image. There seems to be a bit of dust and scratches to the transfer, but nothing that isn’t manageable. At times the print is a bit dark, but this is probably a result of the original elements, and not to the fault of the transfer.
The Mono DTS-HD Master Audio offers a modest, but accurate sourcing of the original, low-budget source. The soundtrack does wonderfully balance the range of audio content from the soundtrack itself, to the dialogue, and the wealth of sound effects. Most notable, of these sound effects, are the horrific screams of the worms, which, as said above, were screaming pigs being slaughtered. The soundtrack leaves enough headroom for all of these elements to shine, including the haunting lullaby during the opening credits, which sounds terrific.
As usual, Scream Factory is good to this little, oft-forgotten film in the extra department. Bonus features include writer-director Jeff Lieberman’s audio commentary, a still gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, as well as the obligatory theatrical trailer and TV spot (“Terror grips every nerve in your body!” is one of the quotable taglines). The most special extra is Eureka!, a short segment that has Lieberman explaining his childhood via a science experiment for the film’s inspiration. There are also interviews with Lieberman and male lead Don Scardino in a segment called Digging In.
Squirm might not be shocking anymore, but it is certainly worth a watch for its practical craftsmanship, which will induce more cringing than any of today’s CG effects. It’s a very minor entry in the nature-gone-berserk subgenre of horror cinema, too. All things considered, Scream Factory has restored an admittedly great-looking transfer. It’s groovy drive-in stuff that contemporary films try to emulate and often fail. Vermiphobics beware, but anyone in the mood for some late-’70s fun should dig in and enjoy the worms.