SQUIRM (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Young first-time director Jeff Lieberman (who went on to helm BLUE SUNSHINE and JUST BEFORE DAWN) gave us the first killer worm flick in SQUIRM, and its 1976 summer release proved to be the perfect spine-tingling drive-in fodder. The film's use of the slimy creepy crawlers attacking people in a small town made this one of the best animal/nature strikes back flicks of the 1970s, and the director's acceptance of budgetary restraints is carried through in its captivating tongue-in-cheek approach, as well as the classic monster pictures he lovingly played homage to. Now Scream Factory delivers SQUIRM in HD on this Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” (with several new extras), giving reason for horror fans to celebrate!

Before the opening credits, we learn that the backwoods town of Fly Creek, Georgia, is experiencing a fierce electrical storm, in which a tall power-line tower collapses, sending a surge of electricity circuits into the rain-soaked ground. This eventually causes vast numbers of biting, bloodthirsty worms to come up from the earth and prey on the town. The next morning, a young New York fellow named Mick (Don Scardino, CRUISING) comes to town by bus in the aftermath of the storm to visit his redheaded girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy, THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES). At a drugstore counter, Mick discovers a large worm in his egg cream, and doesn't exactly make friends with the typically redneck sheriff (Peter MacLean, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE).

The old man next door (Carl Dagenhart) sells bait worms, but 100,000 of them are missing from his truck with no explanation, so he blames his dimwitted son Roger Grimes (R.A. Dow). Geri and Mick feel guilty since they borrowed the truck before this incident, and they make amends by taking Roger fishing. Roger accidentally falls out of the boat, and a bunch of long worms eat their way under the skin of his face, causing him to run off in a mad fit. Meanwhile, the skeletons of some missing locals are discovered by the inquisitive youngsters, but the sheriff won't listen to them. During a meal with Mick (who has already figured out what's causing all the destruction), Geri, her widowed and unhinged mom Naomi (Jean Sullivan, ROUGHLY SPEAKING) and her tomboy younger sister Alma (Fran Higgins), a tree comes crashing through the dining room area, but everyone is left safe. The worst is yet to come; as it gets dark, the light-shunning creepy-crawlers come out by the thousands, and there's no electricity in town to boot. Mick uses his city-wise smarts to fight them off and protect Geri, but he is also menaced by the now mad Roger, mutilated with worm bites and looking and behaving monstrous.

SQUIRM was shot on location in Port Wentworth, Georgia, adding authenticity to the mucky backwoods atmosphere (if you’ve seen this film enough times, when visiting a rural U.S. town, it’s hard not to conjure up images from it). The film uses professional actors in the leads, as well as locals for the supporting parts, and the cast blends together very organically, to say the least. The worms are a combination of real ones shown in close-ups, and some not-convincing fake ones shown when they are seen in hordes, surrounding the floors of house, or falling out of a hall closet. The highlight is an effects shot that shows the creepy crawlers burrowing under the skin of actor R.A. Dow. This innovative effect was done by a young Rick Baker (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), and is the only one of its type in the entire film. The rest of the show is still supplemented with plenty of creepiness, with the slithering thingies crawling out of shower heads, making their way into a drink, or eating their way through an old man's torso. The music by Robert Prince (GARGOYLES) is understated but effectively moody, and suits the film so well. A talented filmmaker indeed, Lieberman has mounted an outrageously fun drive-in horror thrill-ride, and it's one of the most memorable things that AIP released during the 1970s.

MGM first visited SQUIRM on DVD in 2003, and Scream Factory is now licensing the film from them for this momentous Blu-ray release. Using MGM’s recent HD transfer, the Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p HD in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors here look extremely vivid, detail and depth look great, and black levels are just right. Picture noise and other blemishes are pretty much nonexistent, and there are good contrast levels throughout the presentation. Any grain present is never problematic and helps retain that desired filmic look, and the transfer in an all around stunner. The audio comes in 2.0 DTS-HD Master option, and the mix has some clarity to it (no detectable hiss or pops) with dialogue being clear (except the occasionally heavy southern accents of the supporting players), sound effects having decent kick, and Prince’s memorable score coming across quite pleasingly. Optional English subtitles are included. Note that like MGM’s previous DVD release, this Blu-ray of SQUIRM presents the film at full strength, restoring some brief shower nudity and gore that was once trimmed down, making this fully uncut with the back cover carrying an "unrated" labeling (AIP once edited the film to play with a "PG" rating).

Carried over from the MGM DVD is the hip audio commentary with director/writer Jeff Lieberman, and it's one of the best ever done for a horror film. Lieberman is never at a loss for words, and always has something interesting to say, revealing a lot of behind-the-scenes factoids and fun stories. He approaches the commentary with natural easiness and a sense of humor, and even ponders why a show like "MST 3000" would poke fun at something that was tongue-in-cheek to begin with? He starts off by telling how some opening footage was borrowed from OCEAN'S 11(!) and how Kim Basinger, Sylvester Stallone and Martin Sheen all auditioned for the film. Starting off with tidbits like that, you know you're in for something good, and this never disappoints, so even if you’ve heard the commentary before, it’s well worth revisiting.

New to this Blu-ray is the great featurette “Digging In: The Making of SQUIRM” (33:10) which contains interviews with Lieberman and Scardino (who is currently a very busy television director, and has been for some years). Lieberman mentions initially writing the screenplay on a yellow pad in 1973 (and that it was originally set in New England), the casting, some of the troubles with making his first feature and employing a Cub Scout troop to help out with the fake “sea of worms” effects. Scardino talks about what attracted him to the script, working with the local non-actors, how co-star Dow had a very method acting style, the “rotten egg” smell of the town they were shooting in, and that he and Lieberman got along great. Another new and humorous featurette is “Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman” (7: 04), as he revisits his childhood house where the idea for SQUIRM was conceived (he even demonstrates the electrical experiment to get the worms out of the ground on the lawn and pulls out one of the original rubber worms from the film!). Rounding out the Blu-ray’s extras are the original theatrical trailer (narrated by Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson”), a TV spot, a radio spot, a still gallery and trailers for other Scream Factory releases (PUMPKINHEAD, MOTEL HELL, THE BEAST WITHIN). The Blu-ray’s cover is reversible, revealing AIP’s original poster art on the opposite side. (George R. Reis)