When I was about ten, I used to spend many weekends at my grandma’s apartment in Rogers Park. We’d order pizza from Albertos, drink 7-Up and eat our way through a box of Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip cookies.
One of the great experiences from those weekends was getting to stay up pretty late, channel surfing. My grandma only had rabbit ears so there wasn’t a lot of choices, but you’d could always find some groovy film that started around 11:30 PM.
I vividly remember seeing Squirm on one of those occasions. The film, from 1976, is a weird pastiche meets parody of atomic age monster flicks. Think of The Birds or Them meets Last House On The Left. I mention the latter not in comparison to its violence, but in tone. Directed by Jeff Lieberman from his own script, Squirm tells the story of small town Fly Creek, where a powerful storm knocks down power lines, resulting in electrified worms that escape to the surface and attack unsuspecting folk. A local girl (Patricia Percy) and her big city outsider boyfriend (Don Scardino) start to unravel the clues after the make the grisly discovery that the worms are eating people!
Squirm starts like a traditional giant bug movie, but adds a layer of trippy 70s style which bathes the film with off the wall humor and horror. And when the film punches, it punches hard. I think that’s the best thing about the movie, it never turns away when something horrific is about to happen and it goes completely overboard. Once the worms start to get out of control, we see not just a few scattered here and there, but undulating waves of the slimy enemies. Lieberman also employs the use of extreme close-ups of worms throughout the film, which showcases their grotesque behavior. Backed by a score that mixes traditional orchestra and synthesizer, the music adds to the far out vibe. Don Scardino delivers a great performance as Mick, the New York city tourist. He plays it totally straight, which makes the over board humor of the film work. The movie also showcases some incredible make-up by Rick Baker, who had just started his career. Some of his gags are amazing and well above the typical red dye for blood you would see in a low-budget movie. His work alone makes this worthwhile viewing. Overall, each grimy worm moment in the film is fully realized and totally delivers.
Working from a beautiful print, Shout Factory does another solid job delivering the best version of the film. I’m not a Squirm aficionado (and there are a few) but I can’t imagine that too many versions of the film exist. I know MGM put out a DVD a few years ago, but I can’t confirm which transfer of the film they used.
The reason the transfer works is that even though it’s cleaned up, it still has a nice retro vibe and retains its funk. The film has more traditional coverage during dialogue, but Lieberman also does some clever directing using lighting, camerawork and sound during more intense moments. The film is well above average of other low-budget films of the era. This widescreen version, which also has beautiful definition in the shadowy areas, must be a gift to the director because people can finally see the film he intended to make. The audio mix is excellent. Nothing gets lost in the sound, making me wonder if they had original mag tracks to work with.
The extras are okay. There’s a documentary that features Lieberman and Scardino and they have great memories of making the film, although its mostly supported with scenes from the movie. I gather there isn’t much behind the scenes footage that exists, which is too bad. I think that would have helped the documentary. The Blu-ray label boasts a tour of the film’s locations, although I think that’s been misrepresented. It’s actually a tour of Lieberman’s childhood home where he walks the viewer through his experiences that led him to come up with the idea for the film.
Forgetting the small amount of extras, I’m glad Scream Factory put this out. I respect that they find these old titles and really give them the love they deserve allowing it to live again and not die off into late night obscurity. Squirm is a great addition to any retro horror fan’s library. In fact, I would say it’s a must have.
Squirm is available on October 28. Get it here! Suggestion : avoid drinking egg cremes during viewing.