All Jacked Up and Full of Worms has proper amounts of enjoyable sleaze but ends up being too restrained and foolish to achieve cult status.
The cinematic shock and sleaze market have diminished in the past few years. Fewer and fewer projects meant to provoke or cause a severe reaction from the audience are being made as time passes. And it’s a shame: there’s something really fascinating about those types of projects, as they manage to cause feelings of disgust and disdain towards images you rarely see in your life. Of course, that isn’t the only reason why I deem the subgenre fascinating, but there’s a magnetism in B-movies and Grindhouse-like pictures that can’t be found in films with the ever-present Hollywood gloss. Many American world-renowned filmmakers started by being involved in these types of flicks, like Francis Ford Coppola with Dementia 13. The most recent film to have been released with the tags of being sleazy and full of shock is Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2, which has caused audience members to throw up and faint at the cinema. I didn’t think another film would make audiences have this exaggerated reaction this year, but Alex Phillips’ feature debut, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, tries its best to surpass Leone’s film as the movie that’s meant to make the audience turn away in repulsion. Yet, it ends up being too restrained and foolish in its narrative.
A jazzy tune that feels straight out of Full House or some kind of 90s sitcom introduces All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, with little to no explanation as to what exactly is happening to the people we see on screen. All that we know is that they are experiencing euphoria and some new kind of high caused by worms. Yes, you heard me correctly: worms! These people indulge in their worm addiction in several ways: snorting them, eating them straight-up, or through the veins. Amidst this new craving, there are Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) and Benny (Trevor Dawkins), who bond over their highs and the problems with their partners. The two of them drown their troubles with the worms and meet an eclectic array of one odd personality after the other. Unfortunately, the rest of the narrative is so mangled and randomly put together that it is pretty hard to get a grasp of it – there are cannibal serial killers, prostitutes, sex dolls, erotic novels, hot tubs, and some kind of televangelist, all meant to provoke and cause a reaction of disgust from the audience.
Did I have that same reaction? Well, not quite. Although there are purposefully schlocky moments intertwined with weird yet quite hilarious dialogue, like “You’re beautiful, Clown King” (both of which I appreciated), All Jacked Up and Full of Worms doesn’t exactly feel too exploitative for what it wants to be and too incoherent for what it could’ve been. With its title alone, you should know what you are getting yourself into. The title of All Jacked Up and Full of Worms reflect both the “disgusting” aspects of its narrative and the experience of watching it. Alex Phillips’ film feels like an odd little number from the past (specifically the 90s) where the focus isn’t on the plot but on upping the ante as the movie runs its short course of seventy-two minutes. People indulge in hallucinogenic worms, mutating from worms into humans, and murdering for pleasure thanks to the indescribable high that insect drug causes – all of which combine with one another to try and make sure people wince or have even stronger reactions. And it tries too hard to do that; that’s one of the main problems in Phillip’s feature debut.
The film forces its hand way too much for no other reason than to provoke. It is shock and sleaze, sometimes appropriately done, especially in its latter half, which goes all out too little too late (for me, it was very enjoyable at the very least), but without much substance or context behind it. In All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ last couple of minutes, that’s where you see Phillips experimenting with the gross-out form and the horror genre. Shock and sleaze are in full effect there, and it is mechanically functioning with what its title presented to us: that’s what we wanted to see all along.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms often had me thinking back on my initial experience and thoughts with Christian Tafdrup’s latest film, Speak No Evil, back at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Although I have “warmed up” to the movie since I first saw it at the festival a couple of months ago, I wasn’t initially enticed by its constantly villainous demeanor. The director wanted to make an experience that was hard to endure and face altogether, with a very demeaning narrative structure. However, unlike Speak No Evil, Alex Phillip’s quick hallucinogenic worm acid trip doesn’t have a proper sense of directorial vision.
Christian Tafdrup implemented haunting yet masochistic elements and blended them with dark comedy to uplift the film’s themes of toxic masculinity and the death of politeness. Meanwhile, Phillip combines one scene with the other, and that doesn’t lead to a coherent concept. Of course, there are a lot of moments I enjoyed. The weirdness of it all wasn’t bothersome for those quick seconds when I was entranced by people reaching a state of euphoria or ecstasy while eating psychedelic worms. The problem is that it is just those few seconds: I enjoyed those brief scenes by themselves, not collectively, disregarding the narrative and plot structure.
The simple premise of people indulging in worms as a substitute for other drugs is interesting. There are also glimpses of an intriguing storyline in the love triangle between Roscoe, Samantha (Betsey Brown), and another guy involved in their life and how their kinks/fetishes in their love life affect one another. Yet, that part of the story is completely ditched to focus on random events that lead nowhere. And it is a shame, since Betsey Brown, who has been involved in her fair share of low-budget B-pictures in recent years (The Scary of Sixty-First, Assholes, and Lace Carter), gives it her all in her brief appearances as Samantha. She’s A-game with the material given to her and is easily the best in the show.
Nevertheless, I somehow always knew that those glimpses of high potential wouldn’t last very long, as its title says and describes it all. The film is all jacked up in its weirdness, sleaze, as well as somewhat disturbing imagery, and it is evidently full of worms. A big question mark popped into my head when I finished watching the movie, because I didn’t know what to make of what I had just seen. So, I went and saw it one more time, to see if I could understand the film better. It didn’t help, but I did appreciate its existence more. These types of movies aren’t made consistently, so it is great to see filmmakers exploring various imaginative ways to cause provocation or tether between exploitation and sleaze. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is precisely what you think it is, but, in the end, you wish it dwelled more into the crazed and demented addictions that these worms caused in a less restrained fashion.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is now showing in select US theaters and will be released on Screambox on November 8, 2022.