starring Phillip Andre Botello, Sammy Arechar, Betsey Brown, Trevor Dawkins
written and directed by Alex Phillips
by Walter Chaw A sub-, sub-, sub-genre of exploitation flicks--stuff like Jim Hosking's The Greasy Strangler--has cropped up seemingly out of nowhere in mainstream-adjacent spaces where it appears the only aim, or goal, is provocation. I watched The Greasy Strangler with irritation and impatience until a scene in which two characters shrieked "potato chips" at each other in incomprehensible accents broke me into helpless hysterics. I don't know if it's funny or its full-throated dedication to battering all defenses finally just worked. For what it's worth, the movie went back to being irritating and trying for me almost immediately. I have a different response to Jackass, a chaos agent provocateur that ultimately strikes at the heart of some real and touching truths about not necessarily healthy male relationships, but possibly the healthiest most male relationships are allowed to be. Nevertheless, there are similarities between stuff like it and The Greasy Strangler. Both proceed because there must be something that is next, not because there is a narrative that demands it or characters with motivations leading organically to another sequence. In that way, these films are not unlike life in all its arbitrary bullshit and oft-times malignant-seeming causes and potentially tragicomic effects. Exaggerating random vicissitudes as filtered through sentient existence could conceivably be considered satire at best or, you know, knowledge of some kind that might prove useful in providing perspective to those looking for meaning and structure in the universe. What I have trouble with is how often this stuff feels like the parts of Kevin Smith films--which is all of Kevin Smith's films now--that are puerile and embarrassing. Feature-length shit-monsters from Dogma.
This brings us to Alex Phillips's All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, which takes a vaguely Upstream Color premise about psychotropic, possibly mind-controlling worms and introduces it to various burnouts and wastoids. Just the characters suggest a purpose: the dregs of society, outcast and discarded, disreputable and left for dead for the betterment of society. Included in their number is a pedophile, however, who has purchased a baby fuck-doll from some terrible vendor and has a plan to Pinocchio it into "real live" status. There's body horror that is either for real or further hallucination, plus buckets of worms exterminated for the alleged entertainment value of seeing them snorted, eaten, and tortured, if it's possible to torture worms. I would say I'm too compromised by the world to be too preachy about it one way or another, but I didn't love watching it. I could go on about this grungy, lo-fi film--one thing grad school teaches you is how to be pretentious and long-winded; more, it teaches you, if you engaged in critical theory, how to mine meaning from the fact of things where it isn't possible to mine it from the substance of things. But I'm exhausted by All Jacked Up and Full of Worms. We're not talking about Buñuel, although I suspect he would have liked it. We're not talking about Brakhage (whose experimentation was more curious in its provocation than wilfully disgusting), either, or Ray Dennis Steckler or Ed Wood, who are, after all, far more prosaic in terms of their desire for coherence than Phillips appears to be. What we're talking about is a film that is a series of vignettes involving more or less the same group of players engaged in as many vile and repulsive acts as they can manage while excreting dialogue so base and repetitive that, shit, Ionesco probably would have liked it, too. I guess I'm saying I don't doubt that All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is trying to do something, and I suspect I might have hit on some useful approaches to the material, yet it sits in my mind in the same space as, of all things, Oceans Eleven. It's a party where a lot of people are having fun, and I wonder what the fuck I'm doing there.