Worms are creepy and you don’t want to get them in your hair.
I think that, more than anything, explains the continuing appeal of this lightly satirical Southern shocker from 1976. The film’s plot is a simple one, as the plots of the best horror films often are. There’s a storm. The power lines over Fly Creek, Georgia get knocked down. The power line lands in the mud and soon, you’ve got thousands of electrified worms crawling all over the place. These worms are angry and noisy and they like to eat people’s faces and take control of their bodies. Of course, since the power lines are all down, you’re can/t exactly call for help and even worse, you’re thrown into darkness once the sun goes down. Squirm gets at some very basic fears.
Squirm has a welcome sense of humor, as any film about killer worms should. It’s obvious that Lieberman knew that the audience would be demanding that the worms get revenge on at least a few fisherman and those scenes are tossed in there. The film’s nominal hero is Mick (Don Scardino), a visitor from New York City, and he’s so out-of-place in rural Georgia that it becomes funny watching him try to do simple things like order food or have a simple conversation. Even when he tries to warn people about the worms, you can tell they’re thinking, “He might be right but do I want to listen to a yankee?” As we say down here in Texas, you can always spot the yankee because they’re the ones sweating profusely and talking about killer worms. The scenes of Mick trying to order something at the local diner reminded me of the great “We don’t got no goddamn trout” scene from Hell or High Water.
Mick is in Georgia to visit his girlfriend, Geri (Patricia Pearcy). Almost everyone who Mick meets seems like they could have come out of an overheated first draft of a Tennessee Williams play. Once the worm attack starts in earnest, Geri’s mother sinks into a state of denial that would have impressed Blanche DuBois. Meanwhile, Squirm has its own wannaba Stanley Kowalski in the form of Roger (R.A. Dow), who obviously can’t understand why Geri would want a boyfriend from New York when she could have him. Roger is a creep but he’s a familiar creep. Anyone who has ever lived in the country will immediately recognize Roger and know everything that they need to know about him.
That said, the worms are the real stars of Squirm and they certainly do manage to get everywhere. On the one hand, it’s funny to see the worms emerging from a shower head but, on the other hand, it’s actually really terrifying because, when you’re standing naked in a shower, the last thing you want is to get about a thousand worms dumped on your head. Seriously, that would freak me out even more than threat of getting killed by Norman Bates’s mother. The film is also full of close-ups of the worms and, to be honest, worms are really freaky to look at. The opening and closing of that little mouth is like pure nightmare fuel.
Squirm is a classic of Southern horror. You’ll never look at a worm the same way again.