This was the night of the CRAWLING TERROR!
Year of Release: 1976
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Don Scardino ... Mick
Patricia Pearcy ... Geri Sanders
R.A. Dow ... Roger Grimes
Jean Sullivan ... Naomi Sanders
Fran Higgins ... Alma Sanders
Peter MacLean ... Sheriff Jim Reston
Carl Dagenhart ... Willie Grimes
When a powerful storm knocks Fly Creek, Georgia's power lines down onto wet soil, the resulting surge of electricity drives large, bloodthirsty worms up to the surface - and then out of their soil-tilling minds! The unsuspecting townspeople discover that their sleepy fishing village is suddenly overrun with worms that burrow right into their skin. Cut off from the outside world by felled trees and flooding, and inundated by hundreds of thousands of carnivorous creatures, they race to find the cause of the rampage - before becoming tilled under themselves!
Squirm, remindin' us that, much like a mansion fulla entitled trust fund teens, some worms see no reason to wait until you're dead to start diggin' through your valuables.
Speakin' of bottom feeders though, last Tuesday night I bore witness to one of the most disgustin', heartwarmin' sights ever to darken the door of The Gutter Bowl, an I just wanna be the first to say - it's about dang time. An event rarely witnessed outside the Burger King lobby unfolded right in front of the entire women's bowlin' league an several dozen social miscreants (well, what the heck else is there to do on a Tuesday night?) - we watched on in rapt, stomach-churning silence as our own Bambi Pankins (voted most popular student of 1991 by the high school football squad) agreed to settle for a half-man, half-walrus in the bonds of holy acrimony. The only thing that coulda possibly made it better is if Edgar Mastrude woulda waited until *after* last call on the Flatch-in-the-Pants chili. That stuff's hard enough to digest without havin' to watch a 400lb man's neck folds quiver as he struggles to maintain his balance on one knee. Was actually kinda cute, in a Joe Dirt sorta way - see, Edgar'd been sittin' down in lane 9 takin' up approximately three quarters of the bench seat watchin' Bambi an The Ball Busters battle it out with The Pinultimates, waitin' for the right moment to sneak an engagement ring into the finger hole on 'er ball. Took awhile, but that moment finally came when Otis Turlinger announced happy hour over the loudspeaker, an Edgar was able to smoosh the gaudy thing (I'm not the only one who thinks it's a *little* trashy to commission a ring whose centerpiece is Bertha from Fritz the Cat with diamond studded nipples, am I?) down in there while all the feral women rushed the counter for a cheap round of Pole Cat beer.
Pretty funny watchin' the discovery too, cause when Bambi stuck 'er finger through it she had no idea what was goin' on, an you could tell she thought the damn thing'd just slipped off some other broad's finger by coincidence when she tried pocketin' it nonchalantly. She still hadn't figured out what was goin' on until Edgar knelt down an left a 4" divot in the hardwood floor an started mumblin' lines from Unchained Melody, at which point he finally popped the question an several bolts in the ball return mechanism he'd been leanin' on. That's when things got positively horrifyin', cause next thing I know she's tiltin' 'er head just enough that I could see she was lookin' in my direction, an after a few seconds of the string concerto from Psycho playin' inside my head at 300 decibels I kinda panicked a little an screamed "for cripes sake, say yes!", which I hadn't really intended to do out loud, but which thankfully got the entire alley to chantin' "say yes!" until she finally did. The Ball Busters won their game, at which point Bambi an Edgar spent 15 minutes makin' constipated barnyard animal noises in the bathroom until Billy Hilliard an I couldn't stand it anymore an abandoned our arcade cabinets, but on the plus side, once this thing's legal I'll have a whole lotta newfound leverage at The Videodome, given some of the stuff I know. Yessir, I got a feelin' my late fee tab just may get wiped clean once everything's official, plus Edgar's got enough money stashed away to keep 'er around (an away from me) for at least 10 years, so I think this's gonna work out just fine. Heck, I might even attend the ceremony if there's an open bar.
Damnit, that reminds me - I was supposed to have this thing back to The Videodome by 5... ah well, it's not like another $0.75 on a $230 tab's gonna be a game-changer. Anyhow, for week two of my tribute to the best 10 flicks ever to grace Mystery Science Theater 3000, we're goin' from big bugs to little bugs, up north to down south, an bumpkins to... uh, okay, so I guess that last part didn't really change much, but let me assure any skeptics out there that this flick has some of the finest creepy crawly choreography since those English-literate atomic cockroaches from Bug lined themselves up like Apple fanboys on new iPhone day an started spellin' out words to Bradford Dillman. Don't believe me, do ya? You're out there scoffin' to yourselves, thinkin' *nothin'* can top those radioactive roaches, aren't ya? That's fine, I'm used to bein' written off, I can take it, but I'll bet that once you've had a look at Exhibits 1 - 3 you'll be singin' a different tune. Go ahead, take a gander at these bits of wormy wisdom an just try tellin' me I don't know my skitterin' critters. First, confirming the identity of a rural Georgian's skeleton from nothin' but a few missin' teeth may help to move the plot along, but it'll never hold up in court. Second, the church spaghetti feed is gonna be a decidedly harder sell after a country-wide night crawler invasion. An third, the need for a crotch patch in your jeans is likely to give rise to some pretty uncomfortable questions from your seamstress.
Gettin' back to that skeleton thing though, you ever notice how folks' reactions to grave robbing tend to fluctuate erratically with only a minor tweaking of the circumstances? Am I the only one that finds this bizarre? Take this flick for example, where you've got a sweaty redneck who discovers a skeleton an sees fit to just pitch it into the back of his truck like a roadkilled white tail - does *that* constitute grave robbing? I honestly don't know, cause in case you hadn't noticed, there're a whole buncha unwritten rules that everybody but me seems to understand. So first of all, what constitutes a "grave?" Does somebody close to the dearly departed hafta weigh their options until they think to themselves "yessir, this seems like a right dandy place to plant ole Morton," before it can be considered a grave? Can it be any old place, just so long as it's got a marker? Or can a grave be wherever you happen to land after your heart explodes from a lifetime of wolfin' down Triple Whoppers? An if not, how about if nobody finds you until six years after the fact an they refuse to move you to your empty plot in the cemetery cause you look like somebody spilled 100lbs of homeless shelter gravy mix? What about all those sailors who've been lost at sea an get coffins fulla bricks buried in their plots? The tombstone has their name on it sure enough, but is it really their grave if they aren't in it? An here's another thing: how come nobody but spooky old gypsy chicks call it grave robbin' when some boring old bald guy digs up a tomb someplace? We call that a "scientific discovery," even though we're basically just haulin' some 2000 year old dead dude outta his spacious, tastefully decorated resting place. Is there a statute of limitations on this stuff or somethin'? I mean, at what point does it go from bein' a Class A felony to a Nobel Prize winning accomplishment? Are people gonna be diggin' up Elvis in a thousand years an luggin' 'im from museum to museum so tourists of the future can gaze in awe at The King's organ cage? Fame definitely seems to be part of the equation, only it works in the *opposite* way that fame normally works, cause if there's public interest in your remains, the concept apparently stops bein' horrifyin'. You dig up your great-great-great-grandma Betty an you're a freak, but if you "discover the remains" of St. George, you're a "curiosity seeker." Is there a set of rules someplace about this stuff that a guy can reference? It ain't for me, mind you, I've just got this friend who claims to know where Chief Chickawalka's supposed to be buried, an he's curious about the duration of curses an what not. He don't mean no disrespect or anything, he's purely interested for the historical value, cause, ya know, the chief *did* settle the county with his tribe before a buncha white guys showed up an eminent domained the placed with cavalry rifles. Course, the chief only kicked off about 300 years ago, an he's really only famous on a local level, so... well, you see what I'm talkin' about? I HATE it when you don't know the rules!
The movie begins with this text scrollin' down the screen talkin' about The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, only in this version all that AWOL electricity went right straight into the ground, causin' a dang curious phenomenon... the Georgia Worm Gnaw Massacre. So we open up the day after the big nasty electrical storm of the century to this country mansion where a faded southern belle an 'er two anorexic daughters (Geri an Alma) with rib cages you could play the xylophone solo from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on are tryin' to eke out an existence after the girls' daddy went an jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge or died in a coal mine or... whatever normally happens to southern daddies. Anyhow, Geri needs to head out to the bus stop to pick up 'er little weenie city slicker boyfriend who looks like Ron Howard (Mick), cept the roads're all flooded an so she hasta borrow a worm truck from this pointy-headed rube who looks like he hosts tailgate parties in the parkin' lot of the high school when all the indie wrestlin' shows come to town (Roger). Only the bus ends up runnin' into a downed tree in the road an Mick hasta bail out an wander through the woods like a bear with Alzheimer's until he ends up in some lunatic prepper's tiger trap soaked up to his neck in runoff water with a school of leeches swimmin' around in his shorts. Fortunately, Geri comes along to save Scrawn Quixote from 'imself an the two of 'em head into town to grab a block of ice to keep mama's possum casserole from goin' bad. But while Geri's gettin' the ice, Mick decides to grab 'imself a chocolate milk in the diner so he can try trickin' Geri into thinkin' he can grow a mustache, an he finds a big ole gnarly worm in the bottom like some kinda grade school Tequila shooter. Course the roughnecks all think he put it there 'imself to be an asshole, an so this sleazebag sheriff who's got enough vaseline in his hair to perform colonoscopies visually hasta hassle 'im for havin' the audacity not to've been born there like decent folks. Then Geri an Mick drop off the ice an decide to go antiquing, only when they start to drive off Roger comes runnin' up all P.O.'d at Geri for not not stationin' a good worm with a gun outside the truck an allowin' his entire shipment to fly the coop while the rig was unattended. Needless to say, Roger's in deep peat moss, cause folks in these parts pretty much live in a worm-based economy, an with the bait shops shuttin' down things're likely to go all Donner Party in a hurry if Roger's Deputy-Dog-lookin' boss can't replace the missin' crawlers.
Geri's real cute an sorry though, so Roger gets over it pretty quickly an she an Mick drive over to see the guy who runs the local junk cartel to buy some trash, only when they get there the guy (Mr. Beardsley) seems to've taken off for the Antiques Roadshow to sell some stuff an support his Vicodin habit, an they end up findin' a skeleton in the yard an Geri starts feelin' all self-conscious about 'er weight until they decide they'd better go find the sheriff. Course, by the time they find the sheriff an get back to Beardsley's place the skeleton's done wandered off to star in a Tim Burton movie or somethin', an so the sheriff informs Mick that if the two of 'em cross paths just one more time he's gonna lock 'im up with the cast of Deliverance. Then they go nosin' around the worm truck an find the missin' skeleton inside an decide to go fishin' with Roger so's Geri can distract 'im long enough for Mick to get a better look at the skeleton an make certain Roger hasn't just kidnapped Fiona Apple. But once they get out on the boat Mick's bait takes a chunk out of his pencil-esque arm an Roger suddenly transforms into an old wise man an tells 'em this story about how his Pop once wet down their lawn when Roger was little an took a cattle prod to it until all the worms came up outta the ground P.O.'d an took off half his thumb like an Arabian executioner dishin' out justice on a serial hitchhiker. Apparently people've been tryin' to figure out how to eat fried worms for longer'n we thought. So Roger takes Mick back to the dock an rows off with Geri an tells 'er about how he'd like to show 'er his Wonder Boner an raise a whole mess of snaggle-toothed bib-overall-clad yard monsters with 'er, until she gets grossed out an shoves 'im right directly on toppa their worm box where the worms proceed to burrow into his face til he looks like one of Lovecraft's Deep Ones an flees into the swamp to await Geri's decision with baited breath. In the meantime, Mick's allowed Alma an 'er platform shoes to get the drop on 'im, an so the two of 'em hoof it on over to the dentist's office carryin' the skull to perform a little NCIS Little Rock comparative anatomy with dental records until they determine the skull belonged to Beardsley on account of three missin' teeth. Like you couldn't go two blocks over from Beardsley's place an find another six other guys with three missin' teeth, uh huh, VERY convincing.
Anyway, everybody meets up at home an fills each other in on the details of the most southern day in the history of mankind an tries actin' normal so the girls' emotionally damaged mama won't find out that they're about to have somethin' in common with 'er dead husband if they can't outsmart the worms. Then Geri starts thinkin' that maybe the Old Testament style "eye for an eye" punishment mighta gone a bit far where it concerns havin' your face penetrated by little wiggly things, so she an Mick go lookin' for Roger an end up findin' his boss flat on his back with a wormy pinochle game goin' on his snout. Well, okay, it's the south, so probably not pinochle... maybe Texas Hold 'Em, or Slap Jack. Anyway, the kids try tellin' the sheriff one last time while he's romancin' this bimbo over a plate of spaghetti at the Slobber Knocker Saloon, an he basically gives 'em until he's done with his supper as a head start an drops some Most Dangerous Game type language that makes 'em strongly consider campaignin' for the guy's primary challenger. Pretty much nothin' left to do but prove what rugged individualism can do in the face of an overwhelming natural catastrophe, but first they hafta head home an make sure Geri's zombie mama don't get wind of reality an start crackin' up like Green Day in the Basket Case video. So they all sit around the dinner table chewin' their coffee an nibblin' on deep fried coondogs, until all the sudden this big ole tree in the back yard starts topplin' like an African dictatorship an ends up crushin' the dinin' room like a cell phone in an escalator. Damn worms're always one step ahead - done chewed right through the tree's roots like a million little gooey chainsaws. So now Mick hasta head out into the woods to salvage some kid's tree fort for scrap lumber to board up the house, cept in the process he runs into Earthworm Grim an ends up gettin' Alabama Slammed an rolled down an embankment, after which the Lord of the Ringworms pitches a chunka plywood on top of 'im an howls like he just finished reassemblin' a transmission an found five leftover bolts. Meanwhile at the house, Alma decides to go upstairs to hose off an ends up buried under a worm-valanche after a couple million of 'em went an crawled up outta the plumbin' an filled the bathroom like a phone booth fulla frat punks - we're talkin' serious hard water damage here. This's a pretty good place to leave off, but we've still got Roger skulkin' around, mashin' his Revlon press-on snails up against the window an breathin' like a bird dog with heat stroke, while Mick stumbles shirtless through the wilderness like a drunken high schooler who wandered away from his bonfire, so don't go tryin' to worm your way outta the climax.
Alrighty, well, kinda tough to make worms scary ain't it? Gotta give 'em credit though, cause Jeff Lieberman didn't just paw around in his garden diggin' up night crawlers, nuh uh, he went with this big ole nasty species called a Glycera worm (or bloodworm) that live in the ocean and look like they've got about a million little legs stickin' out of 'em. And of course, if you've never seen one of these things before you might think the idea of a biting worm to be pretty ridiculous, but they do have little teeth on 'em and they really do bite. Even got a little poison in their systems that's about on par with a bee sting, so... hopefully that makes the movie seem a little scarier. They're only used as bait for ocean fish of course, but not in New England in 1976 apparently, because the crew needed so many worms for the movie that they pretty much exhausted the region's entire supply. Guess all the fishermen musta been wadin' around in their high waters turnin' over rocks lookin' for bait, which can be a pretty embarrassin' sight if done out in the open. Another thing about this flick that sounds asinine on its surface is the story Roger tells about his daddy hookin' his train transformer up outside and firin' the electricity into the wet lawn to bring the worms up outta the ground - well, this actually works, and while there are other ways that work just as well that don't require waiting for rain, it's a method used with some frequency. In fact, that story was based off of something Lieberman and his brother did as children, and evidently inspired him to make a movie about man-eating worms decades later. Sometimes out of the mouths of babes, and all that. I guess what I'm laboring to get across is that if you cover one eye and squint REAL hard, the premise almost kinda seems like maybe it's halfway as plausible as, say, Day of the Animals. I mean, *somebody* must think so, because a 4.6 rating on the IMDB for a movie with the handicap of having been used as an experiment on Mystery Science Theater is honestly kinda impressive, and I'd like to think that not all of that is based upon its silliness, because the flick has decent production values and better direction than a lot of its MST3K companion pieces. Granted, it's overflowing with over-the-top southern stereotypes, some really goofy dialog ("now you gon' be the worm face!"), and an attacking animal species whose fear factor is approaching levels not seen since Night of the Lepus, but I still say it's pretty entertaining if you don't think too hard about what you're seeing. That's good advice for most low budget Horror flicks.
I think I've put about as much lipstick as I can on this pig, so what say we put a dress on 'er and see if she can score a date to the prom. The plot, much as I've tried propping it up with Cliff Clavin-esque "little known facts," is still a tad too ridiculous to swallow. We're almost gettin' into Jaws: The Revenge territory on this, because while I won't dispute that a quarter million of these things could conceivably kill somebody, there's an awful lot of organization takin' place for so primitive a creature. Now if they'd been zapped with some of that outer space intelligence like the ants in Phase IV they'da been onto something, but as it is, even *my* ordinarily bungee-cord like suspension of disbelief snapped under the strain of incredulity. The acting, while highly exaggerated, is generally pretty good. Both Don Scardino and Patricia Pearcy give decent performances in the lead roles, but my favorites would probably be Peter MacLean as the sleazy sheriff (the man just oozes smarm), Carl Dagenhart as Roger's cranky old boss, and of course, R.A. Dow as Roger himself. The casting director really picked out the cream of the crop, passing over both Kim Basinger (who'd auditioned for the part of Geri) and Sly Stallone (who apparently *really* wanted to play Roger), and choosing actors who genuinely looked the parts. She also cast locals for all the smaller roles, and surprisingly enough, the few people who get lines actually do alright with them.
Here's who matters and why: Don Scardino (He Knows You're Alone), Patricia Pearcy (Delusion), Peter MacLean (Midnight Offerings), William Newman (Monkey Shines, The Craft, Shadow: Dead Riot, Teacher's Pet, Leprechaun, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Silver Bullet), Barbara Quinn (Jaws 3, He Knows You're Alone, Blue Sunshine, The Jitters). Not surprisingly, nobody ever broke out and became famous for anything mainstream, though Scardino eventually hung up his acting chops and went on to direct a lot of popular TV series, including 51 episodes of Cosby, 38 episodes of 30 Rock, and 39 episodes of 2 Broke Girls. The poor sap.
The special effects are a little less than special, but they're not terrible. Rick Baker, long before becoming one of the most sought-after effects guys in the business, designed the much touted "worm face," and I'd assume all the fake worms used in the shots where the cast was literally swimming in them. It's kinda hard to tell what the fake worms were made of - possibly rubber or flexible plastic, but even though they don't really *look* like worms, they're lubed and jiggly enough that they move like them. Course, any time there's just a few worms, or a scene where the worms don't need to move much, they're using real ones, and as I mentioned earlier, they went through a hell of a lot of them. Other'n that though, not too much in the way of special effects. There is one excellent stunt where they dropped a tree onto an add-on they'd built onto the side of the house specifically for the scene, which required all the actors to actually sit at the kitchen table while this tree was being dumped onto the expansion only about 15' from where they were sitting, and fortunately, everything went exactly as planned and no one was hurt. Not a particularly smart thing to do I suppose, particularly if it goes wrong and you're forever known as the actor who got squished beneath a tree while filming a movie about killer worms, but I like to give credit where it's due, particularly to the actors for having the guts to do the scene.
The shooting locations are the film's strongest asset, and provide an excellent "down home" feel that blends well with the plot and its characters. Joseph Mangine's cinematography's a little tight and might have benefited from a few wide shots helping to depict the isolation of the characters, but the scenery is nice enough that the area still comes across as both authentic and serene. Principle photography took place in Port Wentworth, Georgia, population roughly 3900 at the time of filming, and although the movie really could have been improved by a longer/wider shot of the main street, it's still an idyllic setting for a goofy, rural story like this one. The soundtrack is a little strange, in that it opens and closes with "songs," the first of which revolves around a little boy singing to a tinkly little doom and gloom track with a lotta stormy sound effects. The second is called "A Million Ways to Love You," and is in fact a '70s love ballad that has exactly squat to do with the events of the movie. In between the two, things are generally sane, and feature a broad range of instruments including xylophones, horns, and violins, generally playing over a restrained, but marginally tense synth soundtrack. The opening song, I'll concede, is odd enough to put the viewer slightly off balance, but the one that plays over the end credits (while perfectly pleasant) just doesn't belong. Overall, it's close to passing from both a technical and enjoyment standpoint, but comes up just a tad short of a passing grade. Still, it's a fun movie with decent production values - it just doesn't have the strength to overcome the outrageous nature of its plot. Definitely worth a watch though, and if you're more forgiving of a bad premise than the average movie-goer, you might just love it.