For as long as there have been movies, there have been drugs in movies. Even predating 1936’s Reefer Madness, mood-altering substances have taken their own seat within the history of cinema because they have always been a part of our culture. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms nestles itself comfortably within the long history of drugs on screen, but does so with its own personality and flair. Also, the drugs are worms.
Make no mistake, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is a little rough around the edges. Some of the micro-budget film’s limitations show. This is not a movie with grand locations and set design; there’re no polished CG effects or recognizable actors. It is scrappy, indie filmmaking. But it does have a lot of passion and heart behind it, and never lets its underdog origins get in the way of telling one very silly, incomprehensibly sweet story.
Before getting into the plot, it must also be clarified that All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is disgusting. It is drippy, slimy, perverted and disturbing. The characters are not saints, and no one here is ever in line for a medal of honor. It might be seen that some of the atrocities are shoehorned into the film to push the limits of what is acceptable, but that ignores the ultimate experience of the film: These people might be awful and their world might be indefensible, but there are still moments of growth and joy that shine through the filth.
All Jacked Up and Full of Worms begins with separate, initially unrelated tangents. First, we have an older pagan on TV talking about his views on the world. Then, there is a man named Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello) lying on the floor with his girlfriend and another dude, tripping. Meanwhile, Benny (Trevor Dawkins) has gotten a special delivery.
Benny ordered a doll that he declares is his baby. He believes he is the father of this doll, but the cloth and molded silicone are not really what he was expecting. It is actually a “Youth Series Pleasure Doll” and the appearance is exactly as disturbing as you might expect. Rather than dwell on the horrifying fact that these dolls exist in the first place, this is played for laughs. Benny is clearly a few cards short of a deck, but he comes across as harmless and a little naïve. After dealing with the slight disappointment with his new child, he heads out and hires a sex worker at a dingy motel.
This motel is what ties the worlds together: Benny goes there for some female companionship, Roscoe works there and the TV pagan does his business there as well. Most importantly though, is that this is where Benny and Roscoe do worms for the first time. Their lives will never be the same.
To “do worms” is so dumb it is brilliant. This is literally just consuming earthworms, through a variety of orifices, which launches the user into a blissful hallucinogenic state. The disconnect between a run-of-the-mill worm and the fervor it elicits from the user is silly and makes it possible for All Jacked Up and Full of Worms to position itself as commenting on drug culture and movies while still occupying a space within the subgenre.
Benny and Roscoe’s worm adventures start out glorious, but like so many cautionary tales, they devolve into addicts who run with people from the wrong side of the tracks. Mirroring Requiem for a Dream, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms shows not only how easy it would be to fall into this life, but how destructive it can be. On the other hand, the film is so dang silly that it also pokes fun at those same cautionary tales by highlighting the absurdity of drug culture. Yes, their lives are ruined, but it was just over a few little earthworms. Who in their right mind would rearrange their lives around a throwaway invertebrate, let alone create an entire film?
Balancing out the satire and embrace of all these worms is a throughline of a very special friendship. Both Dawkins and Botello bring a heartwarming level of affection to their characters as they find kindred spirits in each other. Despite the doll and the far-out girlfriend, these still feel like people who you want to win at the end of the day, however they would define that for themselves. Their drug-fueled, dreamlike sequences are still quite silly, but they also show that their euphoria is not merely an effect of the drugs, but also from finding a friend in these isolating times.
Writer/director Alex Phillips creates a visual tone that just makes sense for the absurd but revolting world of the film. Using vintage television sets, giallo-lit hallucinations and real-world grit, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms pivots frequently between cinematic modes to create the same unsettling experience that those in the film are getting whipped through. That is no easy feat for a filmmaker, and Phillips guides the audience’s experience with a rapier-sharp wit.
There is no way that All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is for everyone. From drugs to dolls and a whole lot of creepy-crawly worms, it is bound to alienate and turn off a good chunk of the general population. But for John Waters lovers and proud weirdos, it is a scintillating addition to teeny budget favorites.
Director: Alex Phillips
Writer: Alex Phillips
Stars: Phillip Andre Botello, Betsey Brown, Trevor Dawkins, Eva Fellows
Release Date: July 21, 2022 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Deirdre Crimmins is a Chicago-based film critic who lives with two black cats, and her eternal optimism that the next film she watches might be her new favorite. She wrote her Master’s thesis on George Romero and still loves a good musical.