Earthworms and Ticks and Slugs......Oh My!

 

As some of you might know, I'm a guy.  That means that I was, at some point, hopefully, a boy.  (You'll notice I don't say "man"...there's no way I could pull that off, what with the underoos and the sheer volume of cartoons I watch.)  If girls are made of sugar and spice, its pretty logical that boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog's tails. 

Wait...what?  Girls are just amalgamations of cookie ingredients while boys are made up of gross crap that includes the bloody severed tails of young pups?  That's fair, I guess...or not.  Point is, boys are supposed to like all the gross stuff, while girls like anything pink with fur or glitter (or both).  While I wasn't the most "gross-centric" boy on the block, I did have my days of playing with store-bought carpet-staining slime, rubber bugs,  and all sorts of other "only little boys should like this" kind of stuff.  Of course I was never THAT much into the really gross stuff....Garbage Pail kids made me nauseous.  I was more the "stay inside and draw/play Nintendo/watch too much television" kind of kid, which explains my amazing physique.   Despite spending far more time than any heterosexual should watching She-ra & Jem & the Holograms, I did have my one ace in proving that I was a boy when I was a kid.  I liked bugs.  I liked them a lot.  From watching caterpillars turn into butterflies in a terrarium in my room to feeding ants to my aquarium filled with ant-lions (carnivorous mayfly larva with jaws larger than their body that build sandpits just like that thing in Return of the Jedi) to owning and reading an insect encyclopedia from cover to cover....I had my "prove you're a guy" bases covered.  I might not have been able to throw a baseball or get a girlfriend until the 9th grade but at least I knew my insects (and spiders...or maybe not, if THIS article is any indication).  Since then, I've discovered that NO ONE thinks knowing stuff about invertebrates is cool, and by suppressing my lore on the topic, I've successfully been able to interact socially.  (Though I do put on my beetle costume when the mating season comes.)  Point is that despite my inherently femmy nature, I too was once a boy fascinated with the disgusting.

What the hell am I talking about?  Prepare yourself for the essentially "little boy gross-out cool" triple movie review, where I look at three terrible horror movies that revolve around creatures only an 8-year-old could love. Let's look at the killer earthworm flick first because, honestly, that's the least interesting.

Squirm (1976)

Tagline:  "This was the night of the CRAWLING TERROR!"

Of all the things in the world to kill me, I'd have to say that being eaten by earthworms would have to be one of the most embarrassing.  I wish I could say that Jeff Lieberman, the director, really tried to make the worms scary, but if I said that I'd be lying.  The whole thing is kind of lame and ludicrous, but hey, when has that stopped me from enjoying a film?  Check out the poster to the left.  A human skull being eaten by giant worms that said skull is wearing as hair?  If that's not badass, I don't know what is.  Despite the fact that the poster would make a great tattoo (note that Jared is, while pierced, completely ink free), the poster is misleading.  There are no giant worms in this movie.  There's not even any night crawlers....those jumbo sized worms they sell at bait shops.  How, you might ask, is an earthworm going to kill you?  Unless you choke on one, there's barely a remote chance that it'll happen.  What we've got here is a small Southern town cut off from the rest of the world where, because everyone knows that electricity makes worms go killer on us, a fallen power line has driven the local worm population to homicide.  The film's advertisements (according to my Psychotronic Encyclopedia) states that over 250,000 real worms were used in "Squirm."  I guess if you're going to have a totally lame invertebrate killing people, your best bet is to go with sheer numbers to get the job done. 

The film's not good enough to get a play-by-play, but I will give you some highlights.  The film's "hero", a stick-thin pasty nerd who's an antique collector, doesn't really do much.  His hillbilly girlfriend (and her pot-smoking sister) don't matter much either.  However, the show is completely stolen by the character Roger (the only role obvious redneck actor R.A. Dow ever played) who plays the worm infested sexual predator who was abused as a child.  Roger runs around talking in "inbred-speak," looking as if he's hunting for that lamp made of human skin that he lost.  He ends up kidnapping the hero's girl, but not before, well....I don't want to get ahead of myself.

While a few people die by being eaten by swarms of killer earthworms, Roger is the only one who gets killed on-camera.  Every one else is either attacked or eaten off camera.  Maybe Roger steals the show because he's really the only "character" we get to see killed.  Of course, before that there's a fishing accident that lodges killer earthworms into Roger's brain and face.  Note to self:  If I'm ever in a film about killer earthworms and HAVE to go fishing, make sure to use something (ANYTHING) else as bait.  The whole "worms in the brain" thing actually works out well for Roger for a while.  He's much more articulate and more direct socially.  Of course this means tying up the girl he loves and gagging her in her own attic and trying to kill her boyfriend, but hey, at least he's out doing things.  He ends up getting thrown into a pile of (by careful estimation: LOTS of) worms where they eat him, despite the fact that he's got worms in his brain.  No loyalty among invertebrates, I guess. 

Holy crap, is that a lot of earthworms. 

Trivia Time:  Unless you've got worms in your brain yourself, you've probably noticed that the last picture was a little different.  For those who missed out, that's a screenshot from a Mystery Science Theater (MST3k) episode.  To be fair, the first time I ever saw Squirm was when it was on the show.  Now MST3k was on cable, so whenever a movie had something "adult" in it, be it violence, sex, or drugs, they had to edit that scene out.  For the fans of the show, edited scenes included: the hero smoking marijuana with his girlfriend's goofy sister, a shower scene where you get to see the redneck girl shake it, a prolonged scene of Roger's face being penetrated (technically sexually since worms only have so many orifices), and Roger rising up like a zombie from the "worm pile" and almost gnawing off our scrawny antique-collector's leg.  I will admit that the MST3k puppets made the film better.  Hell, puppets make anything better.

The worms themselves are actually almost Napoleonic in their strategies to get at our characters.  They hide in rooms, hide the bodies of those they kill, sneak in through the plumbing (giving us the classic "worms coming out of the showerhead" moment...though I admit that's only a classic to me), and somehow end up breaking into the heroine's house through the roof.  Don't ask me how the worms got up there but that doesn't stop them from attacking from a hole in the ceiling.  In the end, we have survivors climbing trees and locking themselves in boxes, but what we don't have is an end to the killer earthworms.  An interesting thing about this film is many people seem to like this as if it were a "good" movie.  I've heard people explaining how, for its time, it was groundbreaking (pun intended, sadly).  Others weave a more believable story about how Jeff meant this movie to be satirical of the whole horror genre.  Don't believe either theory.  Squirm is a film about rednecks, a scrawny antique-colleting youth, and a lot of bait that someone had lying around. 

Slugs:  The Movie (1988)...(Original Spanish title translates to "Slugs: Viscous Death"...How cool is that?)

Tagline:  "They ooze.  They slime.  They Kill"

Killer Slugs.  I don't know if that's more or less threatening than killer earthworms.  Slugs are bigger, I guess, but very, very, very slow moving.  If you learned anything from Squirm, you know that these can't be normal slugs.  There's something to do with chemical waste, radiation, or a magical elf (honestly I'm still not sure) that's caused a bunch of slugs to develop teeth and become tiny slow-moving killing machines.  Before we get into the two scenes that make this movie worth wasting your time, let's point out one thing.  The actual title of this movie is "Slugs:  The Movie."  Huh?  What the hell does that mean?  Is it just so we don't confuse it with "Slugs:  The Breakfast Cereal?"  Sadly, that's not the case.  Apparently, Slugs was originally a book....about killer slugs (entitled simply "Slugs", and not, sadly, "Slugs: The Book").  It was written by horror/fantasy author Shaun Hutson, who despite going by 8 different names, hasn't written anything I remember seeing in a book store.  You have no idea how much I want to get my hands on this book.  I can only imagine what it was like (From "Slugs: The Book," by me):

"Vicki saw the black slimy creatures slowly oozing into her bedroom; their hungry eyes glistening just like the slime on their horrifically wet backs.  The blood, dried black on their tiny lips, betrayed their dark intentions.  She knew she was surrounded and there was no hope...Bob had long since left her to her own ineffective devices.  She waited for them to come...their hunger pushing them onward as interlacing highways of slime marked where they passed before.  Closer they came, yearning to devour her flesh.  Accepting her fate, Vicki picked up a book on her nightstand to kill some time before her young, pert body became an orgy of pain and a feast of flesh to the wicked Gastropods that lurked all about her...

A smattering of fear-filled hours later, Vicki put down the copy of The Stand that she'd just finished reading and looked about her.  The black demons were ever closer---having charged a full two feet in her direction since she'd begun Stephen King's epic novel.  With reluctance, she picked up the only other book on hand.  She found the Gideon Bible heavy and cumbersome in her tiny hands.  With a sigh of despair and dark acceptance, she opened it and wished the slugs, her infernal tormentors,  would hurry the hell  up."

Before I start expanding on my newfound mastery of slug-related horror fiction, let me share a few of the lessons that'll help you stay alive if you ever find yourself in a movie about carnivorous land-mollusks.

Lesson 1:  Do not eat slugs as they will make you explode.

Fact!  I swear.  Apparently, all slugs (or maybe just the magical mutant ones) have super-deadly parasites living inside them.  This doesn't actually affect people usually....unless you decide to eat a mutant slug.  If that happens, kiss your butt goodbye, because within a matter of hours tiny worms (blood flukes to be exact) are going to make your head explode.  This actually brings up why a killer slug movie is more entertaining than a killer earthworm movie.  Unlike Squirm, Slugs is filled with a LOT of on-screen death and gore...and while the Slugs are responsible, very few of those deaths are simply people having man-eating slugs crawl on them.  I mean, a slug gets himself eaten so he can make a lawyer's head explode ten minutes later in the film?  That's hardcore.

Lesson 2:  Always look for killer slugs in your work gloves.  Lesson 2a:  If you do find a killer slug in your work glove and it starts to eat off a finger, remember to at least try taking the glove off.

A random guy notices slug eggs all over his greenhouse.  As he's preparing to poison them, a slug with ninja-like stealth (if a ninja that took a half hour to move three feet could, by definition, still be a ninja) oozes its way into his work glove.  The gardener puts them on and notices a stabbing, almost chewing, sensation on the tip of his finger.  Now before we really address how he's going to respond, let's establish something.  Even though it's not mentioned at ALL in this film, I'd like to think that this guy was suffering from some serious post-traumatic stress from Vietnam or something.  That might explain why, instead of trying to remove his glove and thereby freeing himself of the marauding invertebrate, he decides it's high time that he cuts off his hand....with an ax.

Cutting off his hand with rusty ax wasn't his first choice.  Originally, he beat his hand against the table and smashed it with a hammer.  Then he tried to use hedge clippers...but couldn't because those take two hands to use.  Eventually, in all his flailing around he spills some chemicals or some such crap that makes it sort of make sense when, after his wife walks in to see him cutting off his hand, their home explodes in a fiery ball of death.  Jesus.  Choose-Your-Own-Adventure:  You have two options:  Take off the freaking glove (go to page 27) OR chop off a limb and die in a fiery explosion (go to page You're-a-moron-and-you-die).  I really feel bad for the wife here.  She's off vacuuming and singing to herself in the house, all happy, and then randomly walks in on her husband throwing a spaz attack while he lops off his right hand.  It's like when you come home, and because your wife had the worst day ever, she's thrown all your clothes out on the sidewalk and is publicly relieving herself on them....you just don't see it coming.  I hate surprises like that...and, just like Slugs (the Movie), it always ends with a house exploding in a flaming ball.  :sigh:

 

Lesson 4:  Someone thought a naked woman covered in slugs was sexy.  On paper it may seem like a good idea, but in practice, it just doesn't work.

It completely bothers me that the only nudity in this film involves a woman writhing around naked for what feels like a half-hour covered in slimy critters.  As you can see by my standard "NO" censor marks, this poor woman shakes her double guns at the camera for a far too long.  I really should say more about it, but quite frankly, I can't get over the fact that the film's only sex scene culminates in a woman frolicking in a pile of slugs.  In case you were wondering, the horde of slugs snuck into her bedroom while she was screwing around with her boyfriend.  The lesson here?  Always close your door before getting your groove on.  Personally, the worst thing that's interrupted me during fornication was an ugly chihuahua with an underbite named Taffy.  Now that I type that, I realize that I'd rather have slugs invading my bedroom during sex than Taffy.  At least the slugs, being slow moving creatures, would let me have time to finish.  

Slugs is a fun movie that really just culminates in a chase scene where some guys in biohazard suits run around the sewer and slowly walk away from the pursuing swarm of slugs.  Of course, one survives, so that, when signs of the Apocalypse are needed, a sequel can be made.

Ticks (1993)

Tagline:  "They breed. They hatch. They kill"

From the director of Hellraiser 2 comes a film that will amaze you.  If by amaze, I mean "hurt your ability to love life ever again," then I'm telling the truth.  I think this movie can be summarized as either "Seth Green's Worst Vacation Ever" or "The day that God decided to punch you in the face."  The plot is that two psychiatric therapists (and their hot daughter) take a van filled with traumatized, violent, anti-social, and generally troubled teens out into the woods.  This wouldn't be quite so bad if it wasn't for the following:  no one knows anything about being in the woods, the kids are left completely unsupervised not only in the woods but also with knives and gasoline, there are evil racist pot farmers with guns lurking in the forest, and I don't need to mention the horde of giant blood-sucking ticks that crave the taste of human blood.  But don't let me just list why God hates the kids in this film.  Let me walk you through it as best I can...

It's never a good sign when the spot where you're supposed to meet your therapist is under an overpass in the middle of the Projects.  It's also not a good sign when your Dad just throws you out of the car at said location.  The whole setting just screams "buy some crack or get stabbed."  Sure enough, within 60 seconds a random black guy has pulled a knife  on our hero.  Luckily, the "Therapy Bus" arrives just in time to herald in the next bad omen.  "Hey Seth, how are you doing?  Glad you could make it.  By the way, you know that guy who pulled the knife on you?  He's going to be staying in your cabin.  Isn't that great?  Did I mention his name is Panic and he has problems with dealing with his issues through violence?  You kids play nice, okay?"  Even if giant ticks didn't show up in the movie, doom has already been spelled out for these kids.

By the by, ticks apparently explode like fireworks if you hold a match to them, as Seth Green demonstrates by holding a match to one.  I can only imagine that this bit of stupid movie science is setting us up for when something explodes....usually a house if clichés are to be followed.  Just in case you don't recognize him, Panic (pictured as the guy who is NOT Seth Green to the left) is played by Alfonso Ribeiro...better known as "Carlton" from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Alfonso was really desperate to get a film career off the ground.  Really desperate.  You'll see how desperate in moment.

Even when the kids finally get to the camp (after meeting your standard sexual predator hillbilly at the local grocer), the bad signs don't stop there.  The therapist is giving the troubled kids "Nature Therapy"...where the kids have to fend for themselves.  So basically, the camp counselors stay inside and simply watch the kids play with gasoline and throw knives at trees.  Really makes me appreciate all those gay-as-hell arts and crafts my old camp counselors made me do.  Sure as hell beats living in fear that one of the other kids would get bored and just start stabbing me.  I wonder what else would make this vacation all the more therapeutic? 

Nothing helps the psychologically challenged relax quite like finding the bodies of dead law enforcement.  Gah.  This actually ties into the "plot" of Ticks.  You see, out in the woods, are these evil "Marijuana farmers" (including Clint Howard, who's been in almost every bad movie ever made and has been mentioned at least ten times on this site already).  Apparently, the farmers are using illegal "herbal steroids" to make their crop grow faster or something and that's somehow made a bunch of ticks grow to the size of basketballs.  So the entire plot revolves around evil pot farmers who have accidentally bred a race of super-ticks.  Makes sense.  Not normal sense, but it'll have to do for "movie sense."  Or something like that.

Fundamentally, the film comes down to giant ticks eating people.  They don't just eat people.  That wouldn't really be evidence that God truly hated you.  I wonder how he could make them worse?  Did I mention that the ticks like to burrow under your skin?  Just like normal ticks....only these are the size of puppies....so it's even worse.  Clint Howard gets infested and confronts one of the teens.  In what has to be the most charming of scenes, a giant tick JUMPS OUT OF THE SIDE OF HIS FACE AND BITES A TEEN ON THE NECK.  When giant arachnids start exploding out of people's cheeks you have to know that God hates you.  Sadly, when our Divine Creator decided to screw over the kids at this camp he didn't stop there, because he also made the tick's bite a strong hallucinogen.  So a tick bites you.  You start hallucinating as it crawls inside you and feasts on your insides.  And because there's no such thing as overkill, there's also corrupt pot farmers shooting at the teens because they know the secret of their crop....oh and did I mention that a forest fire starts randomly?  Giant ticks.  Flaming death.  Drunken rednecks with guns.  Dead cops.  What a great therapeutic get-away this has been.  Still, I'd have to admit these ticks are living a much more active lifestyle than the slugs and worms were.  In all honesty I have to think it has something to do with the fact that they have legs and can actually walk around.  But that's just me.  Before I wrap this baby up, let's check in on Panic and see how he's doing...

Holy crap, Panic is not doing well AT ALL.  Panic gets the official "God hates you" prize for being the most thoroughly screwed over in this film.  Keep in mind that this was Alfonso's chance to get off the Fresh Prince of Bel-air and into the movies.  He needed to make this work.  So what's he emoting in the picture above?  Well, his dog died thanks to a mutant tick, so he took his stuff and ran off into the woods.  He got lost and woke up with giant ticks living inside him.  While he was try to cut them out of his flesh with a pocket knife, he got shot by rednecks.  To boost his strength, he swallowed a whole bag of steroids that he had in his pocket.  Remember how the "herbal steroids" make ticks grow to the size of basketballs?  Well poor Carlton here just fed the tick that was living inside him a whole bag of Happy-Mutant-Arachno-Grow.  Thus it's no surprise that when he does show up again, a GIANT GIANT SUPER-TICK pops out of him.  It's kind of gross, but you have to admit:  God hates Alfonso Ribeiro with a passion.

The film wraps up with Seth Green working through his problems, the two redneck farmers getting horribly killed, and the giant "Queen" tick being set on fire. Saying they set the giant giant tick on fire isn't quite articulate enough.  Once it's on fire, it explodes in a fiery blast that levels the house.  A gas tank is somehow involved but quite frankly the finale teaches us that big ticks = very big explosions.  I LOVE movie physics.  The surviving kids drive off, leaving rubble, dead bodies and a burning forest in their wake.

God damn, what a magical vacation that was.  In the end it makes you wonder if this was all part of the "Killer Tick and Arson" therapy that you hear so much about.

That's it for the article.  The curtain rises and I instruct you that it might be a good idea to look under your seat, since God knows what might be crawling, oozing, or squirming down there.   Obviously Ticks > Slugs > Worms but it's also important to understand that a simple can of insecticide could have solved most of these movie's conflicts.  Then again, most terrible films have easy solutions.  "I think I heard a noise.  Should I stay here or go outside and die?  I hate tough decisions."

Damn, I love bad movies.  Stay safe, and don't let your babies go to film school.

-jared

 

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Copyright 2005 jared von hindman, except for the images that I didn't paint.  The rest belong to other people and their respectful owners.  Of course, that's not necessarily something to be proud of.  At least I don't spend incredible amounts of $$$ to make movies about naked women bathing in slugs.  I'm not that desperate to get off...not yet anyway.  Man, Hollywood is so SICK.