3 of the Squishiest, Creepy-Crawliest Cult Horror Movies Ever Made

“Who you calling KERMIT?”
“Who you calling KERMIT?”
Screenshot: American International Pictures

Some movies give us monsters that are supernatural. Some hail from outer space or are so huge they just stomp anything in their way. But other movies—including the three we’re celebrating here today—spotlight those small yet vicious critters in our midst that often go unnoticed until just the right thing sets them off.

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Slugs: The Movie

Directed by Juan Piquer Simón—whose other credits of note are goofy 1990 underwater horror The Rift and 1982 exploitation classic Pieces—this slippery 1988 tale supplies exactly what you’d expect based on its title, as a small town populated mostly by horny yuppies (with a smattering of old coots and teenage troublemakers, and exactly one scientist) is besieged by a plague of aggressive mutant slugs. No ordinary garden pest, these critters are oversized and have developed a taste for human flesh, leaving slime trails of terror everywhere as they converge on their victims. The hero by default is the local health department inspector (Michael Garfield), whose turnaround from “What kind of a slug bites someone?” to “SLUGS! SLUGS! OH GOD IT’S KILLER SLUGS!” happens pretty quickly on a personal level, though like many movies of this sort (including Jaws, the when-animals-attack gold standard) it takes the rest of the community a dangerously long time to get on his level.

The corny dialogue, uneven performances (and dubbing), and ‘80s flair bring unintended amusement from start to finish, the gore effects are sickening, and the slugs are more lovingly photographed than you ever thought possible. Bonus points go to the foley artist who manages to make those magnificent mollusks even more shudder-inducing with a truly unnerving array of squelching sound effects. You can see Slugs’ influence in subsequent movies like James Gunn’s Slither, but there’s no alien element here to explain away the invaders—just good ol’ toxic waste, which somehow makes Slugs even more nightmarish.

Frogs

Unlike Slugs: The Movie, which narrows its focus to the title creatures, 1972's Frogs allows for all manner of slime-kingdom residents to get in on the fun. A young, pre-mustache, and occasionally shirtless Sam Elliot stars as Pickett Smith, a photographer who literally collides with members of the Crockett family—so wealthy they semi-jokingly refer to themselves as “the ugly rich”—who’ve gathered for a birthday party on their private Florida island. The Crocketts are eccentric but reasonably friendly, and Smith is soon drawn into the drama when the island’s many non-human inhabitants (lots of hulking, relentlessly croaking frogs, but also snakes, lizards, alligators, etc.) start lashing back against the Crocketts’ longstanding “oh, bother” attitude about the pollution being released from their paper mill into the environment.

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Directed by George McCowan, and featuring an awful lot of shots of animals who are clearly nowhere near any actors (but edited to look like they are), the pleasantly sleazy Frogs really drags you into the muddy, mucky horror of what a full-on swamp-critter rebellion might look like—coordinated giant-spider attacks, sudden leech intrusions, snakes coiled in chandeliers...well, snakes everywhere, really—with some additional interest sprinkled throughout the production. Aging Academy Award winner Ray Milland plays the grumpy Crockett family patriarch, soap star Joan Van Ark plays the Crockett who takes a shine to Smith, and exotica music legend Les Baxter performs the jarring, eerie score.

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Squirm

With an opening crawl that promises “one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded” and some ridiculous exposition about storm-downed power lines electrifying the “muddy ground” around tiny Fly Creek, Georgia, 1976's Squirm sets expectations sky-high. Written and directed by Jeff Lieberman (who also made 1978 LSD cult horror flick Blue Sunshine), the film brings us to a town where the Southern accents are nearly as thick as the surrounding forest. Everyone’s still recovering from the recent storm when city slicker Mick (Don Scardino) arrives to meet pretty local Geri (Patricia Pearcy) and peruse the local junk shops—but nearly immediately runs afoul of the sheriff and assorted other townsfolk.

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As you might imagine, things don’t improve much for fish-out-of-water Mick, though it takes nearly half the movie for Fly Creek’s millions and probably jillions of worms (biting worms) to make their presence truly felt. And that they do: future multiple Oscar winner Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black) has an early-career credit as the film’s special effects make-up designer, which means flesh-perforating wrigglers galore once things start to heat up. As an added bonus, some of the worms appear to be screaming in their close-ups—though that might just be an encouragement of how the audience should react...it’s not entirely clear, but it sure is creepy.

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io9 News Editor, here since 2016. Previously SF Bay Guardian newspaper (RIP), SFSU (MA, Cinema Studies), member of the SF Bay Area Film Critics Circle, big fan of horror, metal, and verrry small dogs.

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