All Jacked Up and Full of Worms has its world première at Fantasia 2022
Sometimes a film comes with a title that seems mystifying, but turns out to be disarmingly literal. Writer/director Alex Phillips’ feature debut All Jacked Up and Full of Worms might appear enigmatic from the outset, until you realise that it is quite literally about a disparate group of no-hopers who go on a wild bender ingesting hallucinogenic worms.
Or alternatively, it is about Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello), a young man put into a hypnotherapeutic state by his hippie girlfriend Samantha (Betsey Brown), and as he regresses into his childhood memories, has his visions influenced by a television show running in the room’s background in which host Kelsey Rose (Carol Rhyu) interviews Angelo (Dodge Weston) about his active sex life since age four, his past paganism and a Damascene experience getting transcendently high on worms. After all, on his long dark night of the soul, Roscoe keeps running into Kelsey herself, who at one point describes to him the concept of ‘echopraxia’: “when an insane man watches television and sees himself in its message, echopraxia is when he follows the message’s order”, adding, “You must realise your full potential.” Perhaps that is exactly what Roscoe is doing, as, lying on the floor in a trance with the TV on, he goes on a trip that sees him becoming an addict, an abductee and eventually a cold-blooded killer.
None of that, though, will fully explain the parallel trajectory of Roscoe’s fellow psychonaut Benny Boom (Trevor Dawkins), who keeps repeating the same story verbatim about his pansexual priapism, yet never seems interested in actual sex when it is offered, whether by the motel prostitute Henrietta (Eva Fellows) or indeed by Roscoe. Similarly determined to be a father yet not feeling ready yet, Benny prefers to invest his affection in a grotesque ‘Youth Series Pleasure Doll’ than in the real thing. Meanwhile Kelsey and her juggalo-like boyfriend Biff (Mike Lopez) are on a nematode binge that is also a random murder spree, making Roscoe all at once their captive, victim and collusive recruit.
Cheap and scuzzy, crazy and cruel, hippie and trippy, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms wears its lowlife status on its sleeve, even alluding momentarily to J. Michael Muro’s skeezy masterpiece Street Trash (1987) and David Lynch’s earthy oddity Eraserhead (1977). After all, worms are creatures both of the dirt, and of the underground. Yet though relatively brief, the film is also meandering and meaningless in its vermicular pursuit of that midnight slot. Watching this while actually on something is likely to lead to psychedelic crisis, while its wilfully wacky weirdness – all the unnerving body horror and basic worm puppetry – will leave the straights at best bewildered and at worst bored.
Strap: Alex Phillips’ invertebrate midnighter sends its antihero on a very bad trip through life’s dirt
© Anton Bitel