Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello, Minutes to Midnight, Sunset on the River Styx) is a hotel cleaner whose girlfriend Samantha (Betsey Brown, Lace Crater, The Scary of Sixty-First) has brought Jared (Noah Lepawsky, The Water Game, Needle) into their relationship without consulting him. He’s not happy about it but lacks the courage to say so.
Benny (Trevor Dawkins, Operator, Mercury in Retrograde ) wants to be a father and has even bought a doll to practice with. Unfortunately, he ended up with an infant sex doll. Yes, you read that right, and yes the film does eventually go there.
Henrietta (Eva Fellows) is the hooker Benny spent time with in the hotel room Roscoe is now cleaning. And she happened to leave a stash of hallucinogenic earthworms behind when she left. From the intersection of these unlikely characters All Jacked Up and Full of Worms sets off on what can only be described as a bad trip.
Writer/director Alex Phillips (Who’s a Good Boy, Eel) has created a film that feels more like a series of vignettes strung together rather than an actual narrative film. What passes for a plot consists of Roscoe and Benny getting high as fuck off of the worms, meeting and interacting with various people. Most of them are also worm afficianados, or addicts depending on your point of view and draw the do ofurther down the rabbit, or rather wormhole.
“I want to show the horror, humor, and the emotional and psychological truth of mental illness. I had a few stints in psychiatric hospitals throughout my twenties, and this is my attempt at an honest portrayal of that experience.”Alex Phillips
Unfortunately, none of the characters in All Jacked Up and Full of Worms are likable. At the beginning of the film, Roscoe is at least tolerable. But it doesn’t take long for that to change once the film’s downward spiral of a story arc kicks in. A film about unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things can work if done right, John Waters’ early films proved that. Unfortunately, rather than the next Pink Flamingos, Phillips came up with something closer to The Greasy Strangler.
The sight of people eating and snorting worms has a certain entertaining shock value the first few times we see it, but just as in all those Asian horror films where people get cursed and start vomiting up mouthfuls of live insects, it quickly becomes tedious. Adding in a bloody serial killer element and a worm monster doesn’t really help that much either. The film’s elements never come together as a whole and it all feels like grossness for its own sake.
I do give Philips credit for what he manages on a technical level, and for managing to get the film made at all despite a lack of funds and COVID forcing a shutdown and rewrites. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is well shot and some of the scenes depicting the worms’ effects are better than those films with much bigger budgets. The practical gore effects are decent and the creature effects while primitive at least aren’t CGI.
Judging by the polarising responses it received on the festival circuit there’s obviously an audience for All Jacked Up and Full of Worms. And if you’re part of that audience I suspect you already plan to see it and most of what I’ve said in this review will be irrelevant, if not further confirmation that you’ll like it.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms played as part of this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. It debuts on Screambox on n November 8th. You can check the film’s website for more information. And you can check FilmTagger for a list of similar titles if you want more like it.