19th Oct2013

31 Days of Horror: ‘Squirm’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow, Jean Sullivan, Peter MacLean, Fran Higgins | Written and Directed by Jeff Lieberman

SQUIRM_2D

The 70s was, shall we say, an “interesting” time in cinema. Whilst mainstream Hollywood was churning out some of its most revered movies – The Godafather, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, and pretty much the entire oeuvre of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola – low-budget cinema and in particular genre movies were exploring very different cultural avenues.

Whilst we had the likes of Night of the Living Dead, which explored soci-cultural issues, using the genre as a metaphor for much bigger “stories”, we also had the birth of the slasher movie boom in John Carpenter’s Halloween. Yet slipped somewhere in between was a strange sub-genre: the nature-run-amok film. Jaws, Piranha, Killer Bees, The Swarm, Grizzly, Day of the Animals, Kingdom of the Spiders, Phase Four, Bug; the animals ran rampant and so did zoological horror… One of the strangest films to emerge during this period (besides the obvious Frogs and Night of the Lepus) was Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm, a tale of angry killer worms invading America’s southland!

The official synopsis goes something like this:

Squirm begins with a pylon being downed by a thunderstorm, sending millions of volts into the wet, conductive mud, giving its hundreds of thousands of wriggly inhabitants an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Since the fallen power lines have also cut-off the electricity supply to Fly Creek, Georgia, its population could hardly be more vulnerable as the sun goes down… Houses can be barricaded against most intruders, but what happens when the things you’re trying to keep out are small enough to get into the water supply?

It’s hard to believe that Squirm was Lieberman’s first feature film, straight out of the gate he hits all the marks of a great horror flick: well-rounded characters – even if some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired, a tightly-paced story, terrifying situations and some superb special effects from a very young pre-fame Rick Baker that turned innocent worms into flesh-eating killing machines! Squirm also has the same flourishes of sly, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, storytelling that would appear in most of his later films.

It’s also hard to believe that after Squirm came Blue Sunshine AND Just Before Dawn… a triumvirate of late 70s/early 80s horror that seemingly meant great things for Lieberman. Only it didn’t. Lieberman’s Remote Control fell under the radar of many and Lieberman’s only other work in the past thirty-some-odd years was a couple of documentaries, his “comeback” flick Satan’s Little Helper (2004) and, bizarrely, the script for NeverEnding Story 3 back in 1994.

Having experienced both a very rough TV print and the US DVD from MGM, I can easily say this new Blu-ray from Arrow Video is without a shadow of a doubt the best Squirm has ever looked. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the colours are rich, whilst at the same time still looking natural. There’s no sign of much print damage, and thankfully there’s no excessive clean-up issues. There are some examples of grain, but for a print that’s almost 40 years old this is the best its ever going to look. Arrow, and Jeff Lieberman who approved the print, should be commended for taking the time and effort to restore what is essentially an obscure (in mainstream horror terms) genre film from the 70s.

Extras on this Blu-ray include a filmed Q&A with Jeff Lieberman and Don Scardino filmed at a screening in 2012, the audio commentary ported across from the MGM DVD, the trailer and a brief interview with UK horror expert Kim Newman who discusses the film, the genre and Lieberman’s (short) career.

Squirm is out now on double-play Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

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