The movie Squirm is one among many in the "nature-strikes-back" sub-genre of horror movies. And perhaps, since the part of nature striking back is none other than the humble worm, the surprise is supposed to horrify as much as the premise itself.
But is this movie really so horrible as to deserve the 30% (from critics) and 28% (from audiences) that it has over at Rotten Tomatoes? Let's find out whether those tomatoes are rotten or just soft because they're worm-eaten.
Back to Top
Mick, a young man from the city, comes to Fly Creek to meet with a girl he met at an antiques show named Geri. However, the idyllic Southern setting of their romantic rendezvous is ravaged by a storm the night before he sets out and one thing after another goes wrong.
First, he has to wade through a swamp and forest to reach Geri's house when the debris blocks his bus' path, then he's accused of hijacking his egg-cream at the local lunch counter. But things get really weird when Mick and Geri go looking for old man Beardsley, the best antiques dealer in town. Of course, just Mick's presence alone is enough to leave Roger, the hopeful for Geri's heart, seething.
What happened to Mr. Beardsley? Why are worms cropping up where they shouldn't be? And to what lengths will Roger go to to make sure that Mick is taken out of the picture?
Sit back and relax - but, also, be ready to Squirm!
Back to Top
The acting in this movie is fine, but the accents - the accents are so bad they rebound into the comical.
Everyone except Mick has a Southern drawl of varying intensity. Some of these are light and breathy like those of Geri, her sister and her mother, while others are as heavy as the hillbillies' from Deliverance.
To top off the overdone characters, Mick plays up the role of red-hot lover to a ridiculous extent.
Yet, despite shots like the above, Mick's act is also restrained enough to keep things from going over the top.
The cinematography at times is also fairly well done, considering the movie's genre. Take this excellent dutch angle shot for instance:
For a B-horror flick, Squirm is a good example of the genre. It takes its scares very seriously, and unlike many of the horror films put out today, it relies more on psychological horror than shock horror.
A prime example of this in the film is a scene where Mick and Geri find the Sheriff eating spaghetti with a woman. They tell him about a skeleton they've found, and mention worms a number of times. The woman seems to be there as the audience proxy as she slows herself down and at one point even puts down her utensils - eating spaghetti while talking about worms is never an easy task!
But, the expected scare never happens. None of the spaghetti bits turn out to be the movie's starring monster.
What's more, the movie clearly establishes the potential for the worm-as-spaghetti scare when, earlier in the film, Mick finds a worm in his egg cream (soda) - the next logical step is to have one on a plate of spaghetti, but it never happens. Although it's a relatively small detail, the film is much stronger for leaving this cheap, expected scare out.
Further, even when it doesn't build up the scares, the movie can be down right terrifying. Things get into spoiler territory here, so skip the next paragraph if you're worried about such things.
When Roger gets attacked by the worms we expect them just to kill him. Just to leave him a skeleton as they did the others they've destroyed. Instead, the worms seem to, well, possess him, making him a strange (undead?) worm-man hybrid. This is terrifying visually (thanks to Oscar-winning make-up artist Rick Baker), and also conceptually as we see the worms wriggle up under the skin of Roger's face, leaving welts in their wake.
Back to Top
But, why Roger gets possessed while the worms kill everyone else they attack is never explained. This lack of explanation exposes the films' major weakness: its premise is never given any kind of detailed treatment.
Granted, Roger does tell us that when his dad started the worm farm he tried to use electricity to get them out of the ground and that this enraged them (to the point where they bit most of his thumb off), but we don't get any information on how these enraged worms operate.
Case in point, the worms knock down a tree, late in the movie, destroying the dining room in Geri's house while her family and Mick are in it. But this is the first they've knocked down - such a tree's being selected and knocked down suggests some level of consciousness. It seems that they're out to get Mick, and maybe Geri as well.
The other thing that's ill-explained is the worms' being dispersed by "light." This makes little sense because they couldn't have attacked Roger if such was the case, having done so in broad daylight. However, the way that they react to light later in the movie suggests that it's the heat they don't like, not the light. And if this were established as the worm deterrent rather than light when Mick voices his realization, it would help the movie as a whole make more sense.
Now, the same narrow miss at sense is present in the case of Roger.
Because he had his thumb mostly eaten by worms before, it's possible that he has some kind of bond with them. Pair that with his hatred for Mick as competition in the romantic field (though Geri's mother seems to have the hots for him, for some reason), and you have yourself an explanation for his becoming a weird quasi-zombie after the worms' initial attack on him. But this connection is never clearly established. It's strongly implied, but nothing explicit is ever said about it.
Perhaps, though, this is the result of the scientist character being left out of this movie. There's no one in it to say "don't you see...?" or "Of course!" This character could also point out how why, in the world of the movie, this works:
In fact, a scientist character would be incredibly useful at the movie's end where there are so many loose ends that you could bait all the fishing hooks in a salmon derby with them.
Back to Top
Squirm is the kind of movie that drive-in theatres would show back when there were more than a few handfuls of drive-in theatres left within the Western world. It's got it's cheesy moments, it's acceptable acting, and its genuinely terrifying bits (so it's also the kind of movie any real life, mack-daddy Mick would approve of). But there are no drive-in theatres anymore.
Times have changed, and the horror genre has changed.
The modern horror movie genre is divided into two sides: One that relies almost entirely on shock horror, and another that relies on human psychology for its scares. Squirm falls in between these two, and so were it to be released now it would probably fall into complete obscurity.
Yet on it's own it does still do what a horror is supposed to do: frighten, scare, and induce a kind of contained paranoia or fear.
However, a truly good horror movie leaves this fear, this paranoia lingering in your mind so that when you flick off the lights that fear can manifest in the darkness of your own home.
Squirm does not manage to do this because it doesn't explain itself well enough. Is Roger possessed? Can Roger control the worms? Does the whole town wind up dead? After the power's fixed and the electricity is no longer running into the ground do the worms go back to being docile?
It's a horror movie that scares, but at the same time forgets that it also needs to tell a complete and coherent story.
So, Freya, fly low if you like, but leave your hook empty for another of the movies in the Field of Fallen Films - this one seems too comfortable where it is, down there in the dark with its worms for company.
Back to Top
Next week this blog is going to be left to fallow. I'm going to take some time to recalibrate my writing activities so that I can get some of my larger fiction projects moving again and so that I can tidy some things up with my translation blog (as well as with this one).
For full details of the temporary stoppage, check back here tomorrow.
But, though I'm not going to be updating Monday-Thursday, I still plan on finishing All-Request August with a look at the TV miniseries loosely based on the work by Ursula K. LeGuin: Earthsea. So, watch for that review in one week's time, and for tomorrow's fully detailed temporary blog stoppage guide.
Back to Top