Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Squirm (1976)

Squirm is one of those horror pictures that’s always held a very special place in my heart. Even though I didn’t get to see the film until a few years ago (in the form of MGM’s Region 1 DVD, in fact) I’ve been aware of SQUIRM pretty much ever since I started loving this genre of ours. Back then, the now-iconic still of actor R A Dow waist deep in worms seemed to be in every publication of the time from House of Hammer magazine to the title page of Alan Frank’s book Horror Films. The biggest delight in finally catching up with Jeff Lieberman’s 1976 eco-horror was the fact that, despite the degree of anticipation I had for it, it still didn’t disappoint. And therein, I think, lies the secret of SQUIRM’s success - it delivers exactly what it promises. Boasting one of the best exploitation titles ever for an eco-horror movie (it’s going to make you squirm about worms, oh yes indeed it is) SQUIRM is just about to be released on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray by Arrow Films, and if you haven’t seen this one yet, this is absolutely the time to catch up with it.
Possibly the only horror film in history to feature both a ginger hero and heroine (unless of course any of you know better) SQUIRM starts, after a crawl about the story you are about to see being true (ho ho) with some skilfully edited stock footage of an electric pylon coming down during a thunder storm,. The severed cables deliver a huge electrical charge to the rain-soaked worm-filled mud, turning the creepy-crawlies into flesh eaters. At the same time, flooding cuts off the backwoods hick town of Fly Creek in Georgia, meaning that as night falls (the worms don’t like light, you see) it’s time for a fight to the death against more worms besieging a single house than could possibly ever live in the ground in one county, let alone one town.
Apparently half a million worms were used in the filming of SQUIRM - half of them real, half of them fake. It’s not difficult to tell which is which, but by the time the rubber ones turn up you won’t mind. Jeff Lieberman’s movie builds slowly and skilfully, introducing a couple of genuinely likeable leads (Don Scardino and Patricia Pearcy, cast from New York) as well as a collection of locals cast on the hoof who provide some interesting colour as well as increasing the movie’s already authentic feel due to the appropriately grotty and rain-drenched locations. Special mention has to go to R A Dow, a New York method actor who apparently immersed himself in the town where SQUIRM was filmed in order to perfect his performance as Roger the Worm Farmer’s Son. He’s also the one who gets to model one of Rick Baker’s early effects - a crawlingly unpleasant combination of prosthetics that make it look as if worms are burrowing into his face. Even with the glory of this beautiful Blu-ray transfer (which this most certainly is) Baker’s effects still look convincing enough to make you...well, you guessed it.
As usual, Arrow have gone the extra mile to make sure SQUIRM has an entertaining package of extras. Ported over from the MGM Region 1 disc is a commentary track by Jeff Lieberman that’s informative, amusing, and well worth a listen. There’s also a filmed Q&A session with Lieberman and star Don Scardino from New York’s Anthology Film Archives presentation of the movie in 2012. Kim Newman provides a thoughtful piece on the movie, and talks about Lieberman’s oeuvre and how SQUIRM fits in with other eco-horror pictures of the time, noting quite reasonably that it’s more like Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS with worms than JAWS, the movie that kick-started the whole late 1970s eco-horror boom. There’s a trailer, reversible sleeve art, and a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film. 
SQUIRM is one of the very best eco-horrors of the 1970s, a subgenre that included William Shatner trying to outact thousands of tarantulas in Bud Cardos’ KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, Joan Collins running away from enormous insects in Bert I Gordon’s EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and a giant bear fighting a helicopter in William Girdler’s GRIZZLY,  All those films are marvellous, but SQUIRM is the best of the lot. If you haven’t seen it then treat yourself to this outstanding slice of gory, wriggly mayhem.

Arrow Films are releasing Jeff Lieberman's SQUIRM on DVD &
 Blu-ray on 23rd September 2013

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