Squirm (1976)

Fly Creek is a small southern town best known for it’s “antiques” and the Grimes Worm Farm. During one particularly hot summer, while Mick (Don Scardino) is on his way on a bus to meet new girlfriend Geri Sanders (Patricia Pearcy), they’re hit by a whopper of a thunderstorm. Fly Creek’s roads are flooded and they’ve lost power due to a downed power line that is still sparking. And that leads to a big problem. Because when the film’s worms are stimulated by electricity, they come out of the ground, ready to bite, and there are millions of them!

As is obvious from the premise, Squirm is a nature-gone-wild film, a subgenre of horror that was particularly active in the 70s. It’s a pretty good example of the genre, and the film is successful more often than not, as long as you don’t start to question the plot too much. Overall, it’s a 7 out of 10 for me. I almost gave it an 8, but the ending is a bit too clich├ęd, so I knocked off a point. I’ve only seen one of director/writer Jeff Lieberman’s other films so far–Blue Sunshine (1976)–and that also had points taken off for a less-than-satisfying ending.

Squirm is at its best when it’s wallowing in small redneck town weirdness. The Sheriff (Peter MacLean) is frighteningly unresponsive, a bit pleasantly campy, and he’s also a paranoid troublemaker. The Grimes family, Willie (Carl Dagenhart) and Roger (R.A. Dow), are demented and creepy. The Sanders family seems oddly dysfunctional, and Geri’s sister, Alma (Fran Higgins), demonstrates that Juliette Lewis wasn’t the first Juliette Lewis. When all of this stuff is combined with Squirm’s initial slow-burning horror aspects–including a relatively subtle amount of worms and a well-placed (both literally and in terms of the script) skeleton–it is good, almost sublimely so.

But things begin to go slightly awry when we get to the big extravaganza near the end. The characters have either died off or Lieberman simply abandons them. Having a lot of characters die off by the end is understandable and even laudable in a film like this, but it’s too bad we couldn’t have seen them longer and had more emotional investment in them. Simply abandoning characters isn’t as excusable. Of course the attacking worm quotient increases as the film continues, and this is handled well physically (I can’t imagine having to be a worm wrangler), but plot points surrounding the worms become sketchier and almost contradictory at times. That saps too much tension out of the ending, and instead we’re primarily engaged by physical effects for their own sake, plus a wonderfully campy change in personality from Roger.

Squirm is definitely worth seeing for anyone with a taste for lower-budget 1970s horror, and at times is quite a gem. Just don’t set your expectations too high (but really, who would for a film like this?)