‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ is now streaming exclusively on Screambox.
Independent arthouse cinema is a particular subgenre I have grown to be quite fond of over the years, especially those within the horror realm. What draws me in most is when they’re nightmarish explorations of our inner selves, heightened by hypnotic visuals. Films like Brandon Cronenberg’s ultra-violent futuristic thriller ‘Possessor‘, where brain-implant technology is utilized by agents of a secret organization to possess the bodies of ordinary people, forcing them to commit high-profile assassinations, all while said agent (Andrea Riseborough) struggles to maintain her own self memories. Or Robert Eggers eerie black and white seaside tale of terror, ‘The Lighthouse’, in which two lighthouse workers (Robert Pattinson and Willem DaFoe) are driven to insanity while living on a mysterious remote island in New Hampshire during the 1890’s. Both films utterly unique in their visual representations as well as their executions yet elicit thought provoking questions involving the demons that dwell within us, others, and society. This was the type of mind-bending experience I was hoping to receive while watching Alex Phillip’s feature film debut ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’. Unfortunately, this is one artistic vision that has left me scratching my head in confusion as to what Phillip’s underlying message is, assuming of course there is one.
Digesting the worms
Premiering at Fantastic Fest 2022, when I saw the trailer for ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’, I was intrigued by its premise and weird transgressive visual flair. The plot for ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ doesn’t offer much in terms of complexity, as its story is fairly straightforward. Two strangers, Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) a maintenance worker at a debaucherous motel and third in a strenuous polyamorous relationship with his girlfriend Samantha (Betsey Brown) and their odd roommate Jared (Noah Lepawsky); each of which continuously chasing ethereal transcendence. Benny (Trevor Dawkins) a lone and strange creep who craves nothing more than to father a baby, encounters local sex-worker Henrietta (Eva Fellows), introducing him to the films hallucinogenic earth worms and coincidentally works at the same sleezy motel as Roscoe. Soon after an awkward, yet somewhat tender session between Henrietta and Benny, the two men cross paths quickly bonding over their depressive lives commencing the vile ingestion of slimy nightcrawlers. What starts off as a fun quirky trip quickly shifts to a night of mayhem after running into maniacal serial-killer clowns Biff (Mike Lopez) and his nameless girlfriend (Carol Rhyu), whom are also fellow worm addicts. I’m sure there’s many of us who’ve dabbled with hallucinogens in the past, hopefully not worms…so you could see why a film like this may be enticing to a particular crowd.
Before I attempt to dissect my thoughts for ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’, let me first say there are a few qualities to this rather confusing film I did find myself appreciating that others may as well. The cinematography is quite impressive as Phillips combines kaleidoscopic visuals, brief flashes of neon, fountains of blood, and psychotropic effects between scene transitions elevating the trip experience. When it comes to the worms themselves, they’re nothing special, your typical earthworms however, the means in which they are consumed is truly grotesque; I guarantee your stomach will churn in disgust. This is intentional as Phillips never shies the camera away from the mass consumption of worms which mainly consists of chewing and a lot of discomforting snorting. Through these effects, the viewer is unwillingly catapulted into the psychedelic hellscape that is Benny and Roscoe’s worm trip, which feels everlasting. These moments of sheer insanity are brought to life by the bold performances provided by Botello and Dawkins. Both are able to convey moments of pure anxiety, hyperventilating once their trips begin to turn south as thick beads of sweat trickle down their brows. Though as oddly captivating as these performances are, especially given the bizarre script, the same cannot be said for psycho clown Biff and his maniacal girlfriend. In fact, I found it difficult to appreciate or even like any of the characters in ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’.
Descent into the proverbial abyss
This is in no part the actors’ fault, but how the characters were written. Benny for example is depicted as being a crude simpleton, with Phillip’s slight attempts to make you empathize for this character with his parental aspirations. These moments are quickly overshadowed by Benny’s dialogue as it is often times discomforting and quite perverse. It’s also Benny’s dream of becoming a parent I take particular issue with as well. Not so much him raising an infant but, the way in which he goes about fulfilling his fantasy. In one of the films more controversial moments, Benny purchases a baby doll however, not just any doll…a sex toy baby doll. I’m sure you can imagine the unveiling of said purchase is not only shocking but just as disturbing as you think it is. The scenes that follow afterwards are equally upsetting, so I will refrain from expanding further details at this point. Phillip’s is clearly attempting to elicit strong emotional responses, and he most certainly achieves them however, I’m still at a loss as to why these were included.
Roscoe is another character who also fails to receive any growth throughout ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ which surprised me, as I felt his character would have been the one to reach a life-altering awakening. Regrettably, we’re just bystanders watching a character’s rapid addiction fuel his increasing need to get high on worms chasing unobtainable transcendence. As opposed to utilizing his 24-hour trip for self-reflection, spiritual enlightenment, or a profound astral journey; he at first introduces the worms as a means of romantic approval from his emotionally estranged girlfriend Samantha, only to then become reliant on them to escape his mundane reality. It’s through his frustrating choices that inevitably lead him to the serial killer clown couple where he begins committing unexpected and befuddling acts of random violence. When it comes to Biff and his girlfriend, they are meant to be a reflection of unhinged anarchic rebellion. Alternately, I found their characters to be less than enjoyable, growing more annoyed by their presence the more I saw them on screen. When they try to instill fear, it’s laughable as their characters are anything but scary. In fact, the only times I chuckled throughout ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ were whenever Biff attempted to be an intimidating presence.
What makes ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms‘ more aggravating is how Phillips’ chooses to push his jumbled narrative forward. While yes, the visuals can be stimulating at times, it only works when you can feel some sense of curation that helps lead us down a path of clarity or understanding. ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ attempts to blur the lines between these characters reality and their chaotic trip by melding images intentionally to exert shock, distress, repugnance, and many other emotional responses. The problem is, the majority of these scenes do not feel cohesive to the film’s plot, and there are many of them. Once the off-the-wall climax was finished and the credits began to roll, I was left feeling mentally exhausted attempting to piece together Phillip’s obtuse puzzle unsuccessfully. Perhaps that was the intention, to have the audience walk away feeling confused and emotionally strained, questioning whether or not there’s an underlying theme. Maybe there is no hidden message or meaning, to be honest, I’ve yet to still figure that out.
There is a method to the madness when it comes to the presentation for ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms‘. Phillip’s had a clear vision when concocting this insane psychedelic trip through hell but, any message the film is trying to convey gets lost in the bizarre editing choice straying us away from any answers to the numerous questions that develop throughout the taxing story. ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms‘ is not a film meant to please everyone, though there is a certain audience that will find appeal in this ambiguous venture, especially those seeking a brain-melting horror experience. Unfortunately, for me, Jacked Up worms is a depraved psychedelic trip I do not plan to revisit any time soon.(1.5 / 5)
Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask
Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.
We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.
Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.
Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.
The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.
Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.
When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.
I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.
I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.
Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.
On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.
But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.
We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.
And the same can be said for Isabella.
Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.
Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.
What didn’t work
If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.
Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.
Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.
(4.5 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.