2/5/07

1012 Squirm

(1976, Horror, color), with

A Case of Spring Fever
(1940, Educational-Industrial, b&w)

No springs! [Insert mischievous whistle here.]

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A cartoon sprite converts a non-believer to the gospel of springs.
Film: Antique hunters battle man-eating worms in rural Georgia.

Short Summary:

Where does Coily fit into the pantheon?A Case of Spring Fever begins with an older gentleman sweating and grumbling from beneath his sofa. His wife won’t let him go out golfing with his friends until he fixes the bed of springs across the bottom; in a moment of frustration, he curses all springs and wishes they would disappear. A mischievous cartoon elf named Coily the Spring Sprite appears to grant his wish, and—hey presto!—the bothersome couch springs vanish. So do the springs that operate the window shades, telephone, and car. Recognizing his mistake, our hero begs Coily to undo the terrible curse he has wrought upon the world. Coily agrees, leaving our beleaguered protagonist a little sadder and a little wiser. He spends the remaining two thirds of the short film haranguing his golfing buddies with an exhaustive list of all the wonderful blessings brought into our lives by springs.

Film Summary:

In Squirm, a violent storm blocks roads and downs power lines in Fly Creek, Georgia. The power lines pour electricity into the ground near Willie’s Bait Shop and Worm Farm. Soon afterwards we meet the film’s major players, including:

Geri—our extremely thin and very redheaded Southern ingĂ©nue. She’s a young antique dealer taking care of her delusional mother Naomi and her masculine little sister Alma. They all live in a rural, three-story home that looks like the offspring of an illicit union between a step-and-columned plantation mansion and a rusty yellow doublewide. This bizarre but idyllic manor house is situated right next to the home of…

Roger—a thick-witted and emotionally stunted Southern boy who’s worked in his abusive father’s bait shop all his life. He divides his time between raising worms and pining for Geri, but alas, she only has eyes for…

Mick—our pasty Northern hero. He’s a stranger in Fly Creek, ostensibly in town to purchase antiques from one Mr. Beardsley, but he wouldn’t mind romancing Geri a little during his visit.

Geri borrows Roger’s giant truck o’ worms to pick up Mick, who can’t get through by bus because of the flooding and downed power lines. They stop in town for ice and an egg cream, only to get chased out by the irate sheriff when Mick finds a worm in his drink. When they get home, the giant truck o’ worms is empty. Roger’s abusive father blames this on Roger, who stalks off in disgust while Geri and Mick go to Beardsley’s house for antiques. In the many scenes that follow, they discover and lose a skeleton several times, finally identifying it as the remains of Mr. Beardsley. They go fishing with Roger, who tells them about the time he lost his thumb to electrocuted (and, therefore, man-eating) worms. When Mick goes to shore, Roger puts the moves on Geri, who accidentally pushes the unfortunate young man onto a pile of flesh-eating bait. The newly disfigured Roger runs off into the woods. Meanwhile, Mick discovers the worm-eaten corpse of Roger’s abusive father. Throughout, the sheriff grows increasingly threatening as Mick tries to warn him about their squishy, murderous foes.

Somehow, this leads to an awkward dinner sequence with Geri’s delusional mother. Mercifully, this ends when the worms eat through the roots of a nearby tree, causing it to crash through the roof and across the dinner table. Mick figures out that the worms are afraid of the light, which means they have to board up the house before dark. He goes out for boards while Geri tries to secure the house.

The jealous Roger ambushes Mick in the woods. He throws Mick into a pit and yells, “You gonna be da worm-face now!” He goes back in Mick’s place and kidnaps Geri, tying her up in her own attic. Meanwhile, Mick fashions a torch out of his shirt to keep the worms at bay. He heads back to rescue Geri.

A wave of many-legged worms consumes everyone in town and then washes down towards the odd yellow house. Mick wrestles Roger and then tosses him to the worms. He unties Geri, and they both climb into a tree. They’re awakened next morning by the shouts of the newly arrived Utility Man. He’s fixed the wires; without electricity running into the ground, the worms have become their old docile, limbless selves again. Mick and Geri are overjoyed to see that the platform-shoed Alma has survived by hiding in a steamer trunk. Utility Man heads into Fly Creek, where he will no doubt discover the skeletonized remains of the rest of the town’s population.

Introduction:

It's not a euphemism for deep-fried strands of shredded coconut.Mike and the ‘Bots run down a checklist of the Satellite of Love’s safety equipment. Fire extinguisher? Previously emptied into Mike’s face. Flares? Likewise. First aid kit? Used to treat the burns on Mike’s face. After several more items of this nature, Mike congratulates the ‘Bots on creating a completely unsafe living environment. Tom and Crow decide to celebrate by sticking their heads in the towel dispenser.

Host Segment One:

Welcome to the First Annual Castle Forrester Fair, the rustic country celebration that soon will rule the entire universe! Pearl enters pickles made according to the old Forrester family recipe (cucumbers and Windex), while Tom and Crow enter their giant pig Winston. Pearl awards herself a blue ribbon and offers the Satellite dwellers a box of Bobo’s quaintly named colloquial snack, Fried Ape Hair.

Host Segment Two:

Mike wonders if mainstream theology allows for a “spry satanic sprite” for every class of object in the universe. Quoth he, “Do you suppose there’s a hellish sprite for me?” Crow offers to test this theory, and loudly wishes there was no such thing as Mike. This summons Mikey the Mike Sprite; he promptly banishes Mike and then harangues Tom and Crow about all the lost advantages bestowed upon them by their missing companion. The ‘Bots reluctantly ask him to bring Mike back. While reflecting upon this adventure, Mike accidentally summons Mikesocksey the Mike’s Socks Sprite.

Host Segment Three:

Overexposure to the Tennessee Williams-esque female protagonists of the film has infected Tom Servo with severe Southern Belleness. Symptoms include a frilly, low-cut dress, a parasol, and a thick Southern accent. Mike attempts Yankee Behavior Modification by reciting Pepperidge Farm ads, but this has no effect. A photo of George Steinbrenner only gives Servo the vapors. A pastrami injection finally cures him.

Host Segment Four:

Mike hooks electrodes to his pet worm Emmett in an effort to create a “rice of verms” that will rise up to destroy humanity. The ‘Bots try to dissuade him, but he throws the switch anyway, burning Emmett into a crispy black stick. Mike mourns the loss of his wormy pal, but is quickly sidetracked by his delicious taste. The disgusted ‘Bots taste Emmett as well, and the discussion quickly turns to the subject of dipping sauce.

Host Segment Five:

Crow dresses as Alma, the enormous little sister from the film—or so he says. All we can see are the lower soles of his impossibly high platform shoes. He inevitably repeats the “endless falling” gag (as previously seen in episodes 803 and 1003) to mixed reviews from Mike and Tom. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has added a new attraction to the fair—bungee jumping! She hands Brain Guy eight feet of bungee and repeatedly pushes him off a three-foot platform.

Stinger:

“You gonna be da worm-face now!”

Thoughts:

Someone has just called someone else 'boy'.Two generations of Crow have parodied Coily the Spring Sprite, appearing first as Willy the Waffle in Episode 317, and then as Droppy the Water Droplet in Episode 1004. Both incarnations of the little cartoon fiend have regaled their fellow Satellite dwellers with the myriad uses of their namesakes. It’s nice to finally see the head-twistingly eccentric original in action, even if it’s only for the first third of the film. The remainder discards the tightly wound mascot to focus on an old man enthusing wildly about springs, while his friends’ expressions progress rather realistically from boredom to irritation and finally to rage. What’s the purpose of the lengthy spring-praising sequence, you ask? What is the old man trying to sell? Beats me. Springs are handy, I guess, and the good folks down at Jam Handy want the world to know.

Welcome to Southern Horror Movies 101. Please find your seats and take out your notebooks. When the room is quiet, we can begin.

Ahem.

Squirm is horribly wriggly, gooey and gross. Of course it’s meant to be, and by that measure it can be considered a success. For a horror film cast with unknowns and shot on a shoestring budget, it’s actually pretty competent, but of course we’re going to make fun of it anyway.

And now, we will prepare for our final examination. Please go over the sample questions below. As a study aide, I have included the answers for you:

1) Has Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever featured a horror film more Southern than the one appearing in this episode?

(Answer: No. This is, by far, the most Southern out of all Southern horror films to appear on MST3K, and there have been quite a few. Though it sidesteps any question of racial tension by featuring an all-Caucasian cast, the accents and stereotypes are thicker than molasses and the entire set of female characters seems to have been cannibalized from someone’s second-hand copy of The Glass Menagerie. And speaking of stereotypes...)

2) Has any horror movie from south of the Mason-Dixon Line ever depicted a lawman who isn’t an arrogant, condescending, lazy, philandering jackass?

(Answer: Maybe. I’m afraid to do the research necessary to respond more definitively. And speaking of being afraid...)

3) Is heroic shirtlessness compulsory in this kind of film?

(Answer: I’m afraid so. Films with wealthy backers can afford to show the tanned, greased, and well-muscled chests sported by actors like Patrick Swayze, Hugh Jackman, and Vin Diesel. These men spend ten hours a day in gymnasiums, carefully sculpting the kinds of torsos that don’t make you want to avert your eyes in sheer embarrassment, and thus do not come cheap. Bargain-hunters have to make do with the pale, slender hairlessness of Don Scardino*. And now, a bonus science question...)

4) Do worms have legs?

(Answer: No, they don’t. But the whole movie is based on the premise that continuous electric current can give otherwise docile earthworms the temperament of subterranean piranha, so I guess I can accept that the process can turn them into millipedes as well.)

The best host segment addresses the possibility of ubiquitous tiny sprites, charged to help us appreciate each individual element of the universe. Mikey and Mikesocksey are both annoying, whistling little creeps, though in funny way, and the ‘Bots reluctance to request Mike’s reinstatement works too. Crow’s “funny old man from the forties” voice is a nice touch. My least favorite segments deal with Pearl’s mostly unfunny attempt at a fair, though her pickle recipe and Mike’s astonishment over the Satellite’s previously unknown feedlot are worth exactly one chuckle each. The rest fall somewhere in between.

The film segment dealing with the short has some funny lines, many of which describe the old man, as in Crow’s, “He parted his hair with a band saw,” and Tom’s, “He looks like Eleanor Roosevelt.” I particularly liked Tom’s threat, “I’ll show Coily! I’m going to digitize everything!” The commentary during Squirm includes Crow’s description of Roger: “If Steve Young and Alvin the Chipmunk had a baby,” as well as Tom’s request of Geri: “No one’s that Southern! Tone it down!” and Crow’s description of the shirtless Mick as, “Sentient artery plaque.” My favorite quip is when Tom quotes Hamlet by calling the squirming tidal wave, “A certain convocation of politic worms,” but admitting to this probably identifies me as a huge nerd. I find all the ooey, gooey worminess rather off-putting, but I suppose that’s a matter of taste. The episode as a whole is funny enough that I’ll probably watch it again.

*Among the many odd names appearing in the various credits of MST3K, Don Scardino is probably my favorite. I imagine him with a shock of gray hair and enormous jowls, seated behind an extravagant teak desk, wearing so many jeweled rings that he can’t bend his fingers, ordering Mob hits while he sucks rich, flavored smoke through a Cuban cigar. As a name, it seems wasted on a skinny, spectacled little redhead.